Stare-at-a-screen downtime and sedentary jobs contract the hips and round the shoulders. Whether the screen is a laptop or a TV, most bodies spend the day slumped, not stretched, and a yoga sequence can counter that poor posture. For youthful vitality and injury prevention, you need flexibility, strength and range of motion in your shoulders and hips. Look for poses and routines that work both areas safely.
Shoulders are more fragile than they appear. Yogis may suffer from joint instability, torn rotator cuffs or arthritis. Rounded shoulders, a postural habit, can throw your shoulder out of alignment in a pose and lead to a painful injury. Inversions, weight-bearing upside-down poses, and repetitive movements that stress joints require good alignment and strong soft tissues -- the ligaments, tendons and muscles that connect all parts of a moving joint. "Yoga Journal" says that plank pose and chaturanga dandasana will help with shoulders-back alignment and adding upward plank pose works the rotator cuffs. Triangle pose and warrior II also strengthen rotator cuffs, and revolved abdomen pose is an anti-rounding strengthener that pushes shoulders against the floor. To rotate shoulders inward for greater flexibility, try cow-face pose and side stretch pose.
Open hips are important for more than dancing "Swan Lake." Pliant hips allow you to walk better, run with less risk of injury, avoid back pain and improve circulation in your legs. Stefanie Snyder, a vinyasa yoga teacher, created a hip-opening sequence for "Yoga Journal" that will also release the stress and negative emotions she says are held in the pelvic area. The poses are selected to loosen tight hip ligaments so the ball-and-socket hip joint can work through full range of motion. End a sun salutation warm-up in downward-facing dog and move directly into low lunge, high lunge, warrior II pose, lizard pose, half lord of the fishes pose, cow face variation, pigeon pose, bound angle pose and frog pose supported on a folded blanket. Hold each pose for five to 10 deep breaths and end in completely relaxed child pose and savasana.
A back bend sequence flexes the spine and opens the chest. Standing back bends create more flexible hips and shoulders. Practice upward-facing dog, bow pose, camel pose, bridge pose, and choose a supported shoulder stand to stretch neck and shoulders without endangering your neck ligaments or cervical spine. Simply place several folded blankets under your upper back so your head rests on the floor, lower than your shoulders. The angle relieves neck compression when you raise legs, hips and torso to vertical. A closing supine bound angle pose with shoulder blades relaxed into the floor and thighs and knees supported by pillows or folded blankets will release your hip joints, opening shoulders and hips as you breathe in the pose.
Benefits & Precautions
Yoga makes a significant difference in flexibility and range of motion in areas that can be tight or hold tension, such as shoulders and hips. A study published in the "International Journal of Current Research" tracked sizeable improvements after 12 weeks of yoga in shoulder and hip flexion, hip extension and abduction range of motion. But overzealous practice can endanger the shoulders and hips. A common muscle strain from yoga practice is an injured hip flexor caused by deep lunges. The Idea Health & Fitness Association says too much stress on the bursae, the sacs that cushion movement in the shoulders, can cause debilitating bursitis. Warm-up and work-up are the keys to safe practice. Treat a yoga routine like any exercise session and thoroughly warm muscles for five to 10 minutes first. Build strength gradually so you can hold asanas such as side plank or four-limbed staff pose without injury.
- Yoga Journal: Hip Enough?
- Yoga Journal: The Principles of Sequencing
- International Journal of Current Research: Effects of Yoga Training on Bilateral Strength and Shoulder and Hip Range of Motion
- IdeaFit: Injury Prevention: Yoga (Class Take-Out)
- Yoga Journal: Wear and Care
- Yoga Journal: Protect the Neck in Shoulderstand
Benna Crawford has been a journalist and New York-based writer since 1997. Her work has appeared in USA Today, the San Francisco Chronicle, The New York Times, and in professional journals and trade publications. Crawford has a degree in theater, is a certified Prana Yoga instructor, and writes about fitness, performing and decorative arts, culture, sports, business and education .