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used - sukasana.jpg




Better posture for your upper body

Olivia Marley

So these aren't exactly the most glamorous yoga photos ever (!) but they show some really effective postures. So they're making up the next in our ‘yoga for hunched winter shoulders’ series.

If you picture how you might hunch your shoulders and cross your arms when you’re outside in cold weather - or the position your upper body might be in after you’ve been sitting at a computer for a while - there are a couple of things that tend to happen:

  • the muscles that draw your shoulder blades down and together get overstretched and weak from the shoulders constantly being slightly lifted and forwards

  • the muscles across the front of your shoulders/ chest can get tight and shortened.

So here are the two things I do over and over again to disrupt those postural habits. The top two photos are the same posture but on different sides, so you can see what I’m doing. Make sure the elbow of the arm on the floor is above the level of your shoulder- if it’s in line with your shoulder or below you won’t affect the muscles we’re trying to target. Start lying on your front and then super slowly and gently roll towards that side of your body. 



You might find your body doesn’t roll as far to the side as mine does, or that it goes further. It doesn’t matter either way! Just be mindful that you’re rolling your whole body weight against your shoulder girdle, so while this is a great stretch for your pecs you do need to be gentle with it. Roll towards the arm on the floor until you feel the amount of stretch you want to feel in that side of your chest, and then hold there. Take a few deep breaths up into that side of your chest and then repeat on the other side. This should help relieve tension in the tight muscles in your chest. 


The bottom photo here shows a simple locust pose. Make sure your palms are facing the floor, and as you lift up concentrate on squeezing your shoulder blades together and drawing them down your back away from your ears. This is a super simple but effective way to strengthen those muscles we’re trying to target in your upper back. Lift up for a few breaths, rest then repeat.


You could do these at home in five minutes, a few times a week. Try it for a month and see if you feel like you're standing up any taller.... And just ask if you have any questions!


Olivia Marley

It seems to have become winter in the space of a week here in London. And I'm seeing my students (and myself) arrive at class with arms crossed and shoulders hunched up against the sudden cold. So we've been doing a bit of work in class to undo that tension in people's neck and shoulders, and here are some of the actions we're using. Although I'm showing them seated here, in class we've mainly been doing them in standing postures like high lunge and warrior 2. And if it's summer where you're reading this, obviously they work just as well in warm weather too!

@yogawitholivia shoulder prep for binds.jpg

Photo 1: This one is great for warming up your shoulders for binding postures. Hook your left arm behind your back and catch hold of your right upper arm. Pull your right fingertips straight forwards. As you pull your right arm forwards, it'll make you want to turn your chest to the left. Resist that! Pull forwards with your right arm and take a few deep breaths up into your chest. Repeat on the other side. 

@yogawitholivia shoulder neck stretch.jpg

Photo 2: Reach your arms out wide, then hook your right elbow over your left. Squeeze your elbows together and (if possible) bring the backs or the palms of your hands together. Lift your elbows slightly and then strongly draw your shoulder blades away from your ears. Tilt your arms a little to the right, and lean your left ear towards your left shoulder. Take a few deep breaths into your chest and then repeat on the other side. 

@yogawitholivia side bend.jpg

Photo 3: This one is super simple, and probably doesn't need much explanation. Just make sure your top palm is facing towards the floor - that'll help your shoulder blade to move in a way that will facilitate reaching that top arm. Breathe into the left side of your ribs, then repeat on the other side.

@yogawitholivia upper body stretch.jpg

Photo 4: Clasp your hands behind your back, and then bring the fist that your two hands are making into the left side of your waist. Keep lengthening up through the back of your neck, and then squeeze your elbows towards each other. On this side it'll be easier to move your left elbow, so make sure your squeezing the right one in too. Breath up into the sensation in your chest, then repeat on the other side. 

Svarga Dvidasana or bird of paradise pose

Olivia Marley

This is one of those postures that can look deceptively simple. And when someone has the type of body that can do it easily, it looks effortless. But for many people (myself included!) this posture is very demanding – it asks for your shoulders to be able to move in certain way, for a decent range of motion in your hips and a LOT of lower body mobility (particularly in the back, front and inside of your thighs). So make sure you include those parts of your body in your warm ups before attempting this posture. Once you’ve done that, try following these steps… 


Place your feet a little wider than hip width apart. Sit halfway down to the floor into a squat (not all the way down like a yoga squat, more halfway down like you’d do in the gym (first photo above). Wriggle one arm underneath and behind your same side leg. So here I’m doing my right side (and these instructions will be for your right side). Take a couple of goes to get as much of your arm underneath your leg as you can. The more the better! If you can’t get your leg up past your elbow this may be the point that you need to practise for a while before moving on. Reach both arms out to the side and turn the palms of your hands to face behind you, and then maybe up towards the ceiling (second photo above). Turning your arms like this will make your shoulders move in a way that will make the next step easier. 


Clasp your hands behind your back (first photo above). If you can’t clasp your fingers, hold a strap in your top hand and catch it with your bottom hand. If you can easily clasp your fingers, try holding your left wrist with your right hand (and when you work this on the other side, hold your right wrist with your left hand). Come on to the toes of your right foot and hop your right foot a little towards your left (second photo above).


Rather than using your upper body to drag your right leg up off the floor, instead use the strength your right leg to lift your upper body upright (first photo above). Notice if your standing leg wants to buckle; if so, straighten it as much as you can. If you can’t straighten your standing leg, just pause at this point of the posture and encourage your bottom leg to become straighter. If you can straighten your bottom leg, straighten your top leg (second photo above). Stand tall and take a few breaths up into your chest. To come out, use the strength of your leg to lower your upper body down to the floor then release your hands. Repeat on the second side. And ask if you have any questions!