Opening Up the Shoulders, 4 Poses for Surfers to Unwind

Do you feel stiff and rounded in the shoulders and chest? If you think about paddling, the motion is always forward. We rarely counteract this motion which leads to closing off the chest, and stiffness within and across the shoulders, often leading to back and neck pain. Plus, sitting hunched over on your board waiting for the next wave, or those long testing hours in the office at your desk, just adds to the forward rounding of the body.

Take a look at the poses below, if you can fit just one or two of these poses into your routine you will really feel the benefits. Having greater mobility, strength and stability in the shoulders will add power and ease to your paddle out. You will also feel the benefits in your daily posture, drawing the shoulders back and opening the chest, to rebalance the body to its correct structural alignment.

For any new readers to these articles, I am going to go through why these poses will help your surfing, which areas of the body we are working and how to do it. Please don’t push yourselves, be aware of your injuries and if it’s available to you, nothing beats practicing under the guidance of a teacher. If you are unsure whether you should be working with these poses please seek the advice of your local yoga teacher and your doctor or physiotherapist.

Reminder, breathing technique – sitting on your mat or the floor, inhale into the rib cage, expanding the chest. As you exhale draw your belly in. Focus on the breath whilst working in the postures; try not to hold your breath, move with your breath.

Pose 1: Purvottanasana - Upward Plank Pose

Why?
Opens and stretches the chest, shoulders, front thigh and front ankle
Strengthens the wrists, arms and legs

How?
1. Starting from seated on your mat with your knees slightly bent extended in front of you, feet on the floor, place your hands a palms length away from your buttocks with your fingers facing towards your buttocks.
2. Exhale and press through your feet and hands, lift your pelvis high with your torso and thighs parallel to the floor. Lift till your arms are perpendicular to the floor.
3. Keeping the pelvis lifted and lengthen your legs, keep the pelvis and chest lifted.
4. Slowly drop your head back onto the top of your shoulders, be careful to not compress the back of your neck.
5. Take a few breaths here and release back into seated sitting tall

Pose 2: Shoulder Openers with Strap

Why?
Opens and stretches the shoulders and chest
Helps to draw the shoulder blades together drawing the shoulders back
Increases mobility and stability in the shoulder joint

How?
1. Kneeling on your mat, take a strap or broom stick/plastic piping and take a wide grip with the strap in front of the body, elbows are straight.
2. Inhale and lift the strap/broom stick overhead again keeping the arms straight.
3. Exhale and release the strap behind the body, it is important that the elbows stay straight so the shoulders draw back and the chest opens.
4. Inhale and draw the strap back above the head and exhale release in front of the body
5. Repeat the full round (up, back, up, forward) 15 times.
6. Flow the movement with the breath, try not to hold your breath at any point.

Pose 3: Dolphin Pose

Why?
Opens the chest, shoulders, back and lengthens the spine
Stretches the shoulders, hamstrings, calves and arches of the feet
Strengthens the arms
Helps to relieve back pain and headaches

How?
1. Starting on all fours, with your knees directly under your hips, release down onto your forearms. Take hold of each elbow with the opposite hand to measure the distance for your forearms. Keeping the elbows still, bring your fingertips to point forward.
2. Press through the palms of the hands and your forearms, turn the toes under and with an exhale lift the tailbone to the sky.
3. Keep the knees slightly bent and the heels off the floor, those of us with tight hamstrings will find this a great pose to help lengthen the hamstrings as well as opening the chest. Just like with Downward Facing Dog in article 5 Yoga Poses Every Surfer should Know you can become active in this pose by cycling the heels down to the ground one at a time using your inhalation and exhalation.
4. Keep your shoulder blades drawing towards the tailbone increasing strength in the shoulders.
5. Hold the head between the shoulders and draw the chest through towards your thighs.

Pose 4: Utthita Trikonasana – Extended Triangle Pose

Why?
Opens and stretches the chest and shoulders
Increases torso rotation
Stretches the thighs, hamstrings, knees and ankles
Stretches and opens the hips
Lengthens the spine
Stretches and strengthens the thighs, knees, and ankles
A fantastic all round pose!

How?

1. Starting in Downward Facing Dog. Inhale and step the left foot forward in between the hands. Exhale and with a strong inhale, strong back, lift up to standing.
2. Ensure that both heels are in line, right foot (back foot) toes are facing slightly in towards the body. Your front foot is facing the short edge of the mat.
3. Firm your left thigh and check the knee is in line with the ankle. Your pelvis should start facing the long edge of the mat.
4. Inhale and lift your arms to shoulder height.
5. Exhale and extend your torso directly over the left leg, bend from the hip joint rather than the waist. Find strength in the movement by firming your right leg.
6. Micro bend the left leg knee to ensure the knee does not hyper extend.
7. Rest your hand on your shin, ankle or floor. Stretch your right arm towards the sky. Keep the head in a neutral position or look up towards the right hand.
8. Take a few inhalations and exhalations in the pose, and with a strong inhale, press through the back heel and lift up. Reverse the feet and repeat, or flow through Downward Facing Dog.

These poses can be practised one at a time, fit into your current routine or perhaps pick a few poses from each article to create your own routine. Once again, before practising these poses please work up a little heat in the body. Take your time and use your breath to release the tension and work deeper into the stretch. Even if you can only practice for 5-10 minutes a day, you will notice a difference in your surfing. Give it a go, you won’t know until you’ve tried!

Emma Lovick from Hang Ten Yoga is a certified instructor and specialises in teaching Yoga to surfers in South Devon. She looks closely at the breath, alignment, strengthening, opening and increased flexibility, reducing the potential for injury. You can follow Hang Ten on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter. Check back soon for Opening the Hips..


Emma Lovick

Yoga Instructor