Woman stretching her arms overhead while lying on yoga mat.

Yoga for Tight Shoulders—With an Imaginary Sticky Mat

Eve Johnson

One of the conundrums we face as beginning yoga students is that we can’t know what a pose is supposed to feel like until we’re doing it. But if you start with the standard-issue collapsed chest and tight shoulders of a 21st-century desk worker, how can you even begin to know how large and expansive your ribcage needs to be? One answer: a fabulous, yet inexpensive prop, the imaginary sticky mat.

I found mine last week in Louie’s Wednesday morning class, and I’ve been using it ever since. Once you’ve learned to use yours, it will help you stretch your shoulders, expand your side ribs, breathe better, and maybe even let go of anxiety.

A Sticky Mat for Your Shoulders

  1. Lie down on your back with your legs up the wall. Make sure that your back rests comfortably on the floor. If your hamstrings are long, you can have your buttocks at the wall. If they’re short and your buttocks are at the wall, your pelvis will be light on the floor or even lifted. Move away from the wall until you are well-grounded.

  2. Now spread the skin on the soles of your feet, from the big toe side to the little toe side. Spread the skin on your heels. Separate your toes. Press both your big toe mound and your heel toward the ceiling. Lift your inner arches toward the ceiling, and draw your outer arches down toward your outer ankles. From this action in your feet, you’ll feel your legs come alive.

  3. With your front ribs soft and moving toward your spine, take your arms overhead. Stretch your arms to their maximum. Reach out to hold the sticky mat. Have your thumbs under the mat, so your palms face each other.

  4. Pull the mat away from the wall as strongly as you can.

  5. Grip the mat and pull it away from the wall as though you wanted to rip it in two. Extend particularly on the thumb side of your hand.

  6. You’ll find the effect dramatic: legs press the wall, arms extend, back body lengthens, and belly presses to the floor.

  7. In this position, notice your shoulder blades. As you stretch your hands away from your shoulders, begin to pull your shoulder blades away from your hands. Hold for a few breaths.

  8. Then let go of the mat and slowly bring your arms, elbows straight, to shoulder-width apart.

  9. Stay aware of your elbows. If they start to bend, don’t take them closer together. Instead, find the place where your elbows can be straight and stay there. Continue to relax your front ribs toward the floor. 

  10. Palms facing each other, thumbs touching the mat, spread your palms, and roll your inner upper arms toward your ears. Stay for a breath or two, then release your arms to your sides and relax.

  11. Bend your knees, roll to the right-hand side and come up to sitting.

  12. You can just stand up, or, for a pleasant transition, move through Balasana (Child’s Pose) into Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog Pose), then walk your feet forward to standing forward bend, and roll-up.

  13. Now roll out your imaginary yoga mat.

  14. With your feet hip-distance apart, bring your arms up, with your hands as wide as the imaginary mat. Check that your front ribs continue to move down. Grip the sides of the imaginary mat, and pull. Lengthen up particularly through the thumb side of your hand. You’ll be surprised by what happens. Your arms will reach heights never before experienced, and your side ribs will stretch.

  15. Once you have your full stretch, draw down on your shoulder blades. Then let go of the imaginary mat, and open your hands so your palms face each other. Slowly bring your arms shoulder-distance apart. Keep your elbows straight. Stay, breathe, and when you’re ready, turn your palms toward the floor and slowly lower your arms, keeping your ribcage quiet and relaxed as you bring your arms down.

Imagine taking this expanded chest into the rest of your poses, and your life. From Dr. Seuss: “Oh, the things you can think up if only you try!”

Reprinted with permission from Eve Johnson, My Five-Minute Yoga Practice.

Eve Johnson


Eve Johnson taught Iyengar Yoga for 18 years before being introduced to Spinefulness in 2016. Convinced by the logic, clarity, and effectiveness of Spineful alignment, she took the teacher training course and certified in July 2018. Eve teaches both Spinefulness and Spineful Yoga at Prodigy Movement, in Vancouver. For class information, go to http://spinefulness.ca.