Yoga for Tight Shoulders—Help With an Imaginary Sticky Mat

Article At A Glance

Desk-bound day job? You’ll want to try this cool yoga hack from Eve Johnson. The imaginary sticky mat helps expand your ribcage to combat a collapsed chest and tight shoulders. It’s great for creating expansive alignment in standing poses.

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 Tight 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. Legs up the Wall and the imaginary sticky mat to help with yoga for tight shoulders
  5. Grip the mat and pull it away from the wall like you want 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 sit.
  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.

A Fun Thought for a Fun Practice

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 was certified in July 2018. Eve teaches both Spinefulness and Spineful Yoga at Prodigy Movement in Vancouver. For class information, go to

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