Beautiful Shoulders, Beautiful Posture: 3 Yoga Stretches to Open and Tone Your Shoulders

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Looking for new ideas to add shoulder opening and strengthening to your yoga practice? Try these three innovative yoga stretches to open and tone your shoulders using a strap and a doorway.

Looking for new ideas to add shoulder opening and strengthening to your yoga practice?

Try these three innovative yoga stretches to open and tone your shoulders using a strap and a doorway.

The most yogic use for a doorway, real or metaphorical, would surely be to come and go mindfully, knowing when you’re on one side, when you’re in the middle, and when you’ve passed through.

But doorways also have yogic uses that are far more physical. You can, for instance, use a doorway to get a deep stretch in your shoulders and upper chest.

While you’re at it, you can also learn to strengthen the work in your arms, knowledge that will stand you in good stead in any pose that demands strong arms and an open chest, say, Utkatasana (Fierce Pose or Chair Pose), Virabhadrasana III (Warrior III Pose) or Adho Mukha Vrksasana (Handstand Pose).

As a break from desk work, the doorway stretch makes a perfect five-minute yoga challenge to release your shoulders and clear your mind. In a longer practice, do it early. You’ll benefit from the opening when you do other poses.

Shoulder Stretch #1: How to Use a Doorway for Shoulder Opening

Woman practicing yoga shoulder stretch with arms overhead and hands pressing into top door jamb

  1. Make a loop in a strap. Adjust it so the loop is slightly smaller than the width of your shoulders. Place the strap around your wrists.
  2. Find a doorway that is low enough that when you extend your arms up, you can brace the little finger side of your hand against the top of the doorway. If height is an issue, try standing on a small stool, or on two yoga blocks (one under each foot). Place a sticky mat under the blocks so they don’t slip.
  3. Straighten your arms completely. If you can’t straighten your arms, make the loop in your strap bigger, so your arms can be wider apart.
  4. Now bring your arms up and stand in Tadasana (Mountain Pose) in the doorway.
  5. Press your outer feet into the floor, and lift your inner ankles, inner knees, and inner thighs. Press your front thighs back until you feel your weight in your heels. Compact your outer upper thighs, pressing toward the center. Drop your buttocks toward the floor as you lift your front chest.
  6. Begin to work your arms. Push your wrists sideways into the strap. Roll your outer upper arms toward the wall in front of you. Pull your upper arm bones from the sides deeper into your shoulder sockets. Once more, lift your chest and drop your buttocks.
  7. Now take a small step forward—a matter of inches. (If you’re on a stool or blocks, you may need to reposition them.) The work in your shoulders and upper chest will intensify. So will the temptation to over arch your lower back. Redo the work in your legs. Drop your buttocks to the floor as you lift your front chest.
  8. When you’re ready, take another small step forward. Align yourself again.

Shoulder Stretch #2: Add a Strap in Utkatasana (Chair Pose)

The above practice could be enough if you’re beginning a yoga practice. If you’d like more, continue the above practice by moving into Chair Pose:

  1. From Tadasana (in the above sequence), keep your buttocks dropping and your lower back long, and then bend your knees. Eventually, your fingers will drop below the level of the door.
  2. Sit deeper into the “chair.”  Lift your arms and your chest. Work your wrists against the strap. Breathe.

Shoulder Stretch #3: Challenge Strength and Balance in Virabhadrasana III (Warrior III Pose)

  1. Keep your upper body in the same alignment (Chair Pose). Shift your weight to your left foot. Begin to straighten and lift your right leg up behind you.
  2. Continue to press your wrists into the strap.
  3. Straightening your left leg, extend your buttocks strongly toward your right heel. Imagine your back body, from the crown of your head to your right heel, like a wooden plank. When the heel lifts, the upper body has to descend, and all of it stays in a straight line.
  4. Take several deep breaths. Then gently make the transition back to Tadasana. Take a few breaths in Mountain Pose before repeating the sequence on the other side.



Reprinted with permission from Eve Johnson, My Five-Minute
Eve Johnson, writer, yoga teacher

Eve Johnson taught Iyengar Yoga for 18 years before being introduced to Spinefulness in 2016. Convinced by the logic, clarity, and effectiveness of Spinefulness alignment, she took the teacher training course and was certified in July 2018. Eve teaches Spineful Yoga over Zoom and offers an online Spinefulness Foundations course. For course information, go to

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