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Our shoulders carry a lot of weight, physically and emotionally. When we are tense or stressed, we tighten our shoulders. This can lead to short-term discomfort and long-term pain, stiffness and imbalance.

Regular yoga is an antidote to stress and its physical expression in our bodies. Before doing these poses, warm up with Pranayama breathing. The deep breaths open your lungs and rib cage, and the rhythmic arm movements gently warm and open your shoulders. When you’re ready, here are four great poses to unlock your shoulders.

Standing forward bend (Uttanasana)

We usually think of the forward bend as a hamstring stretch, but it is also a wonderful, gravity-fuelled stretch for the shoulders. The key is to let your whole upper body hang loose and heavy. This will relax the muscles and give you a light warm-up for the more active poses.

Bow pose (Dhanurasana)

This is a challenging pose that strengthens your back and creates a strong shoulder stretch. It is important to maintain good form: keep your knees and feet six inches apart, and perform the pose slowly, being mindful of the pressure you are putting into your shoulders. Work gently to the point you can maintain the posture and hold it.

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Revolved side angle pose. Photo: Urban Decay Visuals

Revolved side angle pose (Parivrtta Parsvakonasana)

This posture is an incredible stretch that opens your upper body, creating space and clarity. Your shoulders lead the way as you turn the upper body in one direction and the lower body in the other, giving a strong, detoxifying massage to your organs and connective tissues. To deepen the rotation and increase the stretch across the back of your shoulder, press elbow against the knee.

Child’s pose (Balasana)

Round out your shoulder session with a long, meditative rest in child’s pose. It is an incredible stretch for your spine and shoulders, opening your upper body and inciting natural relaxation. You can vary it by alternating between arms-forward and arms back. Mentally, it is also a soothing pose, helping relieve the stress and distractions that cause your shoulders to lock up in the first place.

Questions? Comments? Tweet me @YogaWithPaul or write in the comments!