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Home » 17 Best Yoga Poses for Shoulder Extension (The Last One Is the Most Underrated)

17 Best Yoga Poses for Shoulder Extension (The Last One Is the Most Underrated)

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Shoulder extension is an important action of the joint that should be part of a well-rounded mobility regimen.

It can take some creativity to figure out just how to get the shoulders into an extended position — since it’s not as common a movement as, say, reaching overhead or out to the side. Luckily, yoga has us covered!

This article features 17 yoga poses for shoulder extension.

Table of Contents

Which yoga poses offer shoulder extension?

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The swimmer's right shoulder is in extension

First, what IS shoulder extension?

Stand at ease with your arms by your side.

Now, keeping your arms low, reach them behind you.

That’s it. That’s shoulder extension.

Admittedly, the terminology can get confusing.

Every time I taught teacher trainees, we would have to spend a good deal of time explaining that an overhead reach is actually called flexion (not extension). It’s as though we have to un-train our lay-brains to keep this terminology straight.

In weight training, anytime you move from a flexed shoulder position toward an extended position, you are engaging in the ACTION of extension — even if you don’t ultimately arrive at the deeper ranges yoga asks for.

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Pulling down from a flexed position using the action of shoulder extension. Yoga usually creates deeper extension than this.

What are the benefits of shoulder extension?

In addition to being sure that your shoulders can express their full range of motion, deep shoulder extension provides many benefits:

  • Stretches the anterior (front portion) of the shoulder. Therapeutic if you do a lot of chaturangas or pushups. Can help you access hard-to-reach trigger points.
  • Stretches the pecs
  • Stretches the biceps brachialis, a long skinny muscle next to your biceps that can get irritated by all of the weight bearing we do in yoga (or in other exercise)
  • Stretches the intercostals between the ribs
  • Strengthen the lats
  • Strengthens the rear deltoids
  • When done in combination with other mobility work, it creates stability in the shoulder joint, which is protective of the rotator cuff.
  • Helps you to take full, deep, and satisfying breaths Therefore, keeps the lungs healthy

Without further ado… 17 poses that extend the shoulders:

1. Reverse Table Top

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Table top is a beginner-friendly way to get a great stretch across the chest and front shoulder area.

How To:

  1. In a seated position, place hands behind you about 8″ with fingers facing your body. Hands will be about shoulder-width apart or slightly wider.
  2. Place feet hips distance on the floor, parallel to one another and pointing forward. 
  3. Lift your hips until they are knee height. 
  4. Drift your head backward if that’s comfortable, or keep your gaze forward.
  5. For extra stretch, focus on lifting the center of your chest upward and breathing fully to expand across the rib cage.

2. East Side of the Body Stretch Purvottanasana

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Since yoga is traditionally done facing the sun, the front body is known as the east side of the body.

In east side of the body pose, or purvottanasana, the front body stretches while the back body works hard to maintain the shape.

This is one of the most intense stretches for the front shoulder, chest, and arms.

How To:

  1. From a seated position, place hands behind you about 8″, fingers facing your body. Hands will be roughly shoulders distance apart.
  2. Extend your legs in front of you.
  3. Lift the seat off of the ground by pressing firmly into the feet. Aim to place the whole foot on the mat, though at first it’s likely that only the heels will make contact.
  4. Make an effort to internally rotate the legs.
  5. The gaze can drift up and back.
  6. To emphasize the shoulder extension, lift your heart to the sky and take big inhalations across the chest.

3. Reverse Prayer Paschima Namaskar

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Reverse prayer brings the practitioner into mild shoulder extension plus internal rotation. 

For this reason, it is a good stretch for the lateral, or outer portion of the shoulders, the medial deltoids.

How To:

  1. Standing with arms at your sides, internally rotate your arms by rolling the thumbs toward your body. 
  2. Bring the hands behind you to meet. If you feel too tight to go further, it is enough to stop at fist-to-fist contact. If you can go deeper…
  3. Continue internally rotating your arms by taking the backs of your hands together. If you are too tight to go further, it is okay to stop here. If you can go deeper…
  4. Roll the fingers upward, and roll the pinkies toward your body until your hands are palm-to-palm. 
  5. To emphasize the opening, push the palms together firmly and draw the elbows backward.

4. Wide-Legged Fold w/ Rotator Cuff Stretch Prasarita Padottanasana C

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Prasarita padottanasana C is one of the most satisfying stretches for the rotator cuff, and it enables the practitioner to go quite deeply into shoulder extension.

What’s more, this stretch brings in external rotation of the upper arms, so it can give you one of the best stretches for your chest (i.e., pecs).

How To:

  1. Standing with feet wide apart, reach behind you until the hands interlace. If you cannot interlace, grab a strap or a sock for assistance. It’s no problem!
  2. Send your knuckles down and lift your chest up to prepare. Take an inhale.
  3. On the exhale, fold forward at the hips and make an effort to bring your interlaced hands toward the ground. Different teachers have different opinions about whether to keep the base of your palms together. I recommend that you play with opening the base of the palms to figure out which positions give you the stretch you are looking for.

5. Humble Warrior

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Humble warrior, much like the wide-legged fold above, is a great feeling stretch for the chest and anterior shoulder.

In this pose, you have the added challenge of maintaining balance in the legs.

How To:

  1. From a Warrior 1 leg stance, interlace hands low behind you. If you cannot interlace, grab a strap or a piece of clothing for help.
  2. Prepare: Inhale as you send your knuckles down and your chest up.
  3. Exhale to hinge forward. Keep integrity in the legs by drawing your front hip in and back.
  4. Bring your gaze to the foot behind you.
  5. To get the most from the shoulder stretch, focus less on folding at the hips and more on sending the hands toward the floor from the shoulders.

6. Cow-Faced Arms Gomukasana


In gomukasana, the bottom arm performs a slight extension — plus internal rotation.

The top arm performs shoulder flexion.

Like all of our bound-arm poses in yoga, this will not be the deepest shoulder extension you’ve ever done; but it helps to created stability in the joint, ultimately making deeper stretches safer.

How To:

  1. Let’s forget the legs for a sec and focus on the arms.
  2. Reach the top arm upward and hinge from the elbow to point your fingers down your back.
  3. With the bottom arm, internally rotate by rolling your thumb toward your body.
  4. With the bottom arm, reach across your lower back all the way toward your opposite waist.
  5. Finally, crawl the bottom hand up toward the top hand and clasp if you can. Using a strap can help. If you’re very flexible, try clasping at the wrist.
  6. To emphasize the shoulder extension, draw the bottom elbow backward while keeping your front ribs in.

7. Bow Pose Dhanurasana

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Bow pose puts the practitioner into fairly deep shoulder extension.

What’s cool is that the practitioner has a lot of power to make this a deeper (or shallower) stretch depending on the force of his or her kick through the legs.

A stronger effort toward leg extension (a hard kicking back), will passively pull the arms into deeper extension.

How To:

  1. From a belly-down position bend the knees and reach your hands back to grab your feet.
  2. Kick the legs and lift the chest for a deeper backbend and stronger shoulder extension.
  3. Breathe deeply in and out for 5 cycles.
  4. If you want an even more satisfying stretch for the chest, try an externally rotated position for the arms. The thumbs will roll out and up, and you will grab your inner feet or ankles.

8. Pyramid Pose Parsvottanasana

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Pasvottanasana, from the Ashtanga lineage, is a pose that requires mild extension of the shoulders.

How To:

  • With one foot in front of the other, internally rotate your arms by rolling the thumbs toward your body. 
  • Bring the hands behind you to meet. If you feel too tight to go further, it is enough to stop at fist-to-fist contact. If you can go deeper…
  • Roll the fingers upward, and roll the pinkies toward your body until your hands are palm-to-palm. 
  • Inhale to lift the heart.
  • Exhale to fold over the front leg.
  • To emphasize the shoulder stretch, push your palms together firmly and draw the elbows backward.

9. Bound Revolved Side Angle Parivritta Parsvakonasana

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All of yoga’s bound poses are going to place your shoulders in a degree of extension plus internal rotation.

How To:

  1. From a twisting lunge position, internally rotate your arms.
  2. Reach one arm behind your back,
  3. Then reach the other arm around your leg.
  4. If possible, walk the fingers together or clasp your top wrist.

10. Half Lord of the Fishes Ardha Matsyendrasana

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Here again, you’ll find a bind that pulls the upper arms into slight extension.

Notice that the arm wrapping around your back (and not around your leg) will experience the deeper stretch.

How To:

  1. In ardha matsyendrasana, the seated twist position, reach your front arm around your leg.
  2. Reach the other arm around your back.
  3. You might have to do some funny looking leaning and wiggling in order to reach a clasp.
  4. Stay for five full breaths

11. Pose Dedicated to the Sage Marichi - A Marichyasana A

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This pose, dedicated to the sage Marichi, puts your shoulders in fairly deep extension.

How To:

  1. Begin in a seated position, legs extended forward.
  2. Bend the left knee and place that foot on the ground .
  3. Lean forward, and wrap your left arm in front of your left shin and all the way around the thigh. You’ll have to internally rotate (think of rolling the thumb toward your body).
  4. Hug the knee into your center line and reach the right arm around your back.
  5. Clasp hands, or hold you right wrist.
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12. Pose Dedicated to the Sage Marichi - B Marichyasana B

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How To:

  • As above except that the right leg is in half lotus.
  • To emphasize the extension, try to straighten your right arm (the one being grabbed)

13. Pose Dedicated to the Sage Marichi - C Marichyasana C

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Much like half lord of the fishes, marichyasana c is a twisted bind that offers at least one arm some pretty deep extension.

There are always ways to further emphasize the chest and anterior shoulder stretch.

How To:

  1. Start in a seated position with legs straight
  2. Bend your left leg and place that foot on the ground.
  3. Inhale to lift the right arm as you take a twist to the left.
  4. Wrap your right arm around the outside of your knee (if possible — these binds are no joke!)
  5. Wrap your left arm around your back.
  6. Clasp your right hand around your left arm or get as close as you can.
  7. For a deeper stretch, try straightening your left arm.

14. Pose Dedicated to the Sage Marichi - D Marichyasana D

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The marichyasana poses, including the most challenging version which combines half lotus with a bound twist, all place at least one shoulder into extension.

How To:

  1. Follow directions for marichyasana B above except now you are also in a twist.
  2. For a deeper stretch, lift and spread across your heart and intentionally send the right arm back.

15. Bharadvaja's Twist

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Bharavadja’s twist offers a deep shoulder extension for the arm that binds with the foot.

How To:

  1. For this variation, sit with the left leg in hero position (toes pointing back and tucked next to your hip)
  2. Place the right leg in half lotus pose
  3. Sit tall, breathe in and twist to the right
  4. The left hand touches the right knee, while the
  5. Right arm wraps behind your back. Bind to the foot if possible. Use a strap for help if needed.
  6. To emphasize the shoulder extension, really reach for not just the toes of the bound foot but try to get a strong grip around the whole foot. It will take some effort to make this happen.

16. Double Bound Lotus

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One of the more challenging shapes in the Ashtanga system, this double-bound pose requires extension of both shoulders.

How To:

  1. Sitting in lotus position… (or a variation, like half lotus or siddhasana…) lean forward
  2. Wrap your left arm behind your back and try to grab your left foot or toes
  3. Wrap your right arm behind your back and try to grab your right foot or toes
  4. Sit tall, tuck the chin slightly, and breathe

17. Upward Facing Dog Urdvha Mukha Svanasana

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Upward facing dog is one of the most important — and frequent — ways that regular practitioners engage in the action of shoulder extension!

Although this pose does not provide the deepest range for shoulder extension, it does require a strong active effort, rendering it valuable for those wanting to open the chest and strengthen the rear shoulders. Bonus that it does not require extreme flexibility, and it does not require hypermobility.

How To:

  • From a belly-down position, place your hands on the ground to either side of your chest.
  • Lift your chest, shoulders, head, and hips while you remain on the tops of your feet.
  • Push firmly into the ground. This action will send your shoulders down away from your ears.
  • To emphasize shoulder extension, drag your hands toward you (they won’t really move) and send your chest forward and up.
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Leigha Butler is a long-time yoga educator, former yoga studio owner, retreat leader, teacher trainer, YouTuber, momma, vegan, and lover of wellness. She’s the founder of Leigha Butler Yoga, an online yoga portal for those who want to be superlatively strong and supple.

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