External Rotation of the Shoulders - It Helps Everything!

In yoga, I learned to externally rotate my shoulders. It has a bunch of benefits for yoga practice, including:
  • giving you more mobility in the shoulders
  • helping open up tight shoulders 
  • opening up the chest for more relaxed breathing
  • transferring weight bearing from shoulder girdle (lots of small, overstressed muscles) to the lats (big, giant muscles spread over the back) 
I got into the habit of thinking about this in yoga, and that got me to thinking about it during my music practice and my aikido practice as well. I can feel the change right away and it's a good one:

When I externally rotate my shoulders, it settles the shoulder blades down over my back, and right away my arms do less work, and all my movement comes from the center of the body. I sit up taller and breathe better.

How to Externally Rotate Your Shoulders

If you learn what this action feels like from a couple of positions, you'll be able to get the right feeling when you're holding or sitting at your instrument, or on the mat, or hanging out with friends trying to look relaxed and cool! If you're like me, it isn't something you'll just do once a day and be all set. You'll have to keep reminding yourself...a lot.

Method 1: Standing
Stand with your legs wide, and open your arms to the side with your palms down.  Now simply rotate your palms upward. Rather than just turning your wrist, let that action extend all the way up your arm to your shoulders. The movement you feel in your shoulders is external rotation. The front muscles of your shoulders lengthen, the front of the rib cage opens, and the shoulder blades settle down over the back of the rib cage.

Method 2: "Child's Pose"
You can also try to get the same feeling by sitting on your knees, and bending forward at the waist with your arms outstretched, palms on the floor (like you are prostrating to the absolute ruler!) Now draw the outer arms down and towards each other so that the inner creases of the elbows are facing more toward the ceiling. Feel what happens to the shoulders.

Most of us have habitually tight shoulders from sitting and drawing the front of the shoulders together so you may not feel much movement at first.

This movement of externally rotating the shoulders has been key in my transformation from a habitually hunched, shoulders forward, neck forward posture, to an upright, chest open, back long posture in my daily life. It's taken a long time but I recommend it. It changes everything!


  1. Looks similar to opening the heart chakra in yoga, which I have been trying to practice. Takes conscious remembering but I agree, the benefits are worth it.


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