Yoga Positions to Strengthen the Back, Shoulders and Thighs

yoga positions

Yoga positions stretch the back, shoulders and thighs. It can also help with back pain and stress and boosts overall wellness.

Downward Facing Dog lengthens and decompresses the spine, stretches the hamstrings and strengthens the arms. It also energizes the body and can be used to refresh and reset between other stretches.

Downward Facing Dog

Downward Facing Dog, or Adho Mukha Svanasana, is one of the most well-known poses associated with yoga. It is a posture that is commonly repeated in vinyasa-style classes and helps strengthen and stretch the upper body, including the wrists, shoulders, and back muscles.

Often beginners struggle to coordinate the movement of both hands and feet in this pose, which can cause stress on the wrists and ankles. They may also forget to create space between the shoulders, which can make them look like they are slouching forward.

By learning how to practice this posture properly, you can achieve the benefits of Downward Facing Dog without hurting your body. Join our yoga community to find the support you need for your practice. Our instructors are always here to help.

Warrior II

Warrior II is a classic yoga pose that strengthens the feet, ankles, knees, core, and shoulders. It also stretches the hips, calves, and groin. It’s a great posture for practising the balance between steadiness (Sthira) and ease (Sukha).

From Tadasana (Mountain Pose), take a step back with the left foot, ensuring that your toes are pointed toward the front corner of the mat. Press down through the outer edges of both feet for stability. Then, lift the torso and extend the arms overhead, keeping them aligned with the ears. This posture cultivates focus and energy, similar to that of a Zen archer who is known for his ability to hit the bull’s eye in a target. This pose is not recommended for students with shoulder or neck injuries.

Upward Facing Dog

Upward Facing Dog, or Urdhva Mukha Svanasana, is a profound backbend and chest opener in yoga. It is often a challenge for beginners to the practice who are used to the gentle back stretches of cat/cow and sun salutations, but it is a necessary step in developing yoga strength and balance.

It can be helpful to think of the body as being suspended in the air from the palms of the hands and the tops of the feet (though the thighs do touch the floor in cobra). This creates a strong foundation that will allow you to move into the full pose with less strain on the back and shoulders.

Start with baby cobra and work into the bigger form of the posture if it feels appropriate. This way you can build up to upward facing dog over time with a safe and gradual practice.

Child’s Pose

This beginner yoga pose gently stretches the back muscles of the spine and inner thighs. It also helps alleviate back and neck pain, stress, fatigue and headaches. It is a resting position that can be used at any time during your practice.

It is important to be aware of your breathing in this posture, as it compresses the belly so that it can’t expand as much as normal, encouraging slower and deeper breaths. It also activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which can lower or regulate blood pressure.

From the tabletop position, bring your knees out wider than hip-width and fold forward with your chest against your thighs and forehead touching the floor. Relax your arms by your sides. Stay here for a few minutes.

Forward Fold

The Forward Fold (Uttanasana) stretch opens the back body and soothes the nervous system. It is a powerful posture that can be intense for the back and hamstrings but it’s important to prioritize length in the front of the torso and bend the knees if needed to avoid rounding the lower back.

Tight hip external rotators limit the range of motion in the hip joint, making it hard to anteriorly tilt the pelvis into a deep forward fold without straining the low back and hamstrings. To allow for a deeper forward fold consider placing the feet a little further apart in Wide Bound Angle Pose, to create space for the hips and a greater range of movement. It also gives you a chance to practice the action of folding without the added stress of extending the legs into hyper-extension.