Thread the Needle Yoga Pose: A Yoga Pose For Better Shoulder Mobility And Flexibility

Thread the Needle Pose
Thread the Needle Yoga Pose: A Yoga Pose For Better Shoulder Mobility And Flexibility 7
Thread the needle yoga pose
Thread the Needle Yoga Pose: A Yoga Pose For Better Shoulder Mobility And Flexibility 8

Purpose

Here are some of the reasons why Thread The Needle is good for you:

  • Stretches the shoulders, neck and back
  • Increases mobility in the spine
  • Increases circulation
  • Alleviates stress and tension in the upper body
  • Stimulates blood circulations for digestive organs

Pose Guide

In order to do Thread The Needle correctly, here are the steps:

Thread the Needle Pose Guide
Thread the Needle Yoga Pose: A Yoga Pose For Better Shoulder Mobility And Flexibility 9
  • Begin on your hands and knees in a table top position. Align your hands directly under your shoulders, your knees directly under your hips and your toes directly behind your knees.
  • Engage your glutes, drawing them slightly down toward the tops of your thighs, as you flatten your back. Rotate your inner thighs in toward each other to activate your legs, and press the tops of your feet into the ground.
  • Engage your core and lengthen your spine to flatten your back.
  • Stretch your ears away from your shoulders and lower your shoulders away from your ears.
  • Sit back onto your heels with your knees slightly wider than your feet, and your toes touching.
  • Take your left hand forward about 6 inches.
  • Slide the right hand behind your left hand. Your right palm will be facing the sky as it connects with the ground. Slide it far enough to the left so that the outside of your right upper arm comes to rest on the ground at the midline of your body. Let your head rest on the ground just above your shoulder. Your head will be resting on its right side just above the ear. Continue to draw your shoulder away from your ear to avoid compressing the neck.
  • Stack your left shoulder directly over your right shoulder. Your left hand can slide forward on the ground to straighten the arm in front of the shoulder, or you can wrap it behind the left side of your waist.
  • Lightly press the back of your right hand into the ground as you draw your right shoulder back toward the shoulder blade to activate the stretch.
  • You can press your left hand into the ground to intensify the stretch.
  • You should feel most of the work of this pose happening in your feet, legs, glutes and core. This is where the pose is being stabilized.
  • You will also feel a stretch along the shoulders, back, arms and neck, most specifically behind your right shoulder blade. Your head and right shoulder will be on the ground, but will be supporting very little weight.
  • Press the back of your right hand against the ground to intensify the stretch.
  • Make certain to keep the core engaged for the duration of the pose to prevent the back from collapsing during the pose.
  • Repeat on the other side.

Practical Tips

Do This, Not That! Common mistakes beginners make:

  • Letting the hips shift to the side: One of the most common mistakes in Thread The Needle is letting the hips shift to the side during the twist. It’s important to keep the hips aligned over the knees and the feet aligned behind the knees in order to provide a stable anchor for the spinal twist. Pressing the tops of your feet into the ground, and rotating your inner thighs toward one another, can help to stabilize the lower body and keep the hips in their proper place.
  • Putting too much weight on the head and shoulder: Be mindful not to put too much weight in the head and shoulder during Thread The Needle. This opens the delicate muscles and bones of the neck for possible discomfort or injury, and can strain the muscles and tendons supporting the shoulder joint. Instead, engage your core to provide a lifting through the torso as you activate your lower body to take on the majority of the weight and work of the pose. You can also use your planted hand to press against the ground for additional support. 
  • Forgetting to engage the core: Forgetting to engage the core can compromise the spinal discs and the delicate sacs of fluid between each vertebra. Keep the core engaged and lengthen the spine as you twist along its axis in Thread The Needle. This will provide you with the safest and most comfortable experience of the pose.
  • Collapsing the back: It’s common to see beginners letting the back collapse during Thread The Needle. When this happens, the chest and belly droop down toward the ground and the back takes on an arching position. This compresses several sections of the spine leading to discomfort and injury. It also inhibits the fullest expression of the spinal twist so that you can lose some of the benefits of this pose. In order to prevent the back collapsing, engage your core, lengthen your spine, and keep your lower body anchored in a strong and aligned position. 
  • Rounding the back: It’s just as important to avoid rounding the back in Thread The Needle. When the back is rounded, the middle back is raised up toward the sky and the shoulders and hips are dropping toward the ground. Keeping the core engaged, the spine lengthening and the chest expanded brings the back into a neutral flat position. This is the proper position. 
  • Not having support for the grounded shoulder and head when needed: If you find that your shoulders, chest or back are too tight and restricted to allow you to twist enough to get your head and shoulder to the ground, it is important to find a way to support them rather than letting them hang in the air. See the modifications section below to learn ways to modify this pose so that your head and neck are fully and properly supported at all times. This will ensure the safest and most comfortable experience of Thread The Needle.

Props and Modifications

You should consider a modification if you experience the following:

  • Discomfort in the knees 
  • Weak glutes and thighs 
  • Excessive back pain/discomfort or tension
  • Discomfort or restriction in the shoulders limiting ability to reach shoulder and head to the ground
  • Excessively tense and restricted neck

Discomfort in the knees: 

  • Try placing a folded blanket under your knees to provide extra cushion between your knees and the floor.
  • If you find your knees are feeling some strain from your hips trying to shift to one side during the twist, try squeezing a block or bolster between your knees or thighs to keep the legs engaged and the hips aligned.
Discomfort in the knees during thread the needle pose
Thread the Needle Yoga Pose: A Yoga Pose For Better Shoulder Mobility And Flexibility 10
  • Sometimes looping a strap around your knees to help hold them securely in alignment can alleviate unnecessary strain on the joint as you build strength in the thighs and glutes.

Weak glutes and thighs:

  • If your lower body is too weak to comfortably anchor you in this pose, you can lower your hips down onto your heels, resting your torso on your lap as you focus on the shoulder twist to stretch the upper body.
Weak glutes and thighs
Thread the Needle Yoga Pose: A Yoga Pose For Better Shoulder Mobility And Flexibility 11
  • Alternatively, you can place a bolster between your hips and your heels to provide support.
  • Another option is to squeeze a bolster or block between your thighs to stimulate the engagement of your thighs and glutes during the pose.

Excessive back pain/discomfort or tension:

  • This often happens if your core isn’t strong enough to support your back, so it collapses down toward the ground, compressing the spine. Try positioning a bolster (or two) parallel to the long edges of your mat. Sit on the back end of the bolster so that your hips are supported. As you lower your shoulder, you will rest it on the ground just beyond the top end of the bolster, allowing your belly to rest against the bolster for support. This should leave you enough space still to focus your attention on the upper body stretch without compromising the back’s comfort or safety.
  • You can also try adjusting the position of your lower body by taking your knees wide and your toes together and sitting back toward your heels.

Discomfort or restriction in the shoulders limiting ability to reach your shoulder and head to the ground:

  • Try placing a block or bolster beneath your shoulder and head to help provide support until you develop the flexibility to lower your shoulder and head to the ground safely and comfortably.
Placing a block or bolster beneath your shoulder and head
Thread the Needle Yoga Pose: A Yoga Pose For Better Shoulder Mobility And Flexibility 12
  • You can also practice this pose in a lowered variation by sitting your hips down onto your heels. Your torso will rest on your lap which should allow you to lower your shoulder all the way to the ground. While here, you can place a block beneath your head for neck support as needed.

Excessively tense and restricted neck:

  • Try practicing this pose while sitting your hips down on your heels instead of elevating the hips to the sky. Rest your torso on your lap and your shoulder on the ground. Support the neck by placing a block beneath your head.
  • Alternatively, you can modify Thread The Needle to decrease the intensity of the twist. Instead of lowering your shoulder to the ground, lower your elbow to the ground. Place it in line with the midline of the body. The rest of the pose will essentially be the same, except you can place a block or bolster beneath your head to support your neck.

F. Common questions:

  • When is Thread The Needle contraindicated?
  • Should I be arching my back in Thread The Needle?
  • What am I supposed to be doing with my legs and feet?
  • What if I can’t get my shoulder to the ground?
  • My hips are sliding over to the side when I come into the full twist. Is this wrong?
  • Should my back be rounding?
  • I can’t feel anything in this stretch. Where should I be feeling it in my shoulders? What does it mean if I do not feel a stretch there and what can I do to feel it?

When is Thread The Needle contraindicated?

  • Acute neck and shoulder injury
  • Acute knee injury
  • Spinal injury, including disc maladies
  • Torn rotator cuff
  • Untreated blood pressure imbalances
  • Pregnancy – consult your healthcare provider

Should I be arching my back in Thread The Needle?

  • No, the back should be neutral or flat during Thread The Needle. The stretch comes from a spiral rotation of the spine on its axis. Engaging the core and activating the lower body as an anchor for the twist can provide the stability and support needed to keep the back properly aligned.

What am I supposed to be doing with my legs and feet?

  • The legs should remain hip’s width apart for the duration of the pose. This means that the hips, knees and feet are always aligned with one another. Keeping the glutes, thighs and feet actively engaged helps to anchor the lower body in the proper alignment.

What if I can’t get my shoulder to the ground?

  • Not to worry, there are various ways to modify this pose if you’re unable to get your shoulder to the ground. Check out the modifications section above to find the option that works best for you.

My hips are sliding over to the side when I come into the full twist. Is this wrong?

  • Yes, letting the legs slide to the side throws the spine out of alignment while it’s trying to rotate on its axis. This can increase the possibility of injury or discomfort in the spine. Be sure to fully engage your glutes, thighs, feet and core to provide the strength and support needed to keep the legs aligned with the hips and feet. If your lower body is lacking the strength to maintain the proper alignment during the pose, you can consult the modifications section above to ideas on how you can modify the pose to make it safer and more comfortable for your body.

Should my back be rounding?

  • No, the back should be neutral or flat during Thread The Needle. The stretch comes from a spiral rotation of the spine on its axis. Engaging the core and activating the lower body as an anchor for the twist can provide the stability and support needed to keep the back properly aligned.

I can’t feel anything in this stretch. Where should I be feeling it in my shoulders? What does it mean if I do not feel a stretch there and what can I do to feel it?

  • You should feel a stretch behind your right shoulder blade. If you aren’t feeling a stretch, there are a few things you can do to activate it. If your right shoulder is on the ground, you can press the back of your right hand against the ground. You can also press your left palm into the ground. Drawing your right shoulder back toward the shoulder blade will also activate the stretch more fully.  

Additional Resources for beginners

Beginner Yoga Workouts

Yoga For Beginners Guide

Yoga For Back Pain

 

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