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Yoga Posture: Thread the Needle to Improve Spine and Shoulder

Last Updated Jan 2014

By: Lisa Minn

yoga postureThis week I want to talk about Thread the Needle which is not technically a traditional asana but is a very good yoga posture for improving the range of motion and flexibility of the thoracic spine and shoulders. This pose is good preparation for, or alternative to, more advanced twists such as the Sage Twist.

Muscles Stretched: Obliques, intercostals, pectorals, anterior deltoid (of top arm), posterior deltoid (of bottom arm), and rhomboids.

Points of Body Awareness:

  • Keep the hips level. Imagine balancing a teacup at the base of the spine (sacrum).
  • Lengthen the side you’re twisting away from. (The same side as the shoulder on the ground)
  • Let the grounded shoulder shrug up toward your ear. This is one of the rare cases when you’ll hear this direction. In this case, shoulder elevation is passive allowing the upper trapezius muscles to be shortened in a relaxed manner. It also helps to lengthen the torso and allow more stretch through the intercostals.
  • Do you feel closed in through the chest? Draw the top shoulder blade back to open the chest and shoulder.
  • Reach the top arm straight up toward the sky.
  • Engage the transverse abdominus muscle by drawing the navel in toward the spine and breath deeply using the diaphragm. (TATD breath)

To Modify: Put a folded blanket under the back of the shoulder and head to decrease the stretch and to provide cushioning. Keep the top hand on the ground with the elbow pointing straight up, or rest the arm on the side of the body to decrease the stretch and action of the top shoulder.

To Challenge: For a dynamic variation, try making large, slow circular motions with the top arm. Another advanced variation is to reach the top hand across your back and toward the opposite inner thigh.

thread the needlePhysical Therapy Notes: This yoga posture can be a good physical therapy option for patients with lumbar spine and sacroiliac problems to improve spinal mobility because the lower back and sacroiliac joints are in a neutral, relatively stable position. This is even a good posture for applying some manual therapy techniques. You can mobilize transverse processes of the thoracic spine for increased rotation. You can ‘gap’ facet joints by pressing the sacrum away and providing gentle traction to the lumbar spine. This is also a good posture for providing assisted stretches and myofascial release to muscles such as pectoralis minor, anterior deltoid, rotator cuff and scalenes.

As with any twist, Thread the Needle may not be an appropriate yoga posture for patients with osteoporosis, spinal fusions, or any recent illness or surgery.

About the Author: Lisa B. Minn is a licensed physical therapist and yoga enthusiast. She has been incorporating aspects of Yoga her physical therapy practice since 2001 and became a certified yoga instructor in 2004. You can read more about the therapeutic applications of yoga on her blog,

Click here for more articles by and information on Lisa Minn.

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