Trouble Breathing in a Chest Stand? Elevate Yo’ Shoulders!

Contortion cheststand on yoga blocks

Having trouble breathing in a chest stand? Is your neck upper back flexibility holding you back? Most people need to spend a lot of time training upper back (thoracic) flexibility as well as neck flexibility to get a nice round curve in a chest stand (and to be able to safely hold that pose without dumping too much pressure into the neck).

So the long-term solution is to consistently train your shoulder and upper back flexibility (which I have plenty of other posts on).

But here are two short-term solutions that can help buy you a little bit more space for your chin and neck while you are just starting out your chest stand practice that will take the stress away from your neck.

<obvious disclaimer!!> Don’t try these poses without the assistance of a coach if you’ve never done a chest stand before. Heck, even if you’ve tried chest stands quite a bit, it’s always helpful to work with a coach when trying a new variation so they can spot you and make sure you’re doing the movement safely. </disclaimer>

Alright, disclaimer out of the way – on to the tips!

Chest Stand on Fists

Chest stand on fists
Chin stand on fists

This is actually how I learned how to do a chest stand back in the day. Make a fist with each hand, lower your shoulders onto your fists (palms facing in) and kick into a chest stand.

This variation can steal you an extra inch or two of neck space, which is a big difference when you’re starting out!

Chest Stand on Yoga Blocks

Chest stand on yoga blocks
Chin stand on yoga blocks

For even MORE space, try a chest stand with your shoulders supported on yoga blocks. Place one yoga block under each shoulder with enough space for your head in between. Only try this with the “lowest” position/orientation of yoga blocks – the medium/highest orientation is too precarious to safely practice on.

Active Flexibility Bonus Exercise

In either of these assisted chest stand variations, you can work on active neck flexibility by trying to raise and lower your head off the ground. Try it for 10 reps.

The Long-Term Solution: More Thoracic Flexibility

Elevating your shoulders is a great short-term “fix” for fledgling contortionists, but if you really want to progress to a full/proper chest stand you’ll have to work on your shoulder and upper back flexibility through regular practice. Be sure to incorporate some neck stretches and shoulder openers as part of your regular backbending practice.

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