The upper back and shoulders tend to be the most ‘dead’ part of the body. Sitting for long hours, poor posture and too much stress have a way of rounding the shoulders, collapsing the chest, and making the neck become tight and painful.
The average human head weighs 12–15 pounds and the typical workday tapping on a computer or phone draws our focus and our head forward so we can look down. As that happens, the upper trapezius, shoulders and neck lengthen and tense to support the weight of our head in that forward motion.
Over time, that can cause stiffness or pain in the neck, shoulder and upper back. Here are five poses to stretch and elongate those muscles, ease stiffness and ward off pain.
Take just the upper half of eagle to release the shoulders and upper back. It can even be done sitting at your desk.
- Cross your left arm over the right so your elbows rest on top of one another.
- Bend your elbows, wrapping your forearms around each other, palms facing each other and fingers pointing to the ceiling.
- If your palms don’t touch, rest one palm against the opposite wrist or forearm.
- Deepen the shoulder stretch by lifting the elbows and taking the palms away from your face.
2. Cow Face:
Like eagle, the upper-body portion of this pose can be done at your desk to stretch your shoulders and chest. If you have very tight shoulders, use a strap or a towel to connect both hands.
- Start in a comfortable, seated position.
- Inhale and lift your left arm up overhead.
- Bend your elbow and rest your palm on your upper back or shoulder blade, depending on your reach.
- Use your right hand to gently press your left elbow down.
- Take the right arm around your back, palm facing out and try to reach your left hand.
- If you can’t touch, take a towel or strap in your left hand and reach your right hand for the towel.
- Lift your left elbow toward the ceiling.
- Keep your spine tall.
3. Half Knot:
Half knot, also known as threading the needle, uses your bodyweight to stretch the muscles in your back and shoulders and release tension in your neck.
- Start in a table top position, wrists under your shoulders and knees under your hips.
- As you inhale, take your right arm to the sky, palm facing away from your body.
- Exhale and sweep your right arm under your chest, resting your shoulder on the ground.
- Turn your right palm up toward the sky and rest your right cheek on the ground.
- Keep your left palm pressing into the earth or deepen the twist by taking your left hand to the small of your back.
- Hold for several breaths.
- Then, on an inhale, sweep your right hand toward the sky for a gentle counter-twist.
- Exhale, release your right hand to the earth and repeat on the other side.
4. Puppy Pose:
Place a bolster or rolled-up blanket between your calves and thighs so you can hold this pose longer and enjoy the spine and shoulder stretch.
- Start in a tabletop position with your knees under your hips and your wrists under your shoulders.
- Gently walk your hands forward, drop your chest to the ground and rest your forehead on the floor or a blanket.
- Press your palms into the ground and send your hips toward your heels.
- As in a child’s pose, avoid compressing or crunching your neck.
- If you find you have an arch in your neck, use a blanket or block under your forehead to keep it long.
- Breathe here for up to a minute and then slowly sit back.
Related article: Stretch and Strengthen Your Hips With These Hip-Opening Yoga Poses
5. Thunderbolt Twist:
This cure-all pose stretches the shoulders, back and hips.
- Sit in a kneeling position with your butt resting on your heels.
- Legs are slightly apart, but try to have your big toes touching.
- Sit tall, relax the eyes and rest your hands on your thighs.
- Inhale and lengthen through your spine.
- Exhale and twist to the right, placing your left hand on your right knee.
- You can put your right hand on the floor behind you or grasp your left hip crease.
- Keep your left hip as close to the floor as you can or use a block or blanket for added support.
- With each inhale, think about growing tall through your spine, and with each exhale, twist a little deeper.
- Hold the twist for 5 breaths, return to centre on an inhale and repeat on the other side.