Classes that target the shoulders, neck and upper back are always in high demand. We all seem to have built up tension in this area, for one reason or another (you could probably guess your reason – go on, give it a try).
When you need to release this tension, and you can’t get to a masseuse everyday, you can give these 7 yoga poses and short sequences a try instead.
No props required, just roll out your mat and set aside about 20 minutes.
1. Neck Stretches – Find a comfortable seat. Draw the shoulders down away from the ears as you lengthen through the spine. Drop your left ear towards the left shoulder. Slowly roll the head down, tucking chin to chest, making your way to the right side with the right ear reaching for right shoulder. Go back in the opposite direction, doing half moon circles. Notice where you feel tension residing. Relax your jaw. Take about 5 full rounds back and forth. Return your head to neutral. Then drop right ear to right shoulder, this time holding here while you crawl your left fingertips out to the side. To intensify, you can bring your right hand to the left temple. Using it to lightly guide the ear closer towards the shoulder, or rather increasing the space on the left side. Gently cup the head and return to center, then repeat on the other side.
2. Spinal Warm-Up – Starting with a cat/cow variation which focuses more on the shoulders and upper back (as opposed to the low back). Come to table top, setting the palms up under the shoulders and knees under the hips. As you inhale, drop the belly towards the floor, and squeeze the shoulder blades back behind you. As you exhale, broaden through the shoulders as you round and contract chin to chest. Move through a few rounds of this with your breath. Feeling in to the kinks, and sending your breath to these areas. Come back to neutral table top. Reach your right arm up to the sky. As you exhale, reach it through to the left and lower down to your right ear and shoulder. You may want to extend your left arm forward, coming up on the fingertips. After several breaths, come back to center and take to the other side.
3. Forward Folds – Move through a Vinyasa flow, or come straight to downward dog. Check that you aren’t hiking the shoulders up and tensing up the neck here. You might want to paddle the feet out or bend deeply in to the knees as you take a few breaths here. Then walk your feet to the top of the mat, bending your knees generously. Hold opposite elbows as you allow yourself to dangle over the legs and decompress the spine and neck. Bend your knees further as you drop the fingers down. Push in to your heels and roll all the way up to standing. Inhale to stand nice and tall, interlacing the fingers behind you. Keep a small bend in the elbows, and rest your thumbs on the tailbone. Squeeze the shoulder blades together behind you. Bend your knees generously and start to hinge forward from the hips. See if you can lift your knuckles up off of the tailbone. Maintain the squeeze through the shoulder blades and keep the elbows slightly bent. Exhale, lowering the fingers down.
4. Lunge Series – Step your left foot to the back of the mat, and lower the knee to the ground. As you inhale, reach the arms up. Bend the elbows to find cactus arms. Squeeze the shoulder blades back behind you, and lift up through the chest. After several breaths, release the fingers down on an exhale. Curl your back toes under, and float the back knee off of the mat. Keep the left hand rooted down, and reach your right arm up in an Easy Twist. Bring your right hand to rest on your low back, letting your head hang heavy. Getting in to the right side of the neck and shoulder here. Step the right foot back, coming in to downward dog for a few breaths, before stepping your left foot forward to repeat on this side.
5. Warrior Series – Take a Vinyasa flow, and meet in downward dog. Extend the left leg up to the sky, then step it through between the palms. Spin your back foot parallel to the shorter edge of the mat. Lift up into Warrior 2, opening the hips and shoulders to the right side, and bending in to the left knee. Instead of reaching the arms out to the sides, bend your elbows in front of you, wrapping the right arm under the left and binding once or twice (or if this doesn’t work for you, give yourself a hug and hold opposite shoulder blades). Push your forearms together to get a nice stretch through the upper back. Tuck your chin in to your chest, and let the forehead drop to the biceps. After a few rounds of breathing in to eagle arms, on an inhale unravel the arms out to the sides. Turn the palms up to the sky, then bend your elbows and squeeze the shoulder blades behind you. Take a few more deep breaths here. Release. Then reach the right arm up, bend the elbow, and bring right hand to the back of the head. Lower the left arm and bend the elbow, seeing if you can clasp the fingers together behind you in archer arms. Think about lifting up and expanding. Unravel the arms, windmill the hands down to frame the front foot, then step back to downward dog. Repeat through on the other side.
6. Laying Chest Openers – Come down on to the belly. Reach your right arm out to the side. Option 1 is to keep it out straight, or option 2 is to bend the elbow at 90 degrees and point the fingers forward. Palm rests flat on the floor, as you roll over to the right shoulder. Bend your knees if it feels good. Either keep your left hand down, pushing in to it to help you open up, or bring the left hand to your low back. Relax your head and neck. Breathe in to the pecs, shoulders, and spots where you most feel this opening. Roll back to the belly and slowly switch sides. After holding for the same amount of time, return to the belly once more. Slide your forearms out in front of you, elbows under shoulders and middle fingers pointing forward. Lift the chin and chest up, as you point the toes back behind you in Sphinx. Push the head of the arm bones back behind you as you breathe in to the sensations here.
7. Wind down – Flip over on to your back. Hug the knees in to the belly, taking a few breaths here. Extend your arms out to a T. Bring the feet down to mat width, and let the knees drop side to side with your breath. When you are ready, make your way into Savasana, your final resting pose. Extending the legs out, turning the palms to face up, drop your shoulders down away from the ears. Allow yourself to melt and soften in to the ground. Notice how the area you were targeting in this practice (neck, shoulders, upper back) feels now compared to when you first got on your mat. Breathe in to the space created as you take a few minutes here to integrate the work in to the body. Let go further with each exhale.
Prefer audio or visual cues? Check out the YouTube video below and practice with me.
❤ Your donations help me improve my channel and the quality of my videos, thank you! http://bit.ly/ywkdonate
Yoga with Kassandra – Disclaimer
Please consult with your physician before beginning any exercise program. By participating in this exercise or exercise program, you agree that you do so at your own risk, are voluntarily participating in these activities, assume all risk of injury to yourself, and agree to release and discharge Yoga with Kassandra from any and all claims or causes of action, known or unknown, arising out of Yoga with Kassandra’s negligence.