Many people carry a lot of tension and tightness in their shoulders. When we worry about things there is a tendency to tighten all the muscles in the upper back, shoulders and neck area. Our daily work can also affect us physically. For example, if you work on a computer for a number of hours every day, the position in which you sit can mean that there is a tendency to hunch forward, shortening the muscles in the front of the shoulders.
Therapeutic yoga is an approach we can take to counter-balance the way we use or move our body in daily life. Specific positions can be held or moved into and out of that target the shoulders, shoulder blades and front of the chest.
Below I share a short sequence that can help to release tension in the shoulders and chest. Use it anytime you notice that your shoulders are tight. It can also be useful if you experience tension headaches on a regular basis – use the sequence as soon as you notice the headache is starting.
In the sequence we move the body through different positions to release shoulder tension. It enables us to stretch the muscles in different directions and allow the energy to flow again. The sequence is all done seated. You can do them sitting on the floor (cross-legged or kneeling), or seated on a back-less stool.
I recommend that you breathe slowly and fully throughout – aim for an even inhale and exhale (e.g. count to four for both the inhale and exhale).
Yoga sequence to release shoulder tension
Take a comfortable seated position.
- Drop the chin downwards towards the chest.
Hold for 30 seconds. Breathe slowly into the shoulder area. Allow the shoulders to drop. Lift the chin back to normal. Repeat.
- Lift shoulders up and down.
As you inhale, squeeze the shoulders up towards your ears. As you exhale allow them to gently drop. Repeat 8 times.
- Cross arm across front of body
Cross your right arm across the front of your body. Bring the left arm beneath the right arm, so that it holds it in place (as shown in the photo). Hold for 30 seconds. As you hold, imagine pushing away (forward and right) with your right shoulder – this engages the muscles in the shoulder area. Release. Swap to the left arm.
Repeat again on both sides.
- Arms clasped behind back
Interlink the fingers behind your back, pressing the palms together. Move the hands away from the body behind you. Then bend the elbows and bring the hands to the ribs on the left side of your body, so that the back of your right hand rests on the left ribs. At the same time imagine trying to press both elbows towards each other, as shown in the photo. (Remember to keep the tummy muscles active and tucked in, so that you avoid arching through your spine). Release. Swap sides – bringing the back of your left hand towards the right ribs.
Repeat again on both sides.
- Eagle arms
Take both arms out directly in front of you, at shoulder height, with palms facing each other. Cross the right arm beneath the left arm. Where the elbows cross (you can touch the left arm onto the top of the right arm) they bend, so that the right arm comes around the left arm. You can either bring the back of the hands together in front of your face, or move the hands so that the palms are facing one another (see the photo). Keep the shoulders down. To increase the stretch in the shoulder, you raise the elbows whilst keeping the shoulders away from the ears. Hold for 30 to 60 seconds then release. Roll the shoulders. Repeat with the left arm at the bottom.
- Thread needle
From kneeling, place your hands on the mat in front of you – to create a tabletop position – shoulders directly over the hands. Then take the right arm between the left arm and your body, dropping the shoulder down towards the mat (see the photo). Your bottom stays in the air, with the hips directly over your knees. Stay here for 30 to 60 seconds, then swap sides.
- Roll shoulders
As you inhale, squeeze the shoulders up towards the ears, then roll them forward. As you exhale, allow the shoulders to drop down. As you inhale squeeze the shoulder blades together as you bring the shoulders up again. (Imagine it like making a big circle with the shoulders). Do this a few times. Then reverse the action – rolling the shoulders in the other direction.
You can repeat this sequence every day to release shoulder tension and experience the benefits this can bring.
Read more about yoga at La Crisalida
We have written many articles over the years about how yoga can help to bring balance to your body, including some other sequences that you can try at home:
- Read how you can use functional movement in your yoga practice to take care of your body.
- Enjoy some long-held poses in yin and sink into stillness, in this ten-minute home yin yoga practice.
- Try these yoga asanas to support your detox, including twists, squeeze and inversions.
- Find your balance, in our article: seven tips to improve your balance in yoga.
Come on a yoga retreat in Spain
La Crisalida Retreats offers year-round yoga retreats here in the sunny Costa Blanca, Spain, where you can learn and practice different styles of yoga with our fabulous teachers. Come and experience it for yourself.
I hope this sequence helps to bring some lightness and space back into your shoulders.
About the author
- Lisa is one of the founders of La Crisalida Retreats. She is an Epidemiologist, therapeutic hatha and yin yoga teacher and also teaches mindfulness meditation. Lisa has studied NLP and hypnosis, as well as nutrition (she designs the menus).