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3 Poses for Neck and Shoulder Tension

by Julie PetersJune 21, 2018
woman with neck pain


Learn how to release tension in the neck and shoulders with these exercises.

Neck and shoulder tension is incredibly common, partly because so many of us are straining our necks and shoulders forward to peer at phones screens or computers. Releasing the tension in the neck and shoulders can help manage pain and prevent headaches. It can also give us a nice boost of confidence and energy when we let the chest and lungs open. Try these at home (or even at work!):

1. Neck Slides

Healthy head posture includes a natural curve of the neck. The ears should rest in line with the shoulders and ankles. This exercise lengthens the back of the neck and helps strengthen the supportive deep neck flexors.

Sit against a wall. The back of your head should touch the wall comfortably. If that’s not possible, try it lying down—you might need support under your head.

Gently press the back of your head into the wall and slide it away from your shoulders as your shoulders move toward the wall and away from your head. Don’t worry about the double chin! Hold for ten seconds, then relax. Repeat this 3-5 times.

Now we add a stretch. Repeat the same slide and keep the engagement, but this time roll your head to the right, keeping the chin drawn in. Your nose should tip down slightly toward your armpit. You should feel a nice stretch along the side of the neck and possibly into the shoulder. Hold for ten seconds. Come back to center, relax, and then repeat on the other side.

2. Chest opener with the strap

From standing, hold the strap behind your back with your palms facing forward at about hip width apart. Bend your elbows and hug them together. Then try to also squeeze your shoulder blades together, Keep all that and press the strap down to the floor, pressing your chest to the sky. If the neck feels safe, try lifting the chin a bit, and you can even jut out your lower jaw to stretch the throat. Hold for a few breaths and then relax.

3. Shoulder clock

Lie down on your right side with a pillow or bolster under your waist and under your head. Hold a block or towel between your knees and bend them up in line with your hips. Ensure you have a natural curve in your back, so you’re not too rounded, and don’t let the knees slip apart. Bring the hands together, arms straight in front of you, palms touching.

As you inhale, open your top arm up to the sky and to the left like you’re opening a book. Let your head and upper back roll open into a slight twist, but don’t let the knees slide apart and don’t force your arm to go too far. It probably won’t go that close to the floor. When it opens up to your limit, pause and actively lengthen out through the fingertips. On an exhale close the hands again. Repeat three to five times.

Now we optionally add the rotation. From the same starting position, slowly reach your left arm up over your head and around behind you in the shape of a circle. Allow the upper spine to roll open as before. The palm will rotate with the shoulder as it changes its orientation in the shoulder socket. When your hand comes to your hip, go back the way you came. Take your time. Repeat five to ten times and then switch sides to stretch and roll out your opposite shoulder.

Julie Peters

Julie Peters is a staff writer for Spirituality & Health. She is also a yoga teacher (E-RYT 500, YACEP) and co-owner of Ocean and Crow Yoga studio in Vancouver, BC, with her mom, Jane. She is the author of Secrets of the Eternal Moon Phase Goddesses: Meditations on Desire, Relationships, and the Art of Being Broken (SkyLight Paths 2016) and WANT: 8 Steps to Recovering Desire, Passion, and Pleasure After Sexual Assault (Mango Media 2019). Learn more at Follow her at @juliejcp.

Learn with Julie! 

Register for Julie's courses Stress Management Skills for Real Life: Practices for a Calmer Happier Life and Moon Goddess Meditations: A 16-night journey of desire, heartache and connection.

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ExerciseTensionNeck Pain

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