Yoga for neck and shoulder pain


Like many yoga teachers do, at the start of class, I often ask if there is anything that people would like to work on? For example, there could be a particular area of the body that is tight and needs attention. One of the most common responses is “something for neck and shoulder pain.”

I hear this complaint often – from my students, peers and friends. Today I asked a colleague how she was doing. She stretched her head over to one side, started to rub her neck and told me that it was really sore. Last night at the movie theatre, my friend could just not get comfortable because of tight shoulders.

The journal Spine, reported that most people suffer from neck pain at some point in their lives. They suggested that 10-20% of adults suffer from chronic neck pain. That’s a lot of people!

Neck pain can be caused by a number of things, including trauma and illness. However, the most common cause is stress on the tissues, muscles and ligaments due to poor posture. This is often related to our high-techie, stressful and sedentary lifestyles.

Forward head posture (made worse by texting and working at computers) can cause the muscles in the front of the neck and chest to shorten up and tighten. This draws the head forward and causes you to round your shoulders. To keep the chest forward, you compensate further by jutting your chin out in order to keep your gaze up. This causes further compression to the neck.

Yoga can help stretch out tight muscles in the neck and shoulders and also strengthens the supporting muscles. Practicing yoga brings about postural awareness. You will be more likely to notice and adjust poor habits.

Yoga for you neck and shoulders

Try these yoga stretches to help alleviate neck and shoulder pain. The first three can easily be done anytime throughout the day, even at your desk. The last one (restorative backbend) is great to do in the evening as you wind down.

Angel Wings

This stretches the muscles and ligaments that attach to the neck and upper spine freeing the scapulae.

Sit tall in your chair (or do this from standing).  Bring your arms straight out in front of your. Bend at the elbows and put your fingertips on your shoulders. Inhale and open your elbows to the side drawing your shoulder blades together. Exhale and bring your elbows forward and together. Do about 5 sets. Then, keeping your fingers on your shoulders, draw large circles with your elbows going first in one direction for 5 breaths and then reversing for 5.

Eagle Arms

Eagle arms helps with postural alignment in your upper back and releases tension at the base of your neck.

You can do this sitting in your chair or standing. Stretch your arms up overhead. Swing your right arm under your left crossing at the elbows. Press the palms of your hands together, fingers pointed upward. Inhale and lift your hands slightly up toward the sky. Exhale and pull the elbows down and forward, towards the floor. Draw your shoulder blades down you r back. Tuck your chin and gaze down slightly. Eagle arms is great to do in combination with other yoga poses as well. Have a look at this video for ideas.

Forward Fold with Eagle arms and hands clasped behind your head.

Stand with feet about hip width. For the eagle arms option, wrap your arms as described above.  Take a deep breath in. As you exhale, fold forward at the hips. Knees may be generously bent. Holds for five breaths focusing on creating length in your spine with each exhale.

Untwist your arms and interlace your hands at the base of your neck. Don’t pull but allow the weight of your arms and gravity create even more traction and release in your spine. Hold for 5 breaths.

Restorative Backbend (Supported Fish)

This is probably not one to do in the office but great for when you get home! It stretches the muscles in the front of your shoulders.

Start in a seated position with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Place a bolster (or other support) lengthwise with the end touching your low back. Slowly lower yourself over the bolster so that it supports your entire spine. I also like to place a small pillow under my head. Straighten your legs out and allow your feet to fall open. Arms are at your the sides, palms up. As you inhale, find opening and expansion. As you exhale, relax deeply. See a picture of this pose here.

That’s it for now. Have a wonderful week!

Image courtesy of Osvaldo Gago

1 thought on “Yoga for neck and shoulder pain”

  1. Charlotte,

    Once again you are a live saver! My 16 year old son is already getting hunchy shoulders from bad posture. I was planning to put together a yoga series for him to do 2-3 times a day over the summer. You have started the process for me.

    Have you added any new poses to your stick figure series?

    Hugs, Paula

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