There’s honestly nothing worse than trying to go about your day with shoulders perched tensely by your ears or a nagging crick in your neck. Fortunately, yoga makes it so that we don’t have to suffer through the discomfort for long. The key is knowing what your body needs without pushing too far and finding the patience for recovery. So whether you went a little too hard on the dance floor last night, were hunched over a keyboard all day, or just fell asleep sitting up watching Netflix; the poses listed below will come to your rescue with some much-needed relief.
Salamba Balanasana — Child’s Pose
Not only is Child’s Pose the perfect resting spot during practice, but it also works wonders on neck and shoulder tension. Its therapeutic nature helps eliminate mental stressors and headaches while relaxing the body. From a tabletop position, bring knees and big toes together as you settle the hips back. Walk the hands forward and tuck your chin to your chest, carrying the forehead to rest on either the mat or a block. If you’re seeking a deeper stretch, bring the knees wide, and if more support is what you need, use a bolster under the upper body. Allow yourself to passively ease into this shape and use your breath to deepen the release. Fill up and create space on the inhale, and surrender to gravity on the exhale.
Vajrasana Yoga — Thunderbolt Pose
Besides having a cool name, this pose provides deep relief from aches and pains in the neck and shoulders. It’s important to respect your body’s limitations in this shape and move slowly to avoid injury. Start kneeling with your right arm raised overhead and your left hand supporting the sacrum. As you breathe out, bend forward and bring your right arm behind your back while turning your head left. Let the right cheek rest down on the mat or a block, keeping the majority of the weight in the lower body. Try to fully relax all your weight down while continuing to breathe space into the neck.
Sasangasana — Rabbit Pose
The cervical spine is easily agitated and impossible to ignore when it gets out of whack. Luckily, Rabbit Pose provides excellent relief from tightness by welcoming space to the back line of the neck. As an added perk, the digestive system gets a boost when the internal organs are compressed. Start in a kneeling position, possibly bringing a blanket under the knees for extra comfort, and grab both heels. Inhale and lift the hips as you bring the crown of the head to the floor or a block. Try to get your forehead as close to the knees as possible and use the strength in the arms to keep weight off the head.
Uttanasana — Standing Forward Fold Variation Pose
Sometimes the best thing you can do to ease neck and shoulder discomfort is merely let gravity do the work. Release the weight of your head and torso in a Standing Forward Fold variation that feels appropriate. Stand tall with feet at hip-distance and hinge forward at the waist on a breath out. Bend the knees as much as you’d like while allowing the upper body to surrender towards the floor. Grab opposite elbows or let the arms hang heavy as you settle in. You can experiment with a wide-legged variation or interlace the hands behind your head to find what works best for you. Imagine any built-up tension flowing from the base of the spine out through the crown of the head as you mindfully breathe here.
Bhujangasana — Cobra Variation Pose
Gentle backbends can help invite space, flexibility, and movement back into constricted areas. Cobra Pose is a relatively well-known posture in the yoga world, and this variation is perfect for releasing tension in the neck. Lie flat on your belly with the left cheek resting on the mat and both hands on your sacrum with palms facing up. Root the pelvis and tops of the feet down as you inhale the chest off the mat using the upper back muscles. Simultaneously draw your gaze forward and sweep the left arm around, bringing the hand to a salute at the forehead. Exhale to slowly release the left arm back to your sacrum and the chest down to the mat. Take a few breaths before flowing into the other side, noticing any subtle differences from side to side.
Parsva Balasana — Thread the Needle Pose
Thread the Needle Pose is an excellent way to rid the neck and shoulders of tension while nourishing the internal organs with a gentle twist. Come to all fours with knees stacked under hips and wrists under shoulders. Sweep your right hand out and up on an inhale, expanding across the chest. Exhale and slide the right arm under the left with your palm facing up. Drop your right shoulder and cheek down to the floor as you fully relax into this therapeutic shape. Make sure to use your left hand as support when entering and exiting this pose to avoid further injury or irritation. If you’re craving a deeper stretch, try extending your left leg back or wrapping the left arm behind the sacrum.
Gomukhasana — Cow Face Pose
This arm variation is perfect for relinquishing stored tension and strain in the shoulders while clearing any constriction across the chest. Elevate the hips in a comfortable seat and raise your left arm overhead. Bend the arm, so your left hand lies flat on your back and reach your right arm out to the side. Bend the right arm behind your back with the palm turned out and grasp for the left hand. If the hands don’t quite touch, grab ahold of your shirt or use a yoga strap to facilitate the stretch. As you breathe in, let the head drop back into the left arm; as you breathe out, soften the shoulders away from the ears.
Uttana Shishosana — Puppy Pose
The upper and middle back are notoriously difficult to unlock, but this deep heart-opener holds the key to relieving back and shoulder stiffness. Find your way to a tabletop position with hips directly over knees and toes tucked. Slowly walk the hands forward and begin to settle the heart down towards the floor. Let the forehead rest down and release any resistance to gravity as you melt into this backbend. Use blocks or a bolster for additional support if the ground feels a little too far away. If you’d like a little extra stretch for the arms, clasp the hands around the back of the neck with elbows pointing forward.
Salamba Bhujangasana — Sphinx Pose
In order to obtain consistent relief from neck and shoulder soreness, it’s crucial to strengthen the spine. Sphinx Pose is a mild backbend that will help prevent future distress while increasing flexibility. Lie flat on your belly with the tops of the feet and the pelvis both firmly planted. Bring the forearms in front and root them down parallel to one another. Make sure to keep the elbows under the shoulders and the gaze forward as you gently lift the chest by tightening the lower body. Isometrically draw the elbows towards you to open across the chest and lift higher from the crown.
Marjaryasana — Cat/Cow Pose
This gentle flowing posture lengthens and restores movement to the neck and back torso. Find the connection between your breath and the physical action of the pose to restore freedom in tight areas. Come to your hands and knees with wrists under shoulders and knees under hips. Spread the fingers wide and tuck the toes to take some pressure off the knees. Inhale to extend through the spine and broaden across the chest, lifting the gaze and tailbone while dropping the belly towards the mat. Exhale to round the spine by pressing into your hands and feet while tucking the chin and tail under. Continue to flow through these movements as long as you’d like.
Ardha Pincha Mayurasana — Dolphin Pose
Dolphin Pose will open your shoulders, but you’ll have to put in some work to maintain the shape. It requires power and energy from the legs and core to provide relief through the shoulders and neck. Take a kneeling position with forearms parallel on the mat in front of you. Spread the fingers wide and tuck your toes under before sending the hips up and back. Lengthen the back line of the legs, keeping a bend in the knees if necessary, and let the heart go heavy between the arms. Release the head and neck by nodding yes and no as you continue to breathe here.
Trikonasana — Triangle Pose
Beyond tapping into your innate strength and stability, Triangle Pose pacifies pain related to the upper back, neck, and shoulders. Take a wide stance with the feet, turning your left toes forward and the right toes out at a 45-degree angle. Inhale the arms parallel to the floor with palms turned down, and exhale to hinge at the waist and reach your left hand towards the front of the mat. Drop the left fingers down to either your shin, the mat, or a block before reaching the right hand towards the sky. Turn your gaze in any direction that feels appropriate and continue to stay connected to the breath.