This Shoulder Releasing Yoga Routine Eases Tight Shoulders & Tech Neck

Photo: Studio Firma

We hold so much tension in our shoulders. Sedentary work, lugging heavy bags, and constant engagement with our phones can form knots, resulting in neck and back pain. One way to counteract the daily damage we do to our bodies is by developing a yoga practice—but if you don't have time for a full class, or notice your shoulders bunching up by your ears during the day, this short and sweet salve, inspired by sequences popular at New York City's Sky Ting Yoga will loosen up your shoulder girdle in a jiffy.

As you go through these movements, engage your deep belly diaphragmatic breathing through your nose—holding your breath through the poses won't facilitate a proper release. If any of these poses are out of your range of motion, don't force it. Do what you can and know that over time, your range of motion will increase.

1. Warm up with 20 jumping jacks or a few sun salutations.

When we stretch the body, especially a tight area like the shoulders, we want to make sure it’s warm. If you’ve been sitting at a desk all day, get some blood flow going! Ten push-ups, a brisk walk, and running in place for a minute are great options too.

2. Make shoulder circles (front and back).

Now that you’re warm, we can begin to move the joint. The shoulders are a ball-in-socket joint, which allows us a wide range of movement.

Place your hands on their own shoulders with fingertips cupping the top. In this position, take 10 circles forward and then 10 circles backward, exploring different-size circles and making it feel good.

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3. Do eagle arms (right and left).

Extend both arms out in front of you and reach the right arm to the left with a slight bend at the elbow. Cross the left arm over the right aligning both elbows. From here intertwine your forearms and if you can, bring the palms to touch for eagle arms. You should feel the stretch along the back of the shoulder girdle.

After a few moments of holding the pose and continuing to press the palms together, slowly lift the arms up and then lower them down. Do this three times within your range of motion, but take it slowly. Then move side to side. Come back to center and make three slow clockwise circles within your range of motion and three counterclockwise circles.

Slowly release the arms, circle the shoulders, shake it out, and repeat on the other side.

4. Start "shoulder flossing" (right and left).

Photo: @fizkes

You may need to hold a hand towel in your left hand, depending on your range of motion. Reach your left arm around the small of your back, with the back of your hand touching the back of your right hip. Then bend your left arm at the elbow, and use your right hand to grab the elbow and move it closer to the center. Ideally the back of your left hand touches your back in between your shoulder blades, but don't push it—grab onto your shirt or keep your towel in hand. Then circle your right hand out to the right, overhead, and bending at the elbow reach for the left hand. See if you can grab your left fingers with your right ones. If not, both hands can grab for your clothing and hold, or grab for the towel and hold.

If your right arm is protruding to the right, see if you can align it with the back of your head and use your head to push very gently into the arm. You should feel a stretch in the back of your shoulder. From here, imagine drawing tiny circles with the right elbow on the ceiling. Go three to the right and three to the left. For a breath and slowly release.

It's normal for heat to build here—breathe deeply and refrain from making any sudden movements. Instead, move slowly, within your range, and allow the muscles to feel the stretch while feeling held and safe. Circle the shoulders and switch sides!

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5. Move freely.

Circle your shoulders, pump the arms front and back, move in a way that feels good for a few moments.

6. Fold forward with clasped hands.

Placing your feet hips'-width distance or two-fist lengths apart, make them parallel and distribute the weight evenly throughout the four corners of the foot. Bend slightly at the knees and clasp your hands behind your sacrum, attempting to bring the palms to touch. If you have hyperextended elbows, keep a microbend in them. Bend your knees more and bring your hands overhead as you fold over your legs into a forward fold. Bend your knees until your chest makes contact with your thighs. Tone the sitz bones back and up as you fold deeper. Allow your arms to fall forward, but don't force it. As you breathe deeply, feel the stretch across your chest and your collarbones.

Once you've had enough, or after four breaths, slowly rise up, unclasp the hands, and twist from side to side allowing the arms to sway. Repeat this once more with the nonhabitual grip of the hands.

7. Finish with another set of shoulder circles.

To wind down, do another set of shoulder circles (Step 2) and notice how it feels a little different. Welcome to your new shoulders!

Want to loosen up your hips, too? There's a yoga sequence for that. Plus, this wind-down routine is an excellent way to prep your body for bedtime.

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