Neck and shoulder pain is the worst. It can make it impossible to do even the simplest of movements like turning your head or bending down to tie your shoes. When you have pain and tension this debilitating, you need to find relief quickly so you can move on with your day! Release, relax and stretch the neck, chest, shoulders and upper back with the below yoga sequence. You should have a block at the ready and a wall nearby. It’s also important to remember not to force anything with these poses; only go as far as your range of motion comfortably allows to prevent injury.
1. Chin smiles
Exhale and move your chin to your chest, lengthening the back of the neck. Inhale and slowly rotate the chin towards the right shoulder. Exhale and move the chin to the chest again. Inhale, rotating the chin towards the left shoulder. Move slowly and gently from right to left on the breath, imagining that you’re drawing a smile with the chin.
2. Neck lengthening
Take your right ear towards your right shoulder and pause. Gently explore where you need the stretch – moving your chin slightly up or down, for example. Diagonally extend the left arm so that the fingertips touch the floor, then bring your right hand to the left side of the head. Apply a light pressure here; rather than pulling, feel that you’re lengthening the left side of the neck in two directions. Gently resist the pressure of your hand with your head and breathe in and out slowly to a count of ten. Repeat on the other side.
3. Cat pose
Come into a table top position. Exhale, tuck the tail, round the spine and dome your shoulder blades. Press the earth away with your palms and relax your head and neck.
4. Cow pose
Inhale and bend your elbows slightly. Slowly begin to lift the tailbone, dipping the belly towards the floor. Move your shoulders away from the ears and send the chest forward in space. Lift your eyes rather than the chin. Exhale, moving back to Cat pose. Undulate the spine between the two positions a few more times on the wave of your breath.
5. Gate pose variation
Come into Gate pose, placing the left hand on the floor in line with the left knee. Reach the right arm straight up and rotate the palm so it faces away from you. Bend the right elbow and place the back of the hand to the lower back. Exhale and oscillate your head, rotating the nose towards the floor – then inhale, rotating the nose up toward the ceiling. Repeat on the other side.
6. Downward facing dog
Come into Downward facing dog. Press your hands and feet into the floor. Bend your knees a little and stretch the spine long. Wrap your upper arm bones into the sockets, imagining the skin across the shoulder blades is broadening. Shake and nod the head gently, relaxing and releasing as you breathe.
7. Ragdoll pose
From Downward facing dog, walk your feet to hands. Bend your knees and lay the chest on your thighs. Interlace your fingers and bring them to the back of your head with the edges of the little fingers at the base of your skull. Once again, think about lengthening rather than pulling. Stay here and breathe…
8. Shoulder stretches at the wall
a) Face the wall with your toes touching it. Bend your right arm at the elbow so that it makes an L-shape and place your forearm against the wall, elbow more or less at shoulder height. Walk your feet to the left slightly, keeping your right hip close to the wall. Press the forearm against the wall and count to ten.
b) After ten breaths, walk your feet further round so that they’re at a 30 to 45-degree angle. Again, using the forearm against the wall as resistance, count to ten, breathing evenly.
c) Finally – and only if you have the range of motion – turn your feet even further round to the left. Your right hip might now be next to the wall. Press the forearm into the wall once more and count to ten. Slowly unravel and come back to face the wall. Repeat the sequence on the other side.
9. Triangle pose at the wall with block
Put the block on its highest height at the wall. Bring the outer edge of the right foot next to the block and come into Triangle pose. Press the right palm into the block and extend the left arm up or keep it on the left hip. Keeping the neck long, slowly oscillate the head around the spine, inhaling to look up and exhaling to look down. Repeat on the other side.