Mahalo Moves


Pain in neck or shoulders: 10 exercises for upper body stress release

Broken Wing Pose

Do you suffer frequently from pain in your neck or shoulders?

Since we’re working a lot behind computers and our eyes (read = our whole upper body) face a screen multiple hours a day, many of us struggle with discomfort in the upper body; pain, tensed muscles, and maybe even headaches and psychological stress.

We all know it starts with better posture and a bit more movement throughout the day, but what if you want to get rid of the stiffness – basically right now?

What can cause neck pain?

First things first: always consult a doctor if you have had extensive pain for a long time if you regularly feel pinching, sharp pain (anywhere – not only in your neck), or if you have other symptoms, such as numbness, dizziness, or loss of function.

If this is NOT the case: great! You can probably take some steps yourself to find quick relief from your neck and shoulder pain.

  1. Bad posture. Needless to say, slouching shoulders, or hanging in your chair is not very good for your body. Remember, the body tends to develop in the direction that you use it the most.
  2. Screens and too much sitting. While looking at screens, we generally look down, which brings us back to #1 of the causes. Also, if you sit a lot, your back muscles become weaker. Contrary to what you would think, ergonomic chairs don’t help us here. They provide so much support that our muscles simply forget that they should work while sitting.
  3. Stress causes muscles to contract, tighten, and if you hold the contraction (too) long: that’s that pain, right? Very often an unconscious habit, but it can cause sincere pain.

Here are 10 yoga exercises to relieve neck and shoulder pain instantly

1. Ear to Shoulder 

Neck and Shoulder Stretch Pain

  • Start seated or standing.
  • Breathe deeply in, and lengthen the crown of your head upward, elongate your spine. 
  • Then start to lower your right ear towards your right shoulder.
  • Do this very slowly so you can really feel when it’s enough. Remind yourself that you’d like to stretch the muscles in your neck, you don’t want to hurt yourself.
  • Stop when you feel that the stretch hits your sweet spot and stay there.
  • Take five deep breaths here. If you like: exhale through your mouth.
  • Not feeling anything? You can rest your right hand lightly on the top side of your head – around the left temple area to create some leverage.
  • After five breaths, slowly bring your head back to the center line and switch sides.

2. Cow Face 

Cow Face Pose Yoga Shoulder Pain Exercises

  • Seated or standing, reach one arm up towards the ceiling and take a deep inhale while lengthening the whole body upwards.
  • On your exhale bend the elbow down your upper back. Reach your opposite arm down and bend the elbow so that the palm of the hand points upward and both hands reach in the direction of each other.
  • If you can, grab hold of the fingertips of the other hand or maybe even the hand. If you cannot reach the other hand use a towel, a belt, or simply your shirt to bring the hands closer to each other.
  • Make sure you keep your spine straight up and the chest open. You want the top elbow to keep reaching upwards.
  • Stay here and take five deep breaths, maybe even close your eyes.
  • Go for the sensation of stretch and more openness of the torso without hurting yourself.
  • After finishing these breaths, slowly let go, roll your shoulders a few times forward and back, and switch sides. 

3. Side Body Stretch 

Side Stretch

A posture that you can easily do throughout your day, either standing up or seated.

  • Breathe in and stretch your whole body up, reach one arm up towards the ceiling and side bend over towards the other side.
  • Make sure you are reaching upwards without collapsing into your other side.
  • Feel how more space is created between your ribs and between the vertebrae of your spine.
  • Stay in this side stretch for five deep breaths and reach with every inhale a little further away.
  • After these breaths, switch sides.

4. Cat & Cow   

Cow Pose

The all-time favourite to warm up the spine and loosen the muscles: cat and cow rolls of the spine.

  • You can do this seated, standing, or on your hands and your knees.
  • Link your breath to your movement and inhale to arch your back and look slightly up, without hanging back in your neck.
  • Exhale and round your whole spine to the best of your ability.
  • Continue this movement in your own rhythm, but the slower you go the more you might be able to feel every sensation.
  • A nice benefit of slow breathing and movements is also that it calms you down psychologically as well.
  • Take at least 10 cycles of breathing, synchronised with your movements.

5. Melting Heart Pose

painful shoulder exercises

  • You can do this exercise either on your knees or while standing, using a wall or something else to lean to.
  • Walk your arms away from your body without shifting in your lower body. If you are on your hands and your knees make sure the hips stay over top of your knees.
  • Widen the arms if you feel that there is limited space for your shoulders.
  • Drop the forehead or even the chest down, as far as is comfortable for your body. You will notice that your breath becomes shallow if you go too quickly and too deep.
  • Stay there to take at least 5 deep, slow breaths.
  • If you’ve finished these, drop yourself slowly to your belly and continue to the next posture. Make sure you take some time to relax on your belly in between. 

6. Sphinx

Sphinx Pose

Sphinx is best done while laying down on your belly.

  • Walk your arms in, so your elbows come more or less underneath your shoulders.
  • Make sure that the low back is OK and press down through your elbows to guide the chest forward and up.
  • Instead of slouching in the shoulders, you want to bring the shoulder blades on your back, while lifting the chest forward and up.
  • Stay here and just breathe for at least 10 long breaths.

7. Locust Pose

Locust Pose

Locust Pose takes a bit more effort. Bring your hands behind your low back and interlace your fingers. If possible unite the palms and start to lift your arms away from your hips.

  • Reach your chest forward and up, and lift yourself up from your low back. Be careful here: you don’t want to feel any sharp sensations in your low back.
  • Stay here for 5 deep breaths and carefully come back down.

8. Broken Wing

Broken Wing Pose

Broken wing pose does miracles for stiff shoulder blades. Where we tend to round and lengthen the muscles on our back while we slouch forward, this posture does exactly the opposite.

  • From laying down on your belly you stretch one arm out towards the side, shoulder height.
  • Roll yourself then slowly on the same side on your hip and support yourself a little bit with the other hand in front of your chest.
  • Move slowly to feel where your sweet spot is.
  • If you’ve reached the right sensation for the lower shoulder blade, stay there.
  • You can keep the top arm in front of the chest or slide it down over your low back. Another option is to bend your top knee and to step the foot behind the other. This way, you create some leverage for the torso to make the sensation a bit more intense while keeping your balance on one hip.
  • Stay here for 5 deep breaths or as long as you like and then switch sides.

9. Arm Shoelace

Arm Shoelace

  • Positioned on your belly, lift your chest slightly up.
  • Then take the right arm in front of the chest over to the left and the left over to the right. Pay attention which one rests below the other, so you can switch sides after a while.
  • Take a few moments to find the right sensation; you can tuck your toes underneath to bring the chest a bit more forward and on top of your upper arms to make the sensations a bit more intense.
  • Stay in this position for at least 5 deep, slow breaths, or longer if you like.
  • When you are done, slowly release, and switch sides.

10. Dolphin

Dolphin Pose

Dolphin pose is not only a stretch, it’s also a strengthener for the shoulders, while at the same time warming for the whole body. Perfect as your last exercise of this session, to get a nice reset of the body and your mind, and to rejuvenate for the rest of your day.

  • Come into a forearm plank and walk your feet in.
  • Take your time and make sure the elbows are as wide as your shoulders.
  • You can keep the arms separated or interlace the fingers.
  • Walk the feet in as much as is OK for your body and stay at your end position for 5 deep breaths.
  • Rest in a childspose and take your time to get back to your day.

Do you want to explore these exercises in a tailor-made yoga session? Explore the possibilities here.

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