Do you have knots in your upper shoulder and back that make you wish you had a personal massage therapist on call?
There’s nothing worse than trying to get work done when you have a huge knot – or several knots – giving you tension headaches or upper back pain.
Most of us can’t afford a daily massage. But the good news is that you can do yoga shoulder stretches to break up the knots and release tension.
Before we get into the stretches, it’s a good idea to address the root cause of those knots.
You probably guessed the main culprits already: it’s all about bad posture – especially rounded shoulders – and also stress.
If you’re stuck sitting at a computer all day for work and you notice that your posture is being affected, you’ll want to work on un-rounding your shoulders. If that’s an issue for you, check out this post on how to fix rounded shoulders.
But if you’ve already got knots or you need an extra boost to get rid of them, check out these 13 yoga stretches for tight shoulders.
13 Yoga Shoulder Stretches
To get the most out of these stretches, try to let your body relax into them rather than forcing the stretch. And once you get into position, nold for 20 to 30 seconds
1. Neck Stretch
If you find you have several knots on the tops of your shoulders close to your neck, doing a simple neck stretch will offer some relief.
Performing the Neck Stretch
- Begin seated cross-legged on the floor. Sit tall with your shoulders back and down.
- Tilt your head to your right shoulder. Avoid lifting the right shoulder up to meet your head. Instead, focus on elongating the neck and keeping the shoulder down.
- You can stay here and repeat on the other side, or increase the stretch by gently pulling your head toward your shoulder with your right hand.
- Repeat on the opposite side.
2. Upward-Facing Plank
The upward-facing plank stretches the inner arm muscles and the front of the chest, addressing that forward slouch that can cause tension and knots in the shoulders.
It also has the benefit of strengthening the back muscles, which will ultimately work to pull your shoulders back into correct alignment.
Performing Upward-Facing Plank
- Begin sitting on the floor with your knees bent in front of you.
- Place your hands about 15 inches behind you, wider than your hips, fingers facing forward.
- Bend your elbows slightly, inhale, and push your hips toward the ceiling. Straighten your arms and keep your chest open and lifted.
- You can stay here or progress by taking your head back (avoid letting it sag) and straightening your legs.
- Engage your hamstrings to keep your legs straight and avoid sagging your hips toward the ground.
3. Chest Opener with Band
This chest opener is great for lengthening your chest muscles, while at the same time breaking up muscle tension in the upper shoulders.
Performing the Chest Opener with Band
- Begin standing, holding a yoga band behind you.
- Clasp the band with your palms facing forward. Your hands should be far enough apart that you have just enough tension to feel a stretch in the front of your shoulders.
- Increase the stretch by moving your hands closer together and slowly lifting them behind you.
- Throughout this stretch, be sure to concentrate on keeping your shoulders back.
4. Saddle Pose
The saddle pose stretches the front of the chest and hip flexors – both of which will cause rounding and tension in the upper back if they’re stiff. It also provides a slight pressure on the upper back and shoulders, working to break up knots and tension.
Performing the Saddle Pose
- Begin sitting on your feet, knees a comfortable distance apart.
- Now gently lower your back toward the floor behind you, supporting yourself on your elbows.
- You may feel enough of a stretch in your hip flexors and chest at this point to stop here. However, you can progress to fully lowering your shoulders to the floor to arrive in the full pose.
5. Eagle Pose
Eagle pose offers a deep stretch for the entire shoulder and upper back area. It also involves a lower back stretch that requires a great deal of balance, so for now we’ll focus on just the upper body part of the pose.
Performing Eagle Pose
- Begin standing tall, shoulders back and down.
- Extend your arms in front of you. Place your right arm beneath your left.
- Bend your elbows and wrap your right arm around your left like a snake. Touch your palms together.
- Hold here, or to deepen the stretch begin to gently lift your elbows, keeping your palms touching.
- If your palms can’t quite touch yet, try using the backs of your hands.
6. Cow Face Pose
The Cow Face pose stretches the entire shoulder region, opens the chest, and works to break up muscle tension in the shoulders. (If you can’t quite clasp your fingertips together behind you back, you can use a strap to bridge the gap.)
Performing the Cow Face Pose
- Begin sitting tall on the floor.
- Bring your right hand up and reach it behind you (as if you were patting yourself on the back).
- Now, reach your left hand toward your lower back. Try and bring your fingertips together and this point.
- You can stay here or clasp a band with both hands to gently ease your hands closer together.
- Hold for a few breaths and switch arms.
7. Threaded Needle Pose
Threaded needle pose targets the entire shoulder and upper back region. It’s perfect for stretching and breaking apart stiff knots surrounding the shoulder blades.
Performing Threaded Needle Pose
- Begin in a tabletop position (hands directly beneath your shoulders and knees beneath your hips).
- Inhale and lift your right arm toward the sky, opening your chest.
- Now lower your arm and thread it beneath your left arm and chest.
- Let your right shoulder touch the floor, then reach your left arm ahead of you. Keep your eyes looking forward the entire time.
- Repeat on the opposite shoulder.
8. Cat-Cow Pose
Cat-Cow pose works to release tension in the back and shoulders, and makes a great addition to many of the other stretches listed here.
Performing Cat-Cow Pose
- Begin in tabletop position, your hands and feet directly in line with your shoulders and hips.
- With a neutral spine, begin to exhale and round your back toward the ceiling. Hold for a few seconds.
- Inhale and arch your back, lifting your head to look toward the ceiling.
- Continue to flow between cat and cow pose for about 15 reps.
9. Wide-Legged Forward Bend with Clasp
This pose provides a deep stretch for the shoulders, as well as the neck, allowing tension to release from both areas.
Performing Wide-Legged Forward Bend with Clasp
- Stand in a wide stance, feet roughly four feet apart.
- Clasp your hands behind your back, palms pressed together.
- Fold forward by hinging at your hips. Draw your hands over your head toward the floor, being sure to avoid letting your shoulders “creep up” toward your neck.
- To return to standing, engage your glutes and hamstrings to pull you back up.
10. Shoulder Band Stretch
The shoulder band stretch is one of the simplest yoga stretches for shoulders you can do anywhere provided you have a yoga band.
Performing the Shoulder Band Stretch
- Begin standing tall, feet shoulder-width apart.
- Hold a band in both hands and raise it up over your head and slightly behind.
- Make sure the resistance is enough that you feel a stretch through your arms and upper back.
- Repeat as often as necessary.
11. Child’s Pose
Child’s pose provides a release for the shoulders and chest, reducing any knot-causing tension.
Performing Child’s Pose
- Begin sitting on your toes. Bend forward at your hips and reach your arms ahead of you, letting your forehead touch the floor.
- Extend your arms as far as your need to in order to feel a stretch in the upper back and down your sides.
12. Snake Pose
Snake pose opens the chest and stretches the front of the shoulders. It helps guide the shoulders back into proper alignment, which may help prevent future knots from developing in the shoulders.
Performing Snake Pose
- Begin lying facedown on a mat.
- Interlace your hands behind your back and press the tops of your feet into the mat.
- Lift your chest off the floor, keeping your hands clasped together. Look down at the mat to avoid compressing your neck.
- Hold for 5 to 10 breaths, then unclasp your hands and rest your cheek on the floor.
13. Bridge with Clasp
This pose simultaneously strengthens and stretches the entire back, while putting a gentle pressure on the shoulder to break up any tension.
Performing Bridge with Clasp
- Behind lying ace up on the floor, knees bent.
- Keeping your knees pointed straight ahead, lift your hips toward the sky.
- Keeping your hips lifted, clasp your hands together on the ground beneath your hips.
- Hold for a few seconds and lower back to the ground. Repeat if you’d like.
Relaxing Yoga Stretches for Shoulders
Don’t be afraid to perform several of these stretches in a row to really loosen things up.
You’ll start feeling looser and less tense in no time with regular practice. And if you can make some time every day to do a few of them, you’ll love the long-term benefits.
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Yuri Elkaim is one of the world’s most trusted health and fitness experts. A former pro soccer player turned NYT bestselling author of The All-Day Energy Diet and The All-Day Fat Burning Diet, his clear, science-backed advice has transformed the lives of more than 500,000 men and women and he’s on a mission to help 100 million people by 2040. Read his inspiring story, “From Soccer to Bed to No Hair on My Head” that started it all.