Your upper body tends to hold a lot of tension, stress, and tightness from everyday life and habits. This is especially true of working at a desk (tech neck), hunching to look at our phones, and mostly living a sedentary life, where sitting is our primary movement pattern.
This often leads to rounded shoulders, tight trapezius and back muscles, a tight neck, and even tension headaches. The good news is that these simple beginner-friendly yoga stretches can help you relieve tension and tightness to feel better IMMEDIATELY.
These upper body stretches are also effective for reducing tightness and increasing your flexibility for weightlifting or strength training, so give them a try!
6 Yoga Stretches for Your Upper Body
These are all beginner-friendly poses and upper-body stretches that are very adaptable to your skill level, so try to do what’s comfortable and mildly challenging for you. Remember to practice mindfulness and breathe as you go through each position, using the breath to ease deeper into each stretch. Try to bring attention to the sensations you are feeling at the moment and not what you have to do later.
This sidebend strengthens your shoulders and core while improving mobility in the shoulders and sides of your body. This posture is also important for increasing spinal mobility and relieving tension in your spine and hips. Start with a shallow bend, and focus on feeling the stretch in the correct areas.
- Stand in Mountain pose with your big toes nearly touching and your heels about 1in (2.5cm) apart.
- Interlace your fingers overhead.
- Lockout your arms, elevate your shoulders blades, and point your index fingers to the ceiling.
- Rotate your arms inward so your biceps face your ears.
- Press down into the heels and the balls of your feet.
- Make your body as tall as possible, then lean to the right with your upper body, hips lightly pressing in the opposite direction.
- Hold the posture, inhaling as you get taller, and exhaling as you bend deeper.
- Repeat on the left side.
Tip: For better core stability, squeeze your thighs toward one another, and engage the muscles in the side of the body that you are stretching.
This posture is extremely effective for strengthening the core and spine, and for improving spinal mobility. Use it in the morning to wake up with an energy boost. The standing backbend is also great before a workout to activate your core and warm up your spine.
- Stand in Mountain pose with your big toes touching and your heels about 1in (2.5cm) apart.
- Reach your arms overhead, elevate your shoulder blades, press palms together, and interlace fingers, pointing the index fingers up.
- Inhale as you slowly look up at the ceiling, then exhale as you bend backward.
- Keep hips and core engaged, and maintain length in your spine.
- Hold the posture, inhaling as you lengthen the spine and lift the sternum higher, and exhaling as you bend deeper and reach further back.
- Bend back only as far as it feels comfortable and your core remains engaged. Do not let your lower back arch.
- This pose is a constant push and pull between lengthening the spine and deepening the arch. As you inhale, lengthen the spine and grow taller. As you exhale, increase the degree of the backbend and reach further back.
Downdog on The Wall
This modified quintessential yoga posture stretches the hamstrings, properly aligns the spine, improves shoulder mobility, and strengthens your hips, back, and core. Depending on the intensity of the stretch and your skill level, you can opt to do a standard downward-facing dog.
- Start with your hands on the wall.
- Hinge at the hips as you walk backward, forming a straight line with your back.
- Push into the ground with your feet to actively engage your legs.
- Keep your abs lightly active to protect your lower
- Keep in contact with the wall as you push your chest towards the ground and deepen the stretch.
- Focus on opening your shoulders and letting your neck relax to some extent.
Thread The Needle Pose
This restorative posture stretches the rotator cuff muscles, relieves upper-back soreness, and releases shoulder tension. It’s a great every-day stretch.
- Start in Child’s pose with your knees wider than your shoulders, big toes touching, and hips shifted back toward your heels. Keep arms and torso long.
- Slide your left arm under your right arm between the right hand and right knee, left palm facing up.
- Press the back of your arm into the floor, and lightly pull it back to the left to stretch the left shoulder.
- Hold the posture, inhaling as you expand your chest, and exhaling as you deepen the shoulder stretch.
- Your right shoulder and arm should just be used for support.
- Repeat on the other side.
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Cross Arm Stretch (easier version of “thread the needle”)
To make “Thread The Needle” easier, try the standing version. This is a less intense version of the pose.
- Swing and catch one arm straight across the body.
- Wrap the opposite forearm around the triceps
- Lightly pull your arm to the side to stretch the upper back and shoulder.
Note: You can also do this in a seated position.
This is an all-purpose pose to relax your body and release tension in your spine, back, and hips. Child’s pose also helps relieve stiffness in the spine after sitting for an extended period of time.
- Start on all fours with shoulders over hands and hips over knees. Widen knees slightly wider than hip-width apart, and touch big toes together.
- Shift your hips back toward heels as far as you comfortably can. Keep the torso as long as possible.
- Keeping hips pushed back, walk your arms forward on the floor to stretch your back, and place hands shoulder-width apart.
- Lightly squeeze arms and shoulders toward one another, and firmly press hands into the floor.
- Tighten lower abs, and draw ribs in.
- Hold the posture, inhaling to expand your chest and fill lungs, and exhaling to tighten abs and draw ribs in.
Tip: You can make Child’s pose active or passive. To be more active, keep shoulders and arms engaged. To be more passive, relax elbows to the floor.
About the author, Dean Pohlman, Founder & CEO of Man Flow Yoga, Author of Yoga Fitness for Men, Expert on Yoga Fitness for Men.
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