A short sequence to unlock neck and shoulder tension

With spring comes a desire to surface again, as though from a deep winter slumber.  It’s time to uncrick necks, stretch out limbs and take some deep, deep breaths, breathing in new life and vigour.  To help you banish the winter blues for another year and embrace the spring sunshine, here’s a little sequence I’ve been finding myself doing recently, as I return to outdoor yoga practice, blinking in wonder at the bright light!

Start by sitting comfortably, trying to extend the spine as much as you can, and taking between five and ten very slow, deep breaths through the nose. Notice the small, natural pauses after each inhale and each exhale. If you feel completely comfortable doing so, then perhaps slightly elongate these pauses between breaths, noticing if there is any corresponding sensations in the body during these pauses, perhaps a sense of peacefulness or stillness (but if your breath feels at all strained following a prolonged pause then go back to breathing completely naturally).

After your mindful breathing, close the eyes (if they’re not already closed), sit quietly for a few minutes and really notice how your body feels in that moment – scan your body, noting any sensations, maybe tingles, niggly aches, areas that feel spacious and open and areas that feel tight and closed.  Don’t try and change anything, just really take time to check-in with how it feels to be you in this moment. 

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Then begin to move the head up and down, with the breath. With each inhale lift the chin and look up, stretching the front of the neck and chest (you don’t need to jam the head back into the upper back). With each exhale drop the chin towards the chest, stretching the back of the neck and upper back muscles.  Do three full rounds.

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Next start with the head upright, looking straight ahead then exhale to drop your left ear towards your left shoulder. Don’t move any other part of the body, just the head, so no lifting up of the shoulders!  Feel the stretch down the right side of your neck and into the right upper shoulder.  Make sure the arms are relaxed, you can just rest your wrists on your legs. Hold here for a few deep breaths, perhaps feeling a loosening on the stretched muscles after a few breaths that allows the head to sink slightly deeper.  Inhale to come up and swap sides. You can always intensify the stretch by putting your fingertips on the floor either side by your hips and walking them outwards as far as they will go.

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Next start looking straight ahead again and this time turn the head from side to side with the breath, pivoting on the neck. Inhale at the centre then as you exhale keep the whole body still except for turning the head towards the left as though you’re trying to look over your shoulder (but don’t force it too far). Inhale back to centre then exhale the other side.  Do three complete rounds and notice if one side seems tighter than the other.

Next do some slow head rolls, at least three times in each direction. Move mindfully, incorporating the moves you’ve already done and noticing which areas feel ‘stuck’ to you.  Don’t accelerate through these tight areas – if anything, slow down and really eke out the stretch in the tricky areas – your body will thank you!

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Finally, finish by doing some sweeping moves of the arms, matching breath with movement.  Still in your seated position, as you inhale take both arms out to each side and above your head, in a smooth, sweeping motion, until the palms lightly touch above your head with straight arms at the top of the inhale.  As you exhale, keep the hands together in a prayer position and draw the hands downward to your heart centre.  Then begin again – sweeping the arms outwards and up on the inhale and down to the chest area together on the exhale.  Make the moves large and expansive, enjoy the movement and relish the way movement and breath work together so beautifully in this simple exercise.

After between five and ten rounds of this, again sit peacefully for a few minutes and see how the body and mind feel at the end of the sequence.  Enjoy any sense of enhanced peace, spaciousness, tingly feelings or warmth that you experience and, if you feel so inclined, treat yourself to a savasana of any length that feels good to you to continue embracing these positive post-sequence feelings – but try not to fall asleep!


So there you have it – a quick fix of stretchy goodness for when you have a spare ten to fifteen minutes at any time of the day (except when driving or in charge of machinery)… 😉


2 thoughts on “A short sequence to unlock neck and shoulder tension

  1. Great post with amazing narration. Everybody gets tension (and sometimes, pain) in the neck and shoulders as well as in between the shoulder blades. This has, of course, increased in these times when we’re all looking down and hunching up at our phones and laptops.

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