Too Tight to Stretch Artwork
Season 2 - Episode 2

Unlock the Neck and Shoulders

35 min - Practice


Emily guides us in a practice to open neck, shoulders, and upper back. We start with an easy spinal twist, before moving to our feet to stretch the shoulders. Using the wall and strap, we work with our breath to find greater freedom and mobility in the upper body.
What You'll Need: Mat, Wall, Blanket, Strap, Block

About This Video

Aug 16, 2016
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(waves crashing) Hi everyone. Welcome back. This next practice is a practice to create a little more support and ease for your neck and your shoulders and the upper back. And for this practice, you'll need a blanket or two or three to come into a comfortable seat. I have two here, just so I have my hips lifted up and my knees and hips are either at the same height or your knees can be a little bit lower than your hips, but you ultimately want to try to create enough space that you're not shrugging your knees up and rounding your upper back forwards, so that you can just have a little bit more length and comfort in your spine and your pelvis as you sit.

And then we will also need a block and a strap, and you'll want to be near a wall space. So let's begin by just closing the eyes for a moment and take a few breaths. (inhales) And notice if you can, draw your breath down into your belly and expand your rib cage as you breathe in. (inhales) And allow your shoulders to drop a little as you breathe out. (exhales) And elongating the crown of the head away from your tailbone, feeling your spine lengthen.

(inhales) (exhales) And on your next inhale, shrug your shoulders straight up towards your ears, and just get pretty tight in that area, and then as you exhale, just let your shoulders drop down. And let's do that twice more as you inhale, shrug your shoulders up towards your ears, and then as you exhale, drop your shoulders down. One more time. Big inhale, shrug the shoulders up towards your ears, get everything nice and tight and crunched, and then let it all go. And then take another big breath in, (inhales) and as you breathe out, open your mouth, sigh, (exhales) and then let your eyes open.

On your next inhale, elongate through your spine, and as you exhale, bring your left hand across to your right knee, or thigh if you can't reach your knee, and bring your right fingertips behind you. So just coming into an easy seated spinal twist. Inhale here, and with your exhale, turn your head and look back towards your right shoulder, and as you inhale, turn your head and look over your left shoulder. And just keep doing that with your breath. Exhale, turning the head, looking over the right shoulder, and inhaling, turning the head to look left.

Let's do that for three more breaths. Exhaling to the right, inhaling, unwinding your head, and turning left. Exhale, turn your head to the right, inhale, unwind and turn your head left. Last one. Exhale to the right, and inhale left.

And then exhale, turn your head to the right, elongate through your spine, take a big breath in, and then maybe find a little bit more twist as you breathe out. And inhale, unwind, come all the way back through to center, and then exhale, right hand comes to the left knee, left fingertips behind you. And again, sitting up nice and tall here. On your next exhale, turn your head, look over your left shoulder, and as you inhale, turn and look towards the right shoulder. And then just continue like that.

Exhaling to the left, and inhaling to the right. You may that you can turn your head a little more each time. Exhale left, and inhale, unwind to the right. You want to have this be a nice slow, mindful movement here. Exhaling, turning the head, looking over your left shoulder, and inhaling, unwinding, looking over the right.

And then last one like this. And the next time that you exhale, turn your head, look over your left shoulder. Think about getting a little bit taller, lengthening between tailbone and crown of head, and maybe twisting just a little bit more. And then inhale, slowly unwind, come all the way back through to center, and let's change the cross of our legs. And then just reach your arms out to the side for a moment.

Take a nice big breath in, and as you exhale, wrap your left arm on top of the right and just give yourself a giant hug. And really imagine that you're hugging someone that you really like, so try to wrap your arms around yourself, get your fingertips around towards your upper back. Take a big breath in here, sit tall, and then as you breathe out, just drop your chin down towards your chest. (inhales) And see if you can really expand your breath into your mid and upper back, the back of the neck. (inhales) (exhales) (inhales) (exhales) And then as you inhale, open your arms wide, and with your exhale, bring your right arm on top, and again, nice big squeeze.

Take an inhale here, and then with your exhale, lower the chin down towards the chest, and again, really fill up the back body with your breath. (inhales) (exhales) (inhales) (exhales) Take one more breath where you are. (inhales) (exhales) And then slowly release. Open the arms up, and then release your arms down. And just drop your right ear towards your shoulder, and breathe here.

And you may find that this is plenty of stretch just for you to stay right here, or else you can reach your left fingertips away from you and towards the floor. And as you do this, you're trying to maintain the shoulders over the hips. And you can deepen this a little more if you'd like by bringing your right hand up to the left side of your head and just rest your hand on your head and let your arm get heavy. So gravity does the work for you. You're not pulling at all.

And then can you expand your breath up into the left side of your neck? (inhales) (exhales) (inhales) Slowly release your right arm down, and then release the left arm down and gently bring the head back through to center. And then dropping your left ear towards your left shoulder. Breathing here, checking in with yourself and noticing if you want a little more. And if you do, start to reach those right fingertips away from you.

(inhales) (exhales) Stay right here, or you can turn the volume up even more by bringing your left hand up to the right side of your head just above your ear, and just rest your hand on your head and let your arm get heavy. Draw the breath up into the right side of your neck. Really nourish the stretch, the tissues that are being stretched with your breath. Good, and then slowly release that left arm down, the right arm down, and bring your head back to the center. And then we'll make our way up to standing.

We'll move our blankets off of our mat, and find your strap. Bring your strap between your hands with your palms facing in towards your thighs and your hands just a little bit wider than your shoulders. Have your feet hip-width apart and parallel, and again, we'll find our tadasana, and we'll really work to hold tadasana as we begin shoulder flossing, moving our arms and our shoulders around. So activating your lateral hip muscles, drawing the belly back and keeping the low ribs down as you stretch your arms up over your head. And then we'll just start to create some traction in the strap and start to move the arms in all different directions, breathing here.

And you'll find that it's a little bit of work to keep yourself from going into a backbend as you move into some of the stickier areas in your shoulders. And this is where our core muscles come into play to help to stabilize our spine and our pelvis as we move our limbs. So we'll just keep breathing and moving. We're just trying to create a little bit of mobility, movement, and warmth in the shoulder joint. This also really lubricates your shoulder joint as you move and release synovial fluids into the joint.

You're creating that nice, smooth movement, and you probably will feel as you move that things start to get a little bit smoother. Let's lower our strap down and just set the strap off to the side. I'll turn so that you can see the next pose from the back, so you can see the arm placement. From here, you'll stand in tadasana. Stretch your right arm up and bend your right elbow.

Same thing here of really stabilizing to keep the low ribs down. Reach your left arm up and bring your left hand to your right elbow, and gently start to draw the left elbow behind your head. You can gently press your head into your upper arm as you drop your rib cage down. Should feel a nice stretch through the underarm and your triceps at the back of the arm here. (inhales) (exhales) (inhales) (exhales) (inhales) As you inhale, slowly release.

Stretch your arms back down to your sides, and then change sides. Reach the left arm up, bend the elbow. Reach the right arm up, find your elbow with your right hand, and start to draw that left arm behind your head. Drop the rib cage down, reconnect to your abdominal muscles here, to your hips, your feet, and breathe. Gently press your head into your arm to create just a little bit more stretch and stability.

(inhales) (exhales) (inhales) (exhales) (inhales) And inhaling, slowly release. And then make your way to the wall for wall clocks. And again, I'll do this first just facing away from you so you can see the proper placement of your hands. You'll start on the left side, having your left foot about four inches away from the wall, your feet are, again, in mountain pose, and then stretch your left arm back shoulder height. Place your left hand on the wall and start to turn your body back.

So you're turning your chest back, and you're trying to bring your sternum right over your pubic bone, as if you were standing in mountain pose with your arms down alongside your body. Should feel a nice opening through the left side of your chest here, the front of the shoulder. Try to breathe here as you open this area. This area can be really tight and congested sometimes. (inhales) (exhales) (inhales) Slowly unwind, turn your chest towards the wall a little bit, and then crawl your fingers up about four to six inches.

Place your palm back on the wall, and then begin to turn your chest forward again, drawing up through the low belly, and again, breathing really deeply here. I like to think about my breath moving into the upper portion of my lungs to nourish the tissues of my chest. (inhales) (exhales) (inhales) (exhales) (inhales) Slowly turn back towards the wall and release your left arm down. And then turn around so that your right hip is towards the wall. Your feet are about four inches away, hip-width apart.

Standing nice and tall here, reach your right arm back, shoulder height, palm on the wall, and begin to turn your chest forward. So you're attempting to bring your sternum back over your pubic bone here. Back of the neck is nice and long, breath really full here. And you can really feel this opening through the right side of the chest all the way down the arm, even towards the fingers. (inhales) (exhales) (inhales) (exhales) Slowly unwind, turning the chest towards the wall, and then crawl your fingers up about four inches.

Palm flat on the wall again, and starting to turn your chest forward. And depending on the mobility in your shoulder and your chest, you may not get that far, but that's okay. The more you do this, the more you'll make your way to bring the sternum back over the pubic bone. Breathe nice and deep here. Fill up with nourishing breaths.

(inhales) (exhales) (inhales) (exhales) And slowly turn the chest back towards the wall, and then just release your arm all the way down, and come away from the wall and find your strap again. This time, bring your strap behind your back, and have your palms facing your hips and your hands just a tiny bit wider than your shoulders here. Feet are parallel, hip-width apart, and just like in all of the other poses that we've been practicing, we're really working to maintain mountain pose from the feet up as we move our arms in different directions. So from here, we'll start to lift the hands away from the hips. And just lifting up as high as you comfortably can.

We're trying to keep the wrists pretty straight here. I'm feeling like mine are pretty straight. And then you can stay right here, this is a great opening up the front of the shoulders, front of the chest, nice core strengthening to hold yourself in mountain pose, or you can start to take this into a little bit of a deeper shoulder opening by bending your knees, hinging at your hips, and beginning to fold forward. Lifting your hands up towards the ceiling and then beginning to allow gravity to just draw the arms over the head. And you'll see how far you go.

Remember that you're only moving to your edges and not beyond. We want to be gentle with our shoulder joints. (inhales) (exhales) Notice how if you can really allow your breath to get full, deep, and calm, that this can contribute to more opening in the chest and the shoulders. From here, slowly lower your hands towards your back first, and then make your way back up to stand. And then let's just place the strap off to the side.

And then we'll make our way to the floor. So coming back to the front of your mat, take an inhale, sweep the arms up, and as you exhale, bend your knees, hinge at your hips, and fold forward. And then as you breathe in, just step one foot back and set your knee down, and then the other, coming into table top. Let's gather our props for the next portion of our practice. We'll need a block and a blanket.

So we'll take our blanket, and we'll just bring our blanket across the center of the mat to pad underneath the knees. And then make your way back out onto your hands and knees here, and line up your wrists underneath your shoulders and spread your fingers really wide apart, and then have your knees directly underneath your hips. And the next thing that we'll do, I call them scapular push-ups. So we'll spread our fingers nice and wide apart, and roll the upper arms away from one another. You want to keep your elbows straight but unlocked for this next movement.

As you breathe in, keep your belly firm so that you're not extending your lumbar spine, and allow your chest to start to melt towards the floor and your shoulder blades to retract to draw inward towards the spine. And then press the floor away from you with your hands and move your shoulder blades towards the outer edges of your back, away from your spine. And then try that again. As you breathe in, chest melts towards the floor, shoulder blades move in towards the spine, and as you breathe out, press the floor away, moving your shoulder blades away from the spine towards your side body. Now just try to go one breath per movement here.

Inhaling, shoulder blades retract, moving in. Exhaling, press the palms, protracting the shoulder blades and moving them out. Inhaling, retract, exhaling, protract. And let's do three more like that. This is a great way to stabilize your shoulder.

Last one, retracting the scapula as you inhale and protracting the scapula as you exhale. And then let's take a break. Let's crawl the knees back a few more inches and walk the hands forward. Tuck your toes under, and stretch your hips back so your hips are over your knees, and you can bring your forehead down to your mat. If this is uncomfortable at all on your shoulders, you can always bend your elbows and let your elbows rest on the floor.

Just pause here in half dog for a few breaths. (inhales) (exhales) While you're in half dog, you can spread your fingers really wide and think about rolling your upper arms away from one another, broadening the upper back even more. (exhales) (inhales) On your next exhale, set your elbows down on your mat. Come back up to your hands and knees and find your block. And I'm just going to slide my blanket back just a little bit more so I have some more space here for my elbows.

Bring your block down to your mat, and place your elbows down on the ground and turn your palms in to press the block between the palms. The elbows are shoulder-width apart. If you have really broad shoulders, they'll be a little bit closer together because you have this block between your hands. Bring your forehead down towards the mat, and then from here, press your palms into your block, and start to bend your elbows until your fingertips point up towards the sky. Draw the low ribs in towards your spine, and you can walk your elbows a little bit further forward away from your knees if you'd like to intensify the stretch underneath the arms, through the lats and through the triceps.

Breathe really deeply here, pressing the palms into the block. (inhales) (exhales) (inhales) (exhales) Think about your breath moving into your rib cage, flaring the ribs as you breath in. (inhales) Relaxing into the stretch a little bit more as you breathe out. And then slowly release your forearms back down to the floor. Crawl your way back up to your hands and knees.

And then let's just place our block off to the side. And then we'll make our way into child's pose. So just bringing the knees as close together as you feel comfortable, shifting the hips back towards the heels, and then bringing your forehead down towards the floor. Now you do have a block. If you need to bring the floor up to meet your forehead, that's great.

And if not, forehead comes all the way down, and the arms come down alongside your body. You're just giving yourself some really nice deep breaths into the back body here as you let your shoulders completely relax. (inhales) (exhales) (inhales) (exhales) (inhales) (exhales) On your next inhale, just slowly bring your arms forward, and then make your way up to your hands and knees, and we will transition onto the back. And you can bring your blanket up so that it can be a neck support now. And laying all the way down.

And once you arrive on your back, turn over onto your left side, and stack your knees and stack your palms, so you're stretching your arms out in front of you. And then from here, we're going to slowly open into our twist. So as you breathe in, pause with your palms together, and as you breathe out, slowly begin to draw your right arm up the left arm, all the way across the chest and rolling open into your twist. And you may or may not bring that right shoulder all the way to the floor. And then as you inhale, you'll close up, almost like a big clamshell is closing.

You're bringing the top palm back to the bottom palm. And then we'll do that again. We'll inhale, we'll slowly unroll into our twist, trying to set the entire rib cage down towards the floor. Opening up that right arm, and then exhale, close it all the way back up. And then let's just do that one more time.

On the exhale, slowly opening up into the twist, trying to rotate the spine and send the rib cage towards the floor. And then as you inhale, slowly closing. And this time as we open, let's open all the way up, and let's just pause there. So on the exhale, beginning to slide that right arm up. Rotating the spine to set the ribs onto the floor, and then opening all the way into the twist and breathing here.

(inhales) (exhales) (inhales) (exhales) Take one more big breath in here. Exhale everything out. And on your inhale, just close all the way back up, and then turning to the opposite side. Rolling to your right side, stack your knees and stack your palms. The left palm is on top of right.

And as you take your next breath in, start to slide your left palm up your arm, rotating the spine and setting your rib cage down on your mat or towards the mat. And with your inhale, closing that arm all the way back up. And then we'll try that again. Inhaling slowly, peeling the left arm up the right, rotating the spine into the twist. And inhaling, closing all the way back up, and then one more time.

Big breath in here, and as you exhale, opening into that twist. Noticing if you can rotate your spine just a little bit more here. Pause here. Big belly breaths. (inhales) (exhales) (inhales) And the next time that you exhale, close all the way up, and then with your inhale, unwind onto your back.

Once you arrive on your back, draw your knees into your chest. Place your hands on top of your knees. With your inhale, move your knees away until your arms are straight, and as you exhale, draw the knees in, bend the elbows, let your shoulders drop back as the knees move to the chest. Inhaling, knees move away until the arms are straight, exhale, draw the knees in towards the chest. And just continue like that for two more breaths.

Inhaling, knees move away until the arms are straight, exhale, draw the knees in. And last one. Big breath in. (inhales) And exhale. (exhales) The next time that you inhale, set your feet down on your mat, stretch your arms down alongside the body.

Pausing here, just taking a few moments to rest. (inhales) (exhales) (inhales) (exhales) Begin to deepen your breath, and gently roll to your side. And then press yourself up to a comfortable seat. And you can sit up on your blanket stack again if you'd like. And drawing your hands together in front of the heart, and just taking a moment here.

(inhales) And thank you for sharing your practice. Namaste.


3 people like this.
This is one my favorites! I enjoy the pace and the movement really helps ease out my tightness. More please...legs...hips!
Thank you for trying the practice, Dannette! I am so happy you found it helpful! You may also like Defy the Desk and Mobility in the hips for more leg and hip focus, as well as Active Beginner :)
Wow - haven't been doing this for a while - I now remember why I started Yoga in the first place!
This is wonderful for the tightness I have in my shoulders etc due to my Scoliosis - Thankyou so much xx
Hi Glynis! That is so great to hear! I am so happy you found this practice helpful!
1 person likes this.
Thank you Emily! I am working from home now and your stretch classes are just what I need!
2 people like this.
Emily. I have just discovered your wonderful practices. I wonder if you might do a longer one?
1 person likes this.
Dearest Rachel, as we are not filming right now cuz of the lockdown, so you might find longer form classes Emily live through Yoga Soup in Santa Barbara.
hi Emily great relief I ll be following you Namaste xx
Banu Y I am so happy this gave you some relief! 
Beautiful practice! Thanks, Emily! Kind regards!
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