Yoga with Injuries Artwork
Season 1 - Episode 3

Neck & Upper Back Relief

30 min - Practice


Olivia leads a class to increase mobility and strength in the neck, upper back, and shoulders. This class is great to relieve symptoms of neural tension in these areas or if you just have a "kink" in your neck. We flow through various standing poses that strengthen your legs and hips, holding these shapes to explore nerve gliding and stretches for your neck and upper back. We move to the floor and explore Dhanurasana (Bow pose), seated twists, and Boat pose to find further support for our neck and upper back. You will feel relaxed and spacious.
What You'll Need: Mat, Block (2)


Read Full Transcript

Welcome. This sequence is designed to help you meet issues you may be having with your cervical region or upper back. We'll start lying over blocks. The block under your head will be on its medium height, narrow. The block under the mid-thoracic will be on the lowest height, wide. Lying back, you can use your hands to adjust the block to support you where it's comfortable under the ribs, middle ribs, and then adjusting the block under your head so that it touches only your head and not the neck. Shavasana on the arms and legs. Let yourself spread out. Take up some space. Maybe close your eyes.

And notice how your shoulders are feeling. It should feel like they're starting to drop down into the space between the two blocks. If instead it feels like they're being held up by the blocks, you can adjust the block under the ribs down a little bit towards the pelvis. And then try again letting the shoulders release into the space between the blocks. This helps you broaden across the chest, collarbone region, and helps the shoulder blades come into a healthy neutral position. Maybe closing your eyes if that's soothing to you.

Allow your attention to turn to your breath. Lips lightly touching. Breathe through the nose. And as the air passes through the throat, softening the inner walls of the throat. So that the neck begins to release from the inside out. After your next exhale, gently open the eyes. If needed, you can put your hands behind the skull to help lift it. And then everybody hands to the floor. Press down through the floor to come up.

And at this point, you can set your blocks aside. And then lie down again. Lying down on your left side, palm on palm. If this is uncomfortable for your neck, you can put a blanket under your head. Inhale, we're going to move. Lift the right arm up and follow the hand with your gaze. Exhale, reach the right arm off to the right. Inhale, arm goes back up to the sky. And exhale, palm meets palm. Inhale, lift.

Again, letting the gaze and the head follow the reach of the hand. Exhale, reach. Inhale, lift. Exhale, palm to palm. Inhale, lift. Exhale, reach to the right. We're synchronizing the cervical and upper thoracic spine here. Inhale, arm up. Exhale, palm to palm. Inhale, lift the right arm. Exhale, this time reaching to the left. Bring your knees up. Shift your hips to your left and then lower your knees.

Bring your left arm up and palm to palm. Here we go. Inhale, left arm lifts and the upper back touches the mat. Exhale, reach the left arm to the left. Inhale, left arm up. Upper back peels off the mat, palm to palm. Inhale, left arm up. Right shoulder blade to the mat. Left shoulder blade to the mat. Reach. Inhale, arm up. Exhale, palm to palm.

Head heavy but head turning as the gaze follows the left arm. Inhale, reach up. Exhale, reach side. Inhale, up. Exhale, palm on palm. One more time. Inhale. Exhale. And coming back. And then we'll come up. Press down through the arms and hands. And coming up, take your blocks again.

Place your blocks on the mat shoulder distance apart, medium height, placing your hands on the blocks turned out. Thumb on the inside of the block, fingers draped over the outside. This teaches the upper arms how to turn out. Roll the biceps out, the triceps in. And so to hold on to that rotation as we move into down dog, as you slowly lift your hips, look forward. And wrap the inner upper arms forward even as you draw the hips back.

Press the palms into the blocks. Eventually let the head come down, maybe straighten the legs. Let the shoulder blades spread and wrap around the side ribs. And then lift your heels, inhale. Exhale, step your left foot forward, outside the block under your left hand. Turn your right heel down and raise your right arm straight up. Rolling the right arm, right shoulder back, right waist back, right ribs back.

Press the right thigh back, press the right heel down, chest shining open towards the sun. From here, lower your arm by your side and maybe take the hand behind your back or even fingertips over the top of the left thigh. Again, roll back through the right shoulder, right waist, right thigh, press the right heel down. And then tilt your head down so that you find a stretch in the right side of the neck. You can stay here or maybe take the head back.

And then lastly, try looking down at your left hand. And as you look down but roll the right shoulder back, you're opening the scalings, the side of the neck. And then release the right arm long alongside your torso and start to rotate arm palm up and palm back. Turn the arm so you're nerve gliding, the long nerves in the right arm that begin in the neck. You might feel some tingling through the fingers here.

A few more times, rotating the arm. And then pause, look straight across the room and either take your right arm up and over, a classic side angle pose, or you can sweep your arm from below a little easier on the shoulder, Utthita Parsvakonasana. Inhale and exhale, lower the right hand down, stepping back, downward facing dog. Second side, lift your heels, inhale, exhale, step the right foot forward, turn the left foot out and lift up through your left arm. Lean back with your head, with your left arm back, left shoulder, left waist, back left thigh, back, press the left heel down.

Deep breath in, long spine. And then exhale, lower the left arm, either place the hand, palm out on the back of your hips, or you can loop the fingers atop the right quadricep and then once again, roll the left shoulder back and gently lower the head down, side bend the head to the right. You can stay here in the side bend or take the head back a little bit and explore that. And then see how it is to look down towards the right foot. And maintaining one of those shapes, stretch your left arm long again and begin to rotate.

So the bicep faces the ceiling, the bicep faces the floor. Turn the upper arm and the shoulder socket, the palm will of course, revolve as well. A few more times. And then pause, look across the room and either take the left arm up and over or under and then over. Utthita Parsvakonasana, deep breath in, long spine.

Exhale, place the hand on the block, step back, downward facing dog. Inhale to plank, exhale, downward facing dog. We're going to take the right foot forward again. Step inside the right hand, turn the left foot out and inhale up Virabhadrasana one, warrior one. From here, reach your right arm to the side and coming from below, reach your hand up your back.

Bend your left elbow, Gomukhasana arms. You can catch the fingertips if it's available. If not, the fingers can just spread and touch your back. Now everybody roll the right shoulder first a little up and then back. And the left arm like downward facing dog, you want to wrap the tricep forward and in.

Inhale, lifting the chest, back bend in the upper back, maybe look up. And exhale, fold at the hips, torso coming parallel the floor. As you look down, lift the right shoulder head up towards the ceiling. Lift your abdominal muscles up to support your lower back. Press strongly down through your left heel.

And then inhale, rising back up, let go of the clasp of the hands, classic warrior one arms up. Inhale, exhale, hands to the block, step back, downward facing dog. Inhale to plank, exhale, downward facing dog. Step the left foot inside the block under your left hand. Turn the right foot out, inhale, coming up, Virabhadrasana one.

Exhale, lower the left arm, come from below. Bend the right elbow, fingers spreading on the back, our hands clasping. Lift your left shoulder, it's almost like a little shrug, and then roll it back. So the left shoulder blade moves in towards the spine. Right arm's a little different, let that shoulder blade spread and wrap the outer upper arm forward.

Inhale, coiling the spine, lift the chest, look up. Exhale, as you come down with the chest, lift the lower belly, support the lower back. Breathing here, noticing if the left shoulder is dropping with gravity. Rather, continue to lift the left outer arm up, shoulder blade hugs the spine. Stamping the heels down into the mat, inhale, rise, release the arms, back up, Virabhadrasana one, and exhale, take your hands to the blocks.

Now we're going to turn. Walk your blocks to the right, parallel the feet. Maybe you don't need the blocks anymore, otherwise they're there for you. Arda, inhale, chest forward, exhale, walk the blocks or just the hands in between the feet. Now this pose can be traction for your neck, but if you're tight in the hamstrings, you'll need to bend your knees so that the neck can be long and the head comes a little closer to the floor.

If you're looser in the hamstrings, feel free to straighten the legs. Walk the hands such that the wrists are shoulder distance apart and beneath the elbows. Triceps hugging in, but then lift the shoulder blades. So the skull releases down, the shoulder blades lift up, and the sides of the neck get long. Traction creates space for the discs of the cervical spine, which can relieve any discomfort associated with them or any other issues in the cervical spine due to lack of space.

To come out, come back up to your halfway point, Arda, inhale, and then exhale, again walk back to the left, and we'll step to downward facing dog. Inhale to plank, and exhale, lower gently down on the mat. Wrapping ourselves up on our forearms, bring the elbows where they are comfortably, either under the shoulders or a bit in front of the shoulders, just not behind the shoulders. Reach back through your legs, legs are hip distance apart, roll your inner thighs up to the ceiling, and then drop the tailbone down towards the pubis, towards the mat. If for some reason this doesn't work for you, you can bring your forehead down on your forearm, but we're going to reach the right arm back and catch the right ankle from the inside.

Now press back with the right shin, you're not going to pull the foot in yet. Press back so that your right arm gets pulled straight, and then lower your head down, and turn your head, your chin, your nose towards the left shoulder. Breathe here. Again, you might feel some stretching occurring in the right side of the neck. As you press the foot back, and that takes your right hand back, but you're turning your head left.

On your next inhale, center the head, and lift. Now pressing back through the right calf also yields some stretch potential in the right quadriceps. And now go ahead and put your right hand on top of the foot, if that's available, and press down. Or you can just pull in, bending your elbow a little bit. Wherever your foot has come, pressing back, five, four, three, two, one, and then release.

Take the foot down, two, three, four, five. One more time, press the foot against the hand, hand against the foot, five, four, three, two, one, and then press the foot down, two, three, four, five, and release. Coming to sphinx right in the middle, adjust, roll the inner thighs to the ceiling, outer thighs down. Reach back with your left hand now, catch the inside of the left ankle, and press that foot back. Lower your head.

Turn the head towards the right shoulder. Hold the head over there to the right, and press back again through the left foot so the left arm gets pulled straight. And breathe. On your next breath in, bring the head back to neutral. And then go ahead and let the left knee bend a little more.

You can press the hand against the foot, and the leg may yield. You could also bring your hand on top of the foot. Wherever you've landed now, that contract relax. Press hand to foot, foot to hand for five, four, three, two, one, and then go deeper for one, two, three, four, five. Pause, no movement, just resistance, press, five, four, three, two, one, and then go deeper.

One, two, three, four, and five, and release. And lower your head down. Reaching both arms up, preparing for Dhanurasana. This time, bend your knees and catch the outer ankles. Let's start with the feet and knees hip distance apart.

Pressing back through the shins, but for now keep your forehead on the floor. And as the elbows straighten, roll the outer shoulders up to the ceiling. Shoulder blades coming inwards towards one another. On your next inhale, do lift head, chest, thighs, and lift the thighs by pressing the feet back and up. Chest opens.

Exhale, release. And you can turn your head and rest on one cheek or the other. And breathe. Here the shoulder blades broadening. And then go ahead and place your forehead on the floor again. Bend your knees again, catch hold of your outer ankles once again.

This time, walk your feet a little bit wider. Walk your knees a little bit wider. Walk your thighs all just a little bit wider than your hips. And then pressing the thighs back, the shins back, roll the shoulders to the ceiling. Inhale, up you go.

Lift head, chest, thighs. Lift everything maybe except the space between the navel and the pubis. That part stays down. Now with the feet a little wider, you can get a little higher. But now let's come back in, knees hip distance apart.

Keep the chest tall, but bring your thighs a little closer. Maybe even touch the big toes and your chest will widen even more. Inhale, lift the chest. Exhale, release. And turn your head the other way.

And rest. One last one, place your forehead on the floor. Bend your knees, choose the one you liked. Either knees hip distance or beginning with them a little bit wider. Inhale, lifting up.

Breathing here, rocking a little bit. Inhale, rock back towards the knees. Exhale, rocking on the belly forward towards the chest. Massaging out the abdominal organs. Last inhale, very tall.

And exhale, let it go. Moving to child's pose, place your hands by your shoulders. Pass through hands and knees, inhale. Exhale, sitting the hips back and down. If your head doesn't quite make it to the floor, you could place your forehead on a block.

So that the neck is supported, the head is not hanging in space. And then relax the neck muscles completely. Extending the arms forward, shoulder blades spreading here. Back body, inhale. Open the back ribs.

Exhale, soften into the abdomen, release the inner thighs. Coming up, slowly walk your hands towards your knees and roll up through your spine. Now for a seated twist, shift your hips off to the left and bring your right foot just outside the left thigh. Catch the shin, inhale, lift the chest, release the shoulder blades down the back. Inhale, lift your left arm and exhale, hook the arm outside the left thigh.

If that's not quite happening, you can hook the elbow around the front of the right shin. Roll back through the right collarbone. You might prop yourself up on your fingers or use a block so that you can bend your elbow a little bit, which gives more access to rolling the right collarbone back, right shoulder blade towards the spine. Left two, sometimes that left shoulder comes forward trying to help us twist, but then the collarbone shortens. So both collarbones spread them, both shoulder blades come a little bit closer to the spine, and then you can turn your head to the right, but especially as neck therapy, you could also turn your head to the left and lower the chin down again towards the left arm pitch.

Who's the one that feels right for you today? Breathing in, lift through the crown of the head, exhale, unwind the spine and unwind your legs. Coming to Paripurna Navasana, you can hold behind the knees, knees bent. You can straighten your arms, you can straighten your legs. Lean the shoulders back, slight chin tuck, and firm the lower belly towards the lower spine.

Breathing through the nose, inhale and release. Bend the right knee. Left foot crosses just outside the right thigh. Catch the shin, clasp, inhale, lift your chest. Exhale, soften the shoulders down. And then inhale, lift your right arm, exhale, hook the elbow outside the left knee or clasp the front of the shin. Coming up to the left fingertips or hand on block, roll the left elbow back, roll the left collarbone back, turn the left pectoral chest region back. And then checking in with the right shoulder if it's rolling forward.

Also take it back, the shoulder blades together towards the spine. You may stay with the head neutral or turned left. Or maybe turn your head to the right and lower the chin down towards the right shoulder. From the pelvic floor, inhale up through the torso, exhale, stay tall through the side ribs. Maybe twist a little bit more.

Deep breath in, again tall through the side ribs, stay up as you exhale and release. This time, scooting a little to the front of the mat, feet hip distance apart. Inhale, reach the arms forward, exhale, a slow roll down through the spine. Coming down through the lumbar spine, the lower back, and then down through the rib cage. And lastly, down with the shoulders, head, you can straighten your legs.

Into Shavasana, Corpse Pose, tuck the shoulder blades towards the spine, roll the palms up to face the ceiling. The legs and feet drop out. Maybe lift your head up and lower it down so that you can center yourself on the back of the skull. And then cast the gaze of the eyes towards the heart center or close the eyes. And allow for heaviness to the eyeballs so they feel as if they're sinking down towards the mid skull.

And from there peering down through your body, through the torso, legs, feet. Peering down towards the shoulders, arms, hands. Observing the movement of breath, inhale expansive and exhale connecting to self. Notice if there's any clenching in the teeth region, allow the upper teeth to float, not be touching the lower teeth, but still lips very lightly touching. Release from the root of the tongue and again the inner walls of the throat soft so the breath passes unimpeded from nose to lungs, lungs to nose.

And feel free to spend a little more time here otherwise. Inhale more deeply, exhale slowly. Bending your knees, feet flat on the floor, and then roll to your right side. Let the head rest on the floor or your right upper arm, neck muscles relaxed. And the head will be the last part up so as you push down through the arms and hands, coming up through the lower back, middle back, and then lastly up through the neck and head.

Sitting tall. Thank you for your practice. Namaste.


Elizabeth M
Beautiful, thank you, Olivia!
Sara S
1 person likes this.
Doing, listening with love
Olivia B
I'm glad you enjoyed Elizabeth M!  That means a lot to me.  I hope you have a great day!
Olivia B
Sara S - Sending love right back at ya!  Enjoy and let me know if you have any questions!
Noreen S
1 person likes this.
Thank you for the excellent guidance!
Olivia B
My pleasure Noreen S - thanks for taking the time to practice with me here on YogaAnytime! I'm glad you benefitted. 
Elizabeth M
1 person likes this.
(Edited by Moderator - Elizabeth Meriwether on March 18, 2023)
Olivia -  I didn't not take this class because I have an injury in my neck or shoulders, yet I still found this really helpful for addressing the tightness I always seem to haven in that region. And I found tightness in my arms I didn't know I had! AND my legs and hips got a little workout too! Thank you! 
Jenny S
2 people like this.
Great practice! I love your attention to detail. I was able to pinpoint a few spots in my neck that apparently don’t get enough love - something I’ll tend to better from now on 😌🙏🏻❤️
Olivia B
It's so true Elizabeth M that so many of us have on-going nagging tension in our neck, shoulders, and upper back.  I'm so happy to hear this sequence helped lighten the load there!  I appreciate the feedback. Have a great day!
Olivia B
Oh isn't that one of the joys of yoga Jenny S ? Geeta Iyengar used to say that yoga is like a little micro-surgery now so that we can prevent the macro-surgery later on.  Good job Doc!
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