Yoga Exercise for Neck and Shoulder Pain

Yoga Exercise for Neck and Shoulder Pain

As a digital nomad and thus, frequent backpacker, I tend to spend more time than the average person with a heavy weight on my shoulders and  I need a good Yoga exercise for neck and shoulder pain. I’m very happy to say that I mean this only in the most literal sense! How blessed! And at the same time, how painful! When I travel, I spend weeks or months at a time with everything I need (and then some) in a 40 liter pack with an additional daypack to carry my laptop and work things. Isn’t it amazing how the literal weight of your life can be the most uplifting and freeing sensation? Ooh, now there’s a tangent I’d love to but won’t go off on right now!

My point is that my bouts of shoulder and neck pain are inevitable side-effects of my lifestyle choices. Which is almost always the case for any individual! So let’s be sure to ask ourselves from time to time, “Is this pain worth it?” I know for myself, the answer is yes. It comes with the territory and discovering new territory is literally the whole point of what I’m up to, so I’m in for the challenge. But obviously, not all of us can have a resounding yes all of the time. And that’s OK! What I’m suggesting is simply to cultivate this practice of self-inquiry as an act of mindfulness. It creates self-awareness which is a cornerstone of both yoga and recovery, and beyond these, self-evolvement. We all want to evolve to our highest selves, right?
“Yoga is not just repetition of a few postures — it is more about the exploration and discovery of the subtle energies of life.”

This quote comes from legendary teacher, Amit Ray. His words resonate with me deeply and I encourage you in your own practice to keep in mind the benefits that go beyond the mat. Become clear about the purpose and intention that motivates your practice. We often find ourselves looking for fast, physical relief, but imagine how much more we get from our efforts when we offer them to the development, not only of the body, but of our spirit. I mean that internal flame that drives us, motivates us, inspires our actions. I wish you well in your practice, that there is healing in your pain, that there is clarity in the vision of your heart and mind.  

childs pose vector







What Are The Best Stretching Exercises For Neck and Shoulders?

In this sequence I’m going to show you a fantastic set of stretches for your neck and shoulders that you can use after a nice workout or even to help with pain or recovery.

Whether you use these stretches to compliment your workout or to support recovery, you’ll be improving your flexibility, opening the body where we often hold our stress and tension, and as a result of opening physically, you’ll very likely experience a greater sense of openness and calm in your mood and energy as well.

Stretching exercises for neck and shoulders images

Yoga Exercise for Neck and Shoulder Pain

Shoulder - Neck Rolls

We always want to start with some warm-ups before practicing deep stretches so the easiest and most effective way to do this to prepare the neck and shoulders it with simple neck and shoulder rolls. You’re probably pretty familiar with these.

As you go through these movements, really try to bring your attention to your breath and allow it to guide the motion. Breathing into the space we stretch with attention always the muscles to relax and thus expand with more ease.

shoulder-neck rolls

Upward Salute Pose, hands behind back variation - Urdhva Hastasana   

After warming up with the neck and shoulder rolls, bringing the hands together behind the back at the base of the spine, interlacing the fingers. Bring the energy of the elbows and shoulder blades towards each other and lift the hands up and away from the body. Open through the chest and lift the gaze towards the sky.

Breath into the stretch for at least five breaths.

Upward Salute hands behind back, back bend

Cow Face Pose - Gomukhasana  

Next, let’s look at Cow Face Pose. You may want to use a strap in this stretch, or if you don’t have one, simply use a tshirt or small towel, anything like that will work perfectly.
Hold your strap (or other prop) in your right hand and raise the hand high above the shoulder. Bend the elbow and bring the hand to touch the back between the shoulders. Bring your arm behind the back, bend the elbow, and with your left hand, reach up and grab your right hand or the strap.  Lift the sternum and your gaze.

Breathe into the stretch for five breaths. Release and repeat on the opposite side.

cow face - gomukhasana

Reverse Prayer Pose - Viparita Namaskarasana  

Now, we’ll do Prayer Pose. To do this stretch you may want to begin with the modified version. Simply bring the arms behind the back grabbing each elbow or forearm with the opposite hand. To deepen the stretch, bring the hands into a prayer position at the base of the spine and bend the elbows to move the hands up the spine and in between the shoulder blades. Roll the shoulders away from the chest and down the back, open through the chest and take five to ten breaths.

Reverse Prayer Pose

Upward Salute Pose, hands behind head variation - Urdhva Hastasana   

Our next stretch is going to feel really great for that space where the top of the ribs meets the underside of the armpits. Open the arms wide and raise them to the sky with palms wider than the shoulders. Bend the elbows and bring the hands together at the base of the skull with the fingers interlaced. Lift the gaze and the sternum and reach the elbows higher toward the sky lifting out of the armpits. Recline the upper back creating a small backbend. Send the hips forward here for better balance. Take five breaths.

Upward Salute var. hands behind back holding head

Standing Forward Bend, hands behind head variation - Uttanasana    

With hands still together behind the head, straighten posture to a neutral standing position and slowly bring the elbows towards each other in front of the face, opening through the shoulder blades, keeping the shoulders away from the ears. To begin a spinal fold, gently press the head into the hands and begin to bring the nose toward the chest. Tuck the navel into the spine and bring the nose toward the navel.

Continue folding bringing the chest toward the tops of the thighs. Continue bringing the forehead towards the shins. When you reach the extent of your fold, release the hands down, allow the neck and head to hang gently, and slowly roll the body back to standing, pressing into the feet and activating through the legs and hips.

Camel Pose - Ustrasana  

hands behind head forward fold

Standing Forward Bend, table top variation - Uttanasana   

Standing tabletop is our next stretch to open the back of the shoulders and release tension in the neck. Use blocks to bring the ground closer to the palms so that the arms and legs can be fully extended. Just like in regular table top position, you want to have the wrists below the shoulders and the knees below the hips.

Spread the fingers wide and press into all parts of the hands, really pressing away from the earth and feel the shoulders open wide across the back, lifting out of the armpits. Press the hips back, lengthen the spine from the tailbone, through the sides of the body and allow the neck to be an extension of the spine. Breathe for 10 breaths.

Standing Forward bend var.

Standing Forward Bend, revolved variation - Uttanasana   

From your standing tabletop, maintain the activation and awareness throughout the body and bring the left palm directly below the face. Press into the feet, keeping the hips squared forward and open the right arm to the sky, rotating from the abdomen and bringing the right shoulder back in space to open the chest.

Bring the gaze to the lifted palm. Breathe for five to ten breaths. Release and repeat on the opposite side.

Standing Forward bend var.2

Rabbit Pose - Sasangasana    

Rabbit is the last posture we’ll explore. It’s not as commonly known as other poses but it delivers a deep and restorative stretch to the neck, shoulders and upper back, and after discovering how yummy it feels, you’ll definitely want to be using this as part of your regular practice. Also, fun fact, the pose offers a lot of the same wonderful benefits as inversions, so if you’re looking for an alternative to getting the whole body upside down, this is the pose you’ve been waiting for.

To get into a rabbit stretch, come to a seated kneeling position. Reach the hands back and grab the heels, thumbs on the outside of the foot. Fold forward and bring the crown of the head to the mat. Tuck the navel into the spine and lift the hips as high as you can.

Feel the stretch throughout the body. Breathe deeply. Take five to ten breaths.

Rabbit Pose - Sasangasana

Featured Video: Good Stretching Exercises for Neck and Shoulders

 Physical Therapy Or Yoga for Neck and Shoulder Pain?

As yoga becomes more normalized in the West, its benefits for recovery are being recognized in conventional medicine and more doctors are integrating the practice into treatment for patients. Among physical therapists this is especially true and many are prescribing yoga in addition to standard physical therapy.

In a recent medical study published by Annals.org, researchers found yoga to be as effective in pain recovery as physical therapy. This is promising evidence for skeptics and believers of yoga alike who are using this ancient and time-tested system for recovery.

In both physical therapy and yoga asana, we want to support the body in recovery and at the same time, prepare it for prevention. We do this by reconditioning with the appropriate balance of stretching and strengthening the muscles.

Creating a flow that alternates between Cobra and Child’s Pose is an excellent way to gently recover and strengthen the neck and shoulders. If it doesn’t add to your pain or injury, add a “modified Chaturanga” when transitioning from child’s pose back to cobra.

I suggest knees-chest-chin pose, Ashtanga Namaskar. In this Vinyasa of Cobra will open the chest, neck and shoulders, while strengthening the arms and back. Countering with Child’s Pose will stretch the spine, neck and shoulders. Transitioning with Knees-Chest-Chin will strengthen and tone the abs, arms, shoulders and back.

Try taking a few rounds of this daily to manage neck and shoulder pain and to prevent future injury.

Can Neck Stretches Help With A Pinched Nerve?

If you are suffering from a pinched nerve in your neck, you probably already know some basic stretches you can be doing to relieve your symptoms. Simple stretching movements like nodding the head up and down or looking side-to-side over each shoulder are go-to exercises you can and should do anytime, anywhere to recover your neck. So how can you get more relief? I have two simple, yet highly effective techniques I’ll share with you.

Technique number one is be consistent! I promise you this is absolutely the number one way to see progress with anything! Especially when reconditioning the body, consistency in your practice is what will yield faster and more significant results than sporadically doing the work here and there. Remember, mood is not the same as motivation! Which one will you let be greater?

Technique number two is a little more concrete and it’s a technique I learned in my first-ever somatics class. It’s so very simple, but try it yourself and you will immediately see the difference it makes! It’s like this: when you are doing your stretches up and down and side-to-side, move your eyeballs even further in that direction.

So if you are looking over your right shoulder, when you have reached your edge in the stretch, turn your gaze as far to the right corner of your eye as you can and hold it there for the stretch. When you do this, you will notice that when you return to the next round of the stretch, you are able to go even deeper. Give it a try and see (literally, ha-ha) how it works for you!

 Whats The Best Shoulder Stretches For Pain?

Thread the Needle Pose is an excellent posture to practice to stretch and relieve the shoulders. As an inversion, it’s extra restorative as it supports blood flow back towards the heart and activates the parasympathetic nervous system. Additionally, the twisting movement of the posture gives a gentle massage to the internal abdominal organs, encouraging detox and assisting digestion.

Explore two variations of thread the needle to find which one brings you the best relief in your practice. One option is to raise the “unthreaded” arm to the sky, opening through the chest and finding a deeper stretch in the sides of the body. Alternatively, you can leave the arm on the mat, extending it in front of the body and away from the armpit for a deep stretch in the shoulder.

 How Neck Stretches Can Help Headaches

Recent research studies have confirmed that yoga is an effective therapy for improving headaches, but what has long been known is that posture is one of the most common reasons for headaches. Could poor posture be the underlying culprit of yours? Regular yoga practice is excellent for improving posture because it doesn’t simply stretch and strengthen the body to encourage good posture, it also flexes the mind and creates a greater sense of self-awareness that allows you to notice and correct your posture when it begins triggering a symptom.

Shoulder stand and plow pose are two postures that go well when practiced in sequence together, beginning with shoulder stand and transitioning to plow. They both offer a stretch in the back of the neck, in the shoulders and through the top of the spine. Additionally, they engage the core muscles of the spine and abdominals, strengthening the body’s ability to support itself in proper posture. These poses can help relieve pain and headaches, but are not recommended if you are suffering from migraines or a neck injury. Practice mindfully, making sure to allow the weight of the body to be supported by the shoulders and arms and not with compression on the neck.


Not only is a good stretch critical to any physical activity, it also has a huge influence on our body’s ability to manage stress. The neck and shoulders are especially vulnerable to bearing the weight of our life’s circumstances. As we all know, this isn’t just a figure of speech. Poor sleep, bad posture, intense exercise, physical labor, worry, fear, sadness, etc. all find their way into the muscles of the upper body, especially closest to the heart and the head. Go figure. Stretching well and stretching often helps the body recover, while also making it more resilient. Incorporate these stretches into your practice regularly to experience the most benefits from them. As you practice, connect to your breath and remember the mind-body connection.



Hillary is a natural-born wanderer and wonderer. A digital nomad and pilgrim of the heart, she often feels herself a poster child of the Spiritual Millennial. As a writer, health coach and yoga instructor Read More..

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