Unwind Tight Shoulders With This 20-Minute Yoga Flow

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Try the Thread the Needle pose next time you need a stretch through your shoulders and upper back.
Image Credit: fizkes/iStock/GettyImages

Tight shoulders, sore neck, achy back: Those are the modern-day plagues facing anyone who spends hours upon hours sitting at a desk. And even if you exercise regularly, eight (or more!) sedentary hours can really take a toll — on your posture and how comfortable and confident you feel.

Adding some intermittent movement throughout your day — like a 10-minute walk here and a 20-minute stretch there — can drastically improve the way you feel mentally and physically as the day goes on.

This series, created by certified personal trainer and mindful movement instructor Ellen Barrett, loosens up the entire shoulder area and aims to increase shoulder range of motion.

The order is important, so be sure to start with the first move and go through the exercises as listed. Meander your way through the sequence to slowly decompress after a long day of sitting, really taking the time to open up your chest, back and shoulders.

Repeat the series three or even four times through, increasing your speed just slightly each time to help increase blood flow to tight muscles and lubricate the joints of your shoulders, neck and upper back.

Check out more of our 20-minute workouts here — we’ve got something for everyone.

Move 1: Shoulder Loop

Move 1: Shoulder Loop
Image Credit: Luca Inglese
Reps 10
  1. Rest in a kneeling position on your mat.
  2. Inhale and shrug both shoulders up toward your ears.
  3. On the exhale, circle them back and down.
  4. Take your time with these loops and keep them smooth and fluid.
  5. Complete five loops in one direction and five in the reverse.

Tip

Close your eyes so you can bring all of your attention to relaxing your shoulders.

Move 2: Sleeping Puppy

Move 2: Sleeping Puppy
Image Credit: Luca Inglese
Time (In Seconds) 1 Min
  1. Start on all fours on your mat (aka tabletop position). Your knees should be stacked directly under your hips and your wrists should be stacked under your shoulders.
  2. Walk your hands as far forward as possible, all while keeping your hips over your knees.
  3. Once you’ve extended your arms as far as you can, press your upper chest toward the floor, ideally bringing the forehead to the mat. Your spine should feel long.
  4. Hold for one minute.

Tip

If it feels good, sway your hips gently side to side — like a puppy wagging its tail.

Move 3: Thread the Needle

Move 3: Thread the Needle
Image Credit: Luca Inglese
Time (In Seconds) 1 Min
  1. Start on all fours in tabletop position, knees stacked below hips and hands stacked below shoulders.
  2. “Thread” your left arm underneath your right shoulder. Bring your left arm as far through as you can without feeling discomfort or pain.
  3. Once you reach the end of your range of motion, rest your left cheek and the back of your left shoulder on the ground
  4. Relax here for one minute.
  5. Repeat on the other side.

Tip

Sink into this pose, using your body weight to make the stretch to the outer shoulder more intense.

Move 4: Cobra

Move 4: Cobra
Image Credit: Luca Inglese
Reps 5
  1. Lie facedown on your mat with your legs extended behind you. The tops of your feet should be resting on the ground. Prop yourself up on your elbows, which should be stacked directly underneath your shoulders.
  2. Place your palms on the ground and inhale. Extend your arms, pressing up as high as you can. Bring your head, neck, shoulders and chest off of the ground.
  3. Exhale and slowly return your body to the floor.
  4. Repeat five times in sync with your breath.

Tip

Think of spreading your collarbones apart as you lift your torso up on the inhale.

Move 5: Downward Facing Dog

Move 5: Downward Facing Dog
Image Credit: Luca Inglese
Time (In Seconds) 1 Min
  1. Start on all fours in tabletop position, knees stacked below hips and hands stacked below shoulders. Press your palms firmly into the ground
  2. With an exhale, straighten your knees and push your hips high into the air. Your legs and back should form a triangle shape with your mat.
  3. Allow your head and neck to relax into this position as you feel your spine elongate.
  4. Hold for one minute.

Tip

If you feel too much tightness in your hamstrings, bend your knees as much as needed. You should feel a stretch, but not pain.

Move 6: Standing Forward Fold

Move 6: Standing Forward Fold
Image Credit: Luca Inglese
Time (In Seconds) 1 Min
  1. From Downward Facing Dog, mindfully walk your hands toward your feet, bending your knees as much as you need in order to keep your hands touching the floor.
  2. Once your hands reach your feet, stay there and allow the weight of your head to gently pull your spine down. Relax your neck and maybe try stretching it from side to side.
  3. Hold for one minute.

Tip

If this pose feels restorative, linger here longer. Try holding it for 2 or up to 3 minutes.

Move 8: Cat Stretch

Move 8: Cat Stretch
Image Credit: Luca Inglese
Reps 5
  1. Start on all fours in tabletop position, knees stacked below hips and hands stacked below shoulders.
  2. Exhale and pull your bellybutton toward the spine. Round your spine to mimic the way a cat looks when it’s spooked. At the same time, allow your head to relax down and hang between your arms.
  3. Inhale and return the spine to a neutral position.
  4. Repeat five times in sync with your breath.

Tip

On the exhale, imagine squeezing every drop of air out of your body. This will maximize your range of motion.

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