Raise your arms overhead and feel the stretch in your upper back. That's your trapezius — a diamond-shaped muscle that covers your upper back and runs along the middle of your spine. It lengthens and relaxes other muscles in the body, along with connecting the neck and shoulder in different ranges of motion.
In poses with your arms raised overhead, like chair and warrior 1, your trapezius lifts and rotates the shoulder blade. In poses like downward facing dog and handstand, your trapezius works with the shoulder blades to help support your body weight.
It's important to keep this muscle strong to prevent restriction and restraint of upper body movements. Here are some yoga stretches to strengthen your trapezius.
1. Cactus Arms
As mentioned above, the motion of raising your arms overhead engages the trapezius muscle. To take this a step further, try cactus arms in warrior I, chair pose or simply sitting on a chair.
HOW TO DO IT: Raise your arms to the sky. Exhale as you bend your elbows to a 90-degree angle with your shoulders. Inhale and raise your arms back toward the sky. Hold and repeat.
2. Extended Child's Pose
You may rest like a sleepy kid in extended child's pose, but you'll also be effortlessly stretch your trapezius muscle.
HOW TO DO IT: Begin by kneeling on your mat with knees together or wide apart. Bend over so your torso is parallel to the mat and rests on top of or between your thighs. Extend your arms in front of you, fingertips reaching toward the front of the mat. Breathe deeply, and soften any tension in your shoulders to stretch your trapezius.
3. Eagle Arms
The wrap of the eagle arms stretches your trapezius laterally (side to side).
HOW TO DO IT: Stretch your arms in front of your body and parallel to the floor. Wrap your left arm under your right and bend your elbows at a 90-degree angle with your fingers pointed toward the sky. Press your palms together. Press your elbows together and lift them to the height of your shoulders as you the stretch your trapezius.
4. Downward Facing Dog
You can stretch your trapezius muscle in inverted positions where your hands are the foundation, like in downward facing dog or standing forward fold.
HOW TO DO IT: From a tabletop position on your hands and knees, spread your fingers wide and press your palms firmly into your mat. As you exhale, tuck your toes and lift your knees off the floor to reach your hips toward the ceiling. Gently straighten your legs as you draw your sit bones toward the wall behind you. Press the floor away to lengthen and stretch your trapezius.