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12 Gentle Yoga Poses to Relieve Tight Neck and Shoulders

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The shoulders and neck are very common areas to hold tension and tightness. A lot of us unknowingly hunch up our shoulders and having jobs that require long periods of sitting can also cause poor posture.

Gentle Yoga Poses for Beginners for Neck and Shoulders

Whether you are looking to relieve neck and shoulder pain from sitting at your desk all day, or just looking for some simple beginner poses to improve flexibility in your neck and shoulders, the following poses are a great place to start.

12 yoga poses for tight neck and shoulders:

  1. Upper Trapezius Stretch
  2. Cross Body Shoulder Stretch
  3. Overhead Shoulder Stretch
  4. Seated Shoulder Pull Stretch
  5. Seated Cat-Cow Pose
  6. Overhead Side Stretch
  7. Modified Staff Pose
  8. Ragdoll Pose
  9. Standing Forward Fold With Bind
  10. Lying Shoulder Stretch
  11. Thread the Needle Pose
  12. Extended Puppy Pose


Causes of Tight Neck and Shoulders

Tight neck and shoulders don’t usually happen all of a sudden; they seem to creep up on you and then all of a sudden just be there, without any notice. If you’re experiencing tightness in your neck and shoulder, one of these may be the cause:

  • StressWhen you are stressed out, your body goes into “fight or flight” mode and tends to tense up. This is the muscle’s natural reaction to stress, as it is protecting itself from any potential injury or pain. And prolonged tension can cause, well, tension.
  • Prolonged sittingIf you are sitting at a desk all day, if you’re not stretching, you most likely have some type of tension or tightness in your neck, shoulders, or both. Sitting in this posture usually involves the shoulders hunched and the back slouching, which leads to tightness and stiffness in those areas, especially if you don’t take breaks.
  • Poor sleeping positionAlthough you may not realize it, but you might be causing tightness while you sleep. If you sleep in a position which causes your neck to tense or twist in an unnatural way, it could cause stiffness and tension.
  • Past injuryPast injuries are linked with decreased range of motion, especially if you do not properly care for that area of your body. Where there is inflammation, there is decreased range of motion. In order to restore range of motion, you must implement gentle progressive stretching into your routine.
  • Poor posturePoor posture is one of the biggest causes of stiffness, tension, or tightness in the neck and shoulders. People who practice yoga have even seen changes in their height after implementing in consistently. This is due to stretching and strengthening the muscles so they begin to align correctly again, therefore decreasing tension as well.

How do I loosen up my shoulders?

In order to loosen up your shoulders, you must add yoga poses into your routine that focus on this area, and implement them consistently. 

There are a ton of yoga poses that help open up your chest and stretch your neck and shoulders, but when first starting out, or if you are really tight, you need to start with gentler poses to prepare you for the deeper poses without hurting yourself.

The following 12 yoga poses are great for beginners, or if you are very tight in these areas. Do all of these movements very slowly, and listen to your body. You never want to stretch too much, or you risk straining yourself. As you practice these poses more, your range of motion will improve and you will be able to move onto more advanced poses.

12 Yoga Poses for Tight Neck & Shoulders:

The following poses are beginner level yoga poses you can do anytime that will help you relieve tightness and tension in your neck and shoulder areas. Practice these poses as often as you’d like whenever you have tension, and add them into your routine to keep your neck and shoulders happy!

1. Upper Trapezius Stretch

Neck and trapezius stretch yoga

This is a very gentle yet satisfying stretch for the entire neck. The sides of the neck hold a lot of tension when you hunch up your shoulders constantly, and this stretch helps release it. Make sure to start with a few neck rotations to warm up your neck.

StretchesNeck, upper trapezius

How to do Upper Trapezius Stretch:

  1. Start in a comfortable seated position, sitting tall with a straight spine.
  2. Begin with simple neck rotations, by slowly moving your head in a clockwise motion, and then switching directions.
  3. Take your right hand and grasp the left side of your head (by your ear).
  4. Gently begin to pull your head toward you with your right hand to feel a stretch.
  5. Hold for 10 seconds and repeat on the other side.


2. Cross Body Shoulder Stretch

Crossbody shoulder stretch yoga tight shoulders

You will see this stretch done after or before many workouts that involve the upper body because it is a great stretch for the deltoids and triceps, which are a focus in many workouts. The great part about it is you can make the stretch as deep as you want based on how much you pull.

StretchesDeltoids, triceps

How to do Cross Body Shoulder Stretch:

  1. Start in a comfortable seated position, sitting tall with a straight spine.
  2. Place both arms straight out in front of you and place your right elbow instead your left.
  3. Bend your left arm in towards you, bringing your arms up to shoulder height.
  4. Gently pull your right arm across your body with your left bent arm until you feel a stretch.
  5. Hold for 15 seconds and repeat on the other side.


3. Overhead Shoulder Stretch

overhead should stretch for tight shoulders

If you find it very hard to lift your arms straight above your head, you might have tight deltoids or triceps. This yoga stretch is perfect for lengthening the muscle and releasing tension gently.

Stretches: Deltoids, triceps

How to do Overhead Shoulder Stretch:

  1. Start in a seated position with a straight spine or standing if you prefer.
  2. Lift both arms straight up overhead.
  3. Bend both arms, grabbing your right elbow with your left hand.
  4. Begin to gently pull your right arm towards your left until you feel a stretch.
  5. Hold for 15 seconds and repeat on the other side.


4. Seated Shoulder Pull Stretch

seated pull stretch for tight shoulders

This stretch works not only on the top part of your shoulder, but areas of your neck as well, where a large muscle called the trapezius runs. You can easily deepen the stretch in your neck by gently tilting it to the side.

Stretches: Deltoids, pectorals, upper trapezius

How to do Seated Shoulder Pull Stretch:

  1. Start in a comfortable seated position with a tall spine.
  2. Bring your arms behind your back and grab your right wrist or hand with your left.
  3. Drop your shoulders and lift through your chest.
  4. Gently begin to pull your right arm towards your left until you feel a stretch.
  5. To get a stretch in your neck as well, tilt your head to the left until you feel a stretch.
  6. Hold for 15 seconds and repeat on the other side.


5. Cat-Cow Pose

Cat-cow is a great set of poses to do if you have a tight upper back and neck. The flow between these two poses allows you to feel for any tight areas you may not have known you had.

Cat and cow mini flow to stretch the neck and shoulders

Stretches: Upper back, upper and lower trapezius

How to do Cat-Cow Pose:

  1. Start in a tabletop position with hands underneath shoulders and knees hip distance apart. You can choose to have your toes tucked or untucked.
  2. On you inhale, arch your back, drop your belly towards the floor, and lift your gaze upwards and forwards. This is Cow Pose.
  3. On your exhale, round your spine, hollow out your belly, and push away from the ground with your hands as you curl your head in towards your body. This is Cat Pose.
  4. Go through a cycle of these two poses, following your inhale and exhales, for about 15-30 seconds.


6. Overhead Side Stretch

overhead side stretch to stretch the shoulders

Just as the name suggest, this yoga pose stretches the side-body, which is tight in many people without them realizing it! This is similar to Gate Pose, but without the leg extension. Although, feel free to add it in for a nice hamstring stretch!

Stretches: Latissimus dorsi

How to do Overhead Side Stretch:

  1. Start on your knees with your thighs off the ground and spine tall.
  2. Bend your knees just enough so you can ground your left hand onto the floor slightly behind and a few inches to the side of your left foot.
  3. Reach your right arm up overhead and bring it over to your left until you feel a stretch. Allow your gaze to follow.
  4. Hold for 15 seconds and repeat on the other side.


7. Modified Staff Pose

modified staff pose- gentle stretch for the shoulders

Modified Staff Pose works on gently stretching the shoulders, arms, and wrists. This pose is great for beginners as it is easily modifiable with how deep of a stretch you would like.

Stretches: Deltoids, rhomboids, wrist

How to do Modified Staff Pose:

  • Start in a seated position, and put your legs out straight in front of you to come into Staff Pose, or you can choose to bend your knees for more support. You should be sitting in an upright position with your hands flat on the ground next to your hips, fingers facing forward and feet flexed. 
  • Start to walk your hands back behind your slowly, until they are a few inches away from your hips. 
  • Turn your hands to face the other way for a deeper stretch if it feels comfortable.
  • Press into your palms and lift through your chest, looking up towards the ceiling.
  • Hold for 15 seconds.


8. Ragdoll Pose

ragdoll yoga pose- gentle stretch for the neck and shoulders

Ragdoll pose is one of the best and favorite among many to release tension in the spine, neck, and shoulders. If you have a tight neck and shoulders, I definitely suggest doing one of these daily.

Stretches: Upper trapezius, rhomboids, hamstrings, spine

How to do Ragdoll Pose:

  1. Start in an upright standing position, or Mountain Pose.
  2. Place your hands on your hips or lift your arms up overhead and swan dive them as you hinge at your hips and slowly bend forward over yourself.
  3. Once you are folded, grab opposite elbows with both hands.
  4. Put a slight bend in your knees and slowly rock your upper body from side to side.
  5. Hold for 30 seconds.


9. Hand Clasp Behind Back

yoga poses- hand clasp behind back to gently stretch the shoulders


This is a great beginners pose for people with very tight shoulders and if you have pain between your shoulder blades. You can make the stretch as intense or as mild as you want easily by squeezing tighter or having a more relaxed grip. 

Stretches: Middle trapezius, rhomboids, deltoids, hamstrings, spine

How to do Hand Clasp Behind Back

  1. Start in a standing position, or Mountain Pose.
  2. Bring your hands behind your back and clasp them together, extending through the chest.
  3. If you are unable to completely clasp them, try simply holding on to one of your wrists with the other hand.
  4. Straighten your arms as much as you can while you squeeze your hands together, getting a nice stretch in your shoulder blades.
  5. Pull your arms down towards the floor or slowly lift them away from your body for a deeper stretch.


10. Cactus Arms

cactus arms for tight shoulders

This might seem like a simple and easy stretch, but those of you that have very tight shoulders will most likely find it challenging to get your arms onto the mat, as I did when I first started. This is a great gentle stretch to improve the overall range of motion in tight shoulders.

Stretches: Latissimus dorsi, upper trapezius, lower back, pectoralis major 

How to do Cactus Arms:

  1. Start lying on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the ground. Legs and knees can be a few inches apart.
  2. Extend your arms up overhead and bend them to 90 degree angles, then bring them to rest on the mat, forming a goal post with your arms.
  3. Try to push your arms towards the mat so your shoulder and arms are completely resting on the mat and not lifted at all.
  4. For a deeper stretch, gently arch your back and lift through your chest.
  5. Hold for 15 seconds.


11. Thread the Needle Pose

thread the needle pose for tight shoulders

This is one of the first yoga poses people learn when they begin practicing yoga, as it is easily accessible to everyone, and releases tension and tightness in the shoulders.

Stretches: Triceps, latissimus dorsi, deltoids

How to do Thread the Needle Pose:

  1. Start in a tabletop position with your toes untucked.
  2. Lift your left hand up overhead, and then slowly thread in through under yourself to the right side of your body, resting flat on the ground.
  3. Extend your left arm forward for a deeper stretch. Allow your gaze to come up towards the ceiling.
  4. Hold for 15 seconds and repeat on the other side.


12. Extended Puppy Pose

puppy pose for tight neck and shoulders

Think of Child’s Pose, but a deeper version that mainly focuses on the upper body. This is a great pose in general to increase flexibility, and will release tension in hard to reach areas such as your abdominals and sides as well.

StretchesLatissimus dorsi, abdominals, obliques, teres major, teres minor

How to do Extended Puppy Pose:

  1. Start in a tabletop position with toes untucked. Legs can be slightly parted.
  2. Walk your hands forward as if you are coming into Child’s Pose, but do not sink your hips backwards, keep them lifted.
  3. Your forehead stays planted on the ground. Continue to walk your fingertips forward until you feel a stretch.
  4. Hold for 30 seconds.
  5. You can choose to walk your hands to the right and then the left to get a deeper stretch in both sides of your body.

Final Thoughts on Gentle Yoga Sequence To Relieve Shoulders and Neck

I hope these simple, gentle poses were beneficial to you and help you relieve built up tension and tightness while preparing you for deeper shoulder stretching poses! Which ones were your favorites? Let me know in the comments below!

Want to save these poses for later? Save our infographic:

Yoga for Tight Neck and Shoulders Infographic

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8 thoughts on “12 Gentle Yoga Poses to Relieve Tight Neck and Shoulders”

  1. Really good stretches for the neck. Feel much better after only 2 days. Will continue with these exercises. Thanks.
    Sue Bowra

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