Simple Ways to Ease Neck and Shoulder Tension

By Kathryn Farrugia

Photo: courtesy of Pexels

In today’s day and age, we are spending a large part of our days in front of a screen, especially now in this time of pandemic lockdown. Nearly our entire lives have gone digital. All of this screen time can have a big impact on your physical body. Depending on your posture and office setup, you could either be set up for success or a whole lot of aches and pains.

The spine is meant to be straight and in alignment. This is the center of our nervous system as well as the main energy channel running through the body. When we are looking down at our phones or hunching in front of a computer, the spine curves and creates tension in the neck and shoulders. With tension, muscles contract and knots form. This means that energy cannot flow through the body properly.

Something needs to be done to counteract all the sitting and hunching. Here are some simple exercises that anyone can to alleviate tension and pain in the neck and shoulders.

Neck rolls

So simple, yet so effective! I find it’s best to do these in the morning after waking up and then throughout the day as needed. Go slowly and pause in any spots that feel especially tight. Breathe deeply and use the breath to open up these spaces. If there is too much tenderness in the neck, take only half circles. You want to be especially careful with this vulnerable part of the body.

Forward fold

Stand with the feet hip distance apart, bring a slight bend to the knees and fold forward, draping the torso over the legs. Release the head down letting it hang heavy. You can shake the head ‘yes’ and ‘no’ to release any tension. Let the weight of your head create length in the spine, releasing tension from between the vertebrae.

For the arm placement, you can clasp opposite elbows and dangle the body down, or you can clasp the hands behind the back and let them fall overhead. This will create more of a stretch and a release in the shoulders.


In my opinion, this is one of the easiest and best for spine health and flexibility. Come to hands and knees with the hands under the shoulders and the knees under the hips. On an inhale, drop the belly, open the shoulders and tilt the head up. Use your exhale to round the back, tuck the tailbone and drop the head. Close your eyes and really drop into the body. Lining breath to movement, visualize the breath moving through the body.

Thread the needle

Start on hands and knees. Raise the right arm overhead and thread it under the palm of the left hand. Rest on the right side of the shoulder and and right cheek. You will feel a nice opening in the right shoulder. Use long, deep breaths to open up space in the shoulders. Stay in the pose for 5-8 breaths and repeat on the other side.

Down dog

This foundational pose is done in nearly every yoga practice. It is traditionally an active resting pose, but it can be extremely helpful in releasing tension in the neck and shoulders. From your hands and knees position, tuck the toes under and push the tailbone up to the sky. Keep the knees slightly bent so that more focus goes to the hands. Plant the hands firmly into the mat and feel a broadening in the shoulder blades. Keep the shoulders away from the ears to create a long line in the neck.

Inhale deeply and imagine pulling energy up through your palms. Send this breath to any tight spaces and release them on the exhale. When you exhale, think of the tension melting away down the spine. This is an inverted posture, so the weight of the head can help stretch and lengthen the spine.

The most important element in each of these stretches is the breath. Focus your energy into the areas of tension, send the breath there and exhale to create space. I find it helpful to close the eyes and visualize the knots releasing and the body opening up.

These are all great ways to release physical tension. However, there can be a mental aspect to your pains as well. This is something that is important to explore. Stretching and yoga will alleviate the symptoms, but if the psychological wounds are not healed, you will be experiencing this over and over.

The neck and shoulders tend to carry a lot of emotional weight. The saying “carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders” has a lot of truth to it. If you are feeling burned or loaded down with lots of responsibilities, your shoulders may be suffering. Fear is another common root of tension in this area. The next time you’re in knots, examine how you’re feeling and what it was that triggered this.

Journaling is a great way to get your feelings down and work through them. Write your current emotion and then keep working back on why you are feeling that way. Many times you will find that fear is the underlying issue. Use this time to create a new narrative and reprogram these recurring issues. This won’t happen overnight, but awareness is the first step to healing. Keep working on it and you will see the benefits not only in your mood and mindset, but your physical body as well.


About the Author:

My name is Katie and I am an educator, yoga teacher, plant-based cook, and world explorer. After discovering yoga nearly 10 years ago, I felt inspired to share with others this ancient wisdom that transformed my life. I am dedicated to helping others become their best selves and realize their full potential. My hope is to bring light into the world through my yoga classes, writing, and plant-based cooking. You can learn more at ZENutrition

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