Relieve Hard-to-Reach Upper-Back Tension With Yoga

That sweet spot between your shoulder blades can be a minefield for knots, stress, and tension — especially if you sit at a desk all day. Don't be so quick to shell out cash for a massage every time you're feeling tightness in this hard-to-reach zone. Roll out your mat, and try these yoga poses on your own instead. These moves can help dissipate that tension, and as an added bonus, you'll feel calmer and more relaxed immediately. Source: Shutterstock

Standing Forward Bend

Standing Forward Bend

Whenever I'm feeling stressed or tense between my shoulder blades, Standing Forward Bend is the first shape I take. To offer the biggest release to your upper back, grab opposite elbows once you take the full expression of the pose. You will feel a huge opening across your back that might feel a little overwhelming at first, but as long as you're feeling comfortable (and safe), simply stick with it, and breathe into the space.

  • Begin in Mountain Pose at the front of your mat. Inhale, and reach your arms straight above you.
  • As you exhale, engage your abs, and fold forward with a straight back. Tuck your chin in toward your chest, relax your shoulders, and extend the crown of your head toward the floor to create a long spine. Shift your weight forward onto your toes, straightening your legs as much as possible.
  • Place your hands on the ground, fingertips lining up with the toes, or grab opposite elbows and gently swing from right to left.
  • Hold here for 10 breaths.

Source: Laughing River Yoga Studio

Cat-Cow Pose

Cat-Cow Pose

Warming up your spine with a round of Cat Pose to Cow Pose can loosen up tightness in your upper body and relieve pressure in your neck. Pay special attention to aligning each movement with each breath to get the most out of this effective asana.

  • Begin with your hands and knees on the floor. Make sure your knees are under your hips and your wrists are under your shoulders. Begin in a neutral spine position, with your back flat and your abs engaged. Take a big, deep inhale.
  • On the exhale, round your spine up toward the ceiling, and imagine you're pulling your belly button up toward your spine, really engaging your abs. Tuck your chin toward your chest, and let your neck release. This is your cat-like shape.
  • On your inhale, arch your back, let your belly relax, and go loose. Lift your head and tailbone up toward the sky — without putting any unnecessary pressure on your neck. This is the Cow portion of the pose.
  • Continue flowing back and forth from Cat Pose to Cow Pose, and connect your breath to each movement — inhale for Cow Pose, and exhale on Cat Pose.
  • Repeat for at least 15 rounds. Shoot your hips back for a lengthy Child's Pose to release your lower back.

Warrior 2

Warrior 2

Warrior 2 is the most active (and surprising) posture of the bunch, but with proper technique, it can have huge benefits on a tight upper back or closed-off chest. As you lay the foundation for this pose, bring awareness to your shoulders and arm placement.

  • Begin in Downward Facing Dog, step your right foot forward between your palms, and come into Warrior 1.
  • Extend your arms out in T position as you rotate your torso to the left, coming into Warrior 2. Ideally, your front thigh should be parallel to the ground and your right knee directly over your right ankle. Make sure your shoulders are stacked directly above your pelvis.
  • Extend your arms out in a straight, long line, reaching toward the front and back of your mat. Gaze past your right fingertips, holding for five breaths.
  • To give the center of your back extra attention, focus on rolling your shoulder blades up and back. You should feel a big opening in your chest as you actively attempt to pull your shoulder blades together.
  • Cartwheel your hands to the mat, and step back to Downward Facing Dog. Step your left foot forward, and do this pose on the other side.

Wide-Legged Forward Bend C

Wide-Legged Forward Bend C

Wide-Legged Forward Bend C strengthens and stretches your spine while calming your mind — in short, it's a great way to relieve a mild backache. Be sure to keep your hands pressing together, engaging your arms for the entirety of the pose. This way, your shoulders won't have the opportunity to creep up toward your ears, and you'll find the biggest upper-body release possible.

  • Stand with your feet three to four feet apart, flaring your heels slightly wider than your toes.
  • Bring your arms behind your back, clasping your fingers, pressing the heels of your palms together in a fist, and actively engaging your shoulders.
  • Fold forward, hinging at your hips, drawing the crown of your head and your hands toward the floor as you keep your arms active. Relax your toes, and try to shift the weight of your hips forward so they're in line with your feet.
  • Stay here for five deep breaths. Then press into your feet, engage your quads, and inhale as you stand up.