8 Yoga Poses for Back, Neck, and Shoulders

by Zoe Zulauf /

Whenever I’m out and about in Salt Lake, I like to play a game I call “Spot the Climber.” The name is pretty indicative of the game, and my strategy includes looking for worn carabiners on keychains, traces of chalk on pants or jackets, and, unfortunately, the all-too-common hunched posture typical of those who place gear, clip draws, top out boulders, or pull on plastic.

Climbers are notorious for having overdeveloped back muscles. This tendency is noticeable both visually and physically: slumped posture, neck and shoulders that rest forward, and everyday aches and pains—especially after climbing or training sessions. Keeping a regular yoga practice helps relieve tension and even out muscular imbalances created by the demands of the vertical world.

Ideally, we’d all have the opportunity to take a yoga class every day, but if you’re at Millcreek or can’t make one of the classes in Sandy, try these postures the next time you head to the gym for a climbing session! All you’ll need is a resistance band from the front desk and a comfortable place to sit.

Wide Leg Forward Fold with Twist (Prasarita Padottanasana)

Start standing with your hands resting on your hips, and step your feet apart three to four feet. Taking a deep inhale, extend your spine and grow as tall as you can from the crown of your head. With an exhale, gently drape your upper body toward the ground. Bend your knees as much as needed to make the forward fold comfortable and keep the primary sensation the lengthening in your spine. Let your head and arms hang heavy. Shake your head “yes” and “no” to let go of any tension you may be holding in your neck and shoulders.

Wide Leg Forward Fold (Prasarita Padottanasana)
Wide Leg Forward Fold (Prasarita Padottanasana)

For the twist, start to walk both of your hands toward your right ankle. If available, clasp your right ankle with your left hand, and pull gently to stretch your lats and obliques. You can also raise your right arm toward the ceiling to deepen the twist. Repeat this twist on the left side.

Wide Leg Forward Fold with Twist (Prasarita Padottanasana)
Wide Leg Forward Fold with Twist (Prasarita Padottanasana)

Half Lord of the Fishes Pose (Ardha Matsyendrasana)

Sit tall with your legs out in front of you. Bend your knees and place your feet on the ground. Thread your right heel under your left leg, letting your foot rest on the ground next to your left hip. Pick up your left foot and place it just on the outside of your right knee. If this is too intense of a hip stretch, leave your left foot on the inside of your right knee. Inhale to lengthen your spine, then exhale to twist to your left, hooking your right elbow on the outside of your left knee. Place your left hand on the floor behind you for stability. Gently look toward your left hand to stretch your neck. Repeat this twist on the right side.

Half Lord of the Fishes Pose (Ardha Matsyendrasana)
Half Lord of the Fishes Pose (Ardha Matsyendrasana)

Puppy Pose with Tricep Stretch (Uttana Shishosana)

Puppy pose is similar to Down Dog, but on your knees. Start on your hands and knees, stacking shoulders over wrists and hips over knees. Walk your hands out in front of you, then move your hips back over your knees to extend your upper body. Let your head hang heavy and actively relax any tension in your neck. Bring your hands into prayer position in front of you. Keeping your elbows planted on the ground, lift your hands up and back toward your neck for a deep tricep stretch.

Puppy Pose with Tricep Stretch (Uttana Shishosana)
Puppy Pose with Tricep Stretch (Uttana Shishosana)

Locust Pose (Salabhasana)

Lie face down with your hands at your side and tops of your feet pressing into the ground. Roll your shoulders up toward your ears, then down and together on your back, creating as much space between your shoulders and ears as possible. Inhale to lift your arms, shoulders, upper ribs, and legs, leaving your lower belly and pelvis in contact with the ground. To protect your neck, keep your chin tucked in toward your chest as you lift your head. Hold for 10-20 seconds, and exhale to release your limbs back to the ground. Repeat this pose 3 times.

Locust Pose (Salabhasana)
Locust Pose (Salabhasana)

Shoulder and Chest Opening Sequence

First, sit in a comfortable cross-legged position and raise your arms out to your side. Gently swinging your arms together in front of you, cross your right arm under your left arm for Eagle Arms. If possible, wrap your arms so that your palms come toward one another and push your forearms out to parallel with your torso. On your inhales, lift your fingertips toward the ceiling, and on your exhales, pull your elbows and hands down low to stretch your back muscles. Repeat with your left arm under your right.

Eagle Arms
Eagle Arms

Returning to a comfortable seated position, sit tall and wrap your right arm behind your back so much that your fingers may be visible from the front on your left side. Clasp your right hand with your left and pull your left elbow in to ninety degrees. Gently dip your ear to the side where your hands are clasped for an intense neck and trap stretch. Roll your head down to center, then back to the left to experience the full range of the stretch. Repeat on the right side.

Neck and Trapezius Stretch
Neck and Trapezius Stretch

Grab the resistance band with your hands about three quarters of your wingspan apart (Note: if you’ve had a shoulder injury in the past, keep a relatively wide grip on the resistance band to avoid any icky shoulder feelings). Keeping your spine tall and straight, slowly move the band in an arc from the front of your body to behind your back. Play around with the distance apart your hands are on the resistance band to change the intensity and feeling of the shoulder opener.

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Shoulder Opener
Shoulder Opener

Finally, lie face down on the ground with your arms out in a “T” shape, palms facing down. Bringing your left hand in closer to your chest, press into the ground to roll onto your right shoulder. Control the intensity of the shoulder and chest opener by how close to perpendicular you lift your body. You can use your top leg as a ballast for your body. Move into the shoulder opener slowly and breathe deeply into the sensation. Ease yourself back down to your belly, and bring your right hand up to a ninety-degree angle from your elbow on the ground. Press into your left hand to roll onto your right shoulder once again. Repeat the pose on the left side.

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Shoulder and Chest Opener
Shoulder and Chest Opener

Now that your back, neck, and shoulders are relaxed, rejuvenated, and open, get out and hop on your project or enjoy a laid back session at the gym!

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