Yoga poses for upper back pain are some of the most popular requests I get from my students. It’s hardly any wonder why…
While preparing to write my book Stop Stretching!, I talked with many people about their daily routines and habits. The vast majority confessed to spending hours a day hunched over their computers and phones.
Even when equipped with expensive ergonomic chairs and convertible standing desks, they could tell their posture was suffering — that their backs, shoulders, and necks were bearing the consequences of office jobs, long car commutes, and a technology-driven lifestyle.
If this sounds like you, I want you to know that you’re not alone!
I work on my laptop daily, too. Despite my best efforts to maintain proper alignment and posture, sometimes my shoulders slump, and my back rounds.
Still… you don’t have to live with upper back pain!
There are simple yoga poses for upper back pain you can practice right now — poses that will bring your body into balance while simultaneously strengthening your back, shoulders, and chest.
Yoga for upper back pain: What you need to know
Before we dive into the best yoga poses for upper back and neck pain, there’s something you need to know…
Stretching is never the solution to back pain.
In fact, stretching inevitably leads to more pain and injury!
Look, I know just how debilitating neck and upper back pain can be. I lived with agonizing neck and back pain for years.
I’d startle awake in the middle of the night, feeling as though someone had driven a knife through my upper scapula. Eventually, the pain spread to my lower back. It got so bad that an orthopedic surgeon suggested a spinal fusion, which I only narrowly avoided!
Here’s why this matters to you:
It took me decades to realize that stretching was the source of my chronic pain — that stretching had created muscle weakness and a body-mind disconnect that, over time, worsened my alignment, stability, and health.
I don’t want you to make the same mistakes.
That’s exactly why I created AYAMA™, a revolutionary approach to yoga and flexibility that has helped hundreds of people to reclaim their health and mobility.
Here’s the gist:
Before moving into any yoga posture, we need the working muscles to contract; if the muscles don’t contract properly, then they can’t support the joints and bones.
This creates instability…
…and where there is instability, injury is sure to follow. (I want you to remember that!)
Instead of stretching, we always want to focus on activating and engaging muscle groups. What follows are simple yoga poses for upper back pain that will help you do exactly that.
So, are you ready to finally nix upper back pain for good? Let’s dive in.
The best yoga poses for upper back pain
Use these Applied Yoga Anatomy and Muscle Activation™ (AYAMA) techniques to relieve your upper back pain today.
Author’s note: I’ve also created a full-length yoga for upper back pain video that includes the following yoga poses (and more.) Follow along in real time as I guide you through an accessible AYAMA sequence. I guarantee you’ll feel incredible afterward!
1. Tadasana (Mountain Pose)
Stand with your feet about hip distance apart. Relax your hands underneath your shoulders. Take a few deep inhales and exhales.
Lift your pubic bone towards your navel and your navel towards your heart. Squeeze your hip bones towards your center.
Now, lift through the crown of your head. Feel your spine elongating as you inhale your arms up overhead.
Continue to lift through your chest and heart; allow your head to come back a bit so that you gaze up toward the sky.
Exhale to release the arms. Repeat this movement two more times, synchronizing the movement of your arms with your breath.
Lift the arms overhead once more. Pause. Reach the arm bones back behind your ears. You should feel your upper back muscles engaging. Exhale to bring the arms down. Repeat this movement two more times.
2. Utkatasana (Chair Pose)
Begin with your feet about hip distance apart. On your inhale, bend your knees and send your glutes back like you’re sitting in a chair.
Reach your arms up overhead. Pause. Now, sit back a bit further. Keep your arms extended, but bring them back behind your ears as much as possible. Relax the shoulders – this movement should come from your upper arms.
Exhale to come forward. Release the posture as your hands come down to the ground. Let the head drop.
Hover over your thighs for a moment. Then, when you’re ready, lift back into your Utkatasana. Repeat this flow two times.
3. Virabhadrasana 1 (Warrior 1)
Next on our list of the best yoga poses for upper back pain is Virabhadrasana 1, also called Warrior 1 pose.
Step your left foot back about three feet or so. The toes can point out slightly — just be sure the back foot is firmly planted on the ground.
Bring your hands to your waist; take a moment to square your hips to the front of your mat. Now, bend through your right knee.
Pause. Bring your torso forward about 10 degrees or so. We don’t want to fold over that front leg, but we do want to lengthen through the lumbar spine.
Squeeze the sides of your belly toward your midline as you lift the pubic bone.
Now raise your arms overhead. Stabilize your lower back by engaging your core. Lift through your heart and chest. Relax your shoulders as you send your arm bones back.
On your next exhale, bend your elbows at 90 degrees for “cactus arms.” Squeeze the elbows down and back and the shoulder blades together — you should feel your chest broaden. Keep the length in your spine.
Push into your front heel as you lift through the heart and chest with your gaze slightly up.
Inhale to lift the arms again. Continue this flow, allowing your breath to lead each movement as you extend and bend your arms a few more times.
Switch the orientation of your legs and repeat.
Note: Don’t forget to keep your core strong! Imagine squeezing your hips toward your navel as you lift your pubic bone. An engaged core is a key component to yoga for upper back and neck pain.
4. Standing Side Extension
Separate your feet a bit (think around four feet apart.) Point your toes slightly in toward your midline. Cross your arms in front of you and grab onto opposite elbows.
On your next exhale, drop your right shoulder toward your right hip bone. Squeeze the right side of your body as you rotate the left side of your chest toward the sky. Press down into the outer edges of your feet.
Repeat this movement six times. On the final repetition, extend your left arm overhead, and reach to the right. As you do so, use your right hand to gently roll the left side of your chest upwards toward the sky.
Repeat on the left side.
5. Salabhasana (Superman)
Salabhasana, or, as I like to call it, Superman, is my go-to yoga pose for upper back pain relief. That’s because this pose is highly accessible to most people — and it feels incredible while supercharging back strength!
To practice this AYAMA technique:
- Lie on your stomach and place your hands on your lower back.
- Lift your legs into the air, then peel your head and chest off the ground.
- Keep your legs as straight as possible, toes pointed.
- Don’t worry about getting too high off your mat the first time.
- Practice this pose a few more times, using the breath to lift a bit higher off the mat with each repetition.
Now we’ll try a few variations on Locust Pose. First, release your legs onto the ground. Extend your arms in front of you at a 45-degree angle with your thumbs pointed up.
Lift your chest and arms off the floor as high as you can while keeping the rest of your body relaxed. Drive your thumbs up while keeping your arms straight. Do this for six seconds six times.
Now, bend your arms as you bring your elbows back. (Your arms should resemble cactus arms, just like we practiced in Warrior 1.)
Arch your back and lift your chest as high as possible without lifting your legs or engaging your gluteal muscles. Do this for six seconds six times.
6. Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose)
The last pose on our list of the best yoga poses for shoulders and upper back pain is Setu Bandha Sarvangasana or Bridge Pose.
This fabulous yoga pose engages the glutes. And if you’re wondering what the glutes have to do with yoga poses for upper back pain, the answer is…
I like to think of the glutes as the body’s shock absorbers. If you have weak, inactive glute muscles, the rest of your body will have to compensate — and injury (in this case, upper back pain) is likely to result.
Bridge pose is a fantastic way to fire up the glutes while strengthening the back; it’s one of my go-to’s for daily AYAMA practice.
Now, lie on your back, and bend your knees with your feet planted beneath you. Relax your arms up overhead so you resist the urge to use your arms to lift off the ground.
Lift your glutes as high as you can. Ensure that you squeeze your buttocks! Don’t let the knees collapse inward or fall open, but instead, imagine you are pressing a block between your thighs. Hold for six seconds, then repeat the move six times.
Yoga for upper back pain: The bottom line
Whether you’re suffering from chronic upper back and shoulder pain, trying to improve your posture, or looking for a natural way to energize your mind and body, these yoga poses are a potent way to supercharge your well-being so you can relieve back pain for good.
Regarding yoga poses for upper back pain, we never stretch or hyperextend through the spine. Instead, we focus on activating and strengthening the musculature of the back.
Strengthen your back, and you will strengthen your life. That’s my guarantee to you!
If you’re looking for more ways to reclaim your health and well-being, I’d love to support you.
For over 30 years, I’ve helped people all across the globe eliminate their pain so they can truly step into their greatest potential and live their life purpose.
Learn more about how you can work with me both in-person and online.
Keep learning with me. Check out these other popular posts!
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- 6 EASY YOGA POSES FOR UPPER BACK PAIN YOU NEED TO PRACTICE RIGHT NOW
- How Much Stretching Is Too Much? The Surprising truth You Need To Know.
- How Stretching Is Hurting Us