We all have it – after sitting at the computer finishing a project, receiving bad news, or just a hard workout, that feeling that the sides of our neck are getting shorter! But it’s not that our neck is getting shorter; instead, our shoulders are tensing, particularly the levator scapulae muscles that attach our shoulder blades to our neck and can cause neck pain.

Our breathing patterns change when we are under stress. Breaths shorten and become more shallow, and rather than breathing from our diaphragm, we begin to breath from our upper chest and shoulders.This places undue stress on those shoulder muscles and quickly tires them to overuse. Test yourself right now: are you tensing your shoulders as you sit at your computer?Can you relax, depress your shoulder blades, release some tension, and breath more into your diaphragm? How does that feel?

This pattern of tension leads to an overdevelopment of the trapezius and levator scapulae muscles and hikes them up to our ears.Bringing conscious awareness to our bodies during our activities can help to decrease tension and keep it away.Put a sign on your computer or work station, or in your car that says, “RELAX”.Eventually, the pattern of relaxation will take over for the pattern of tension!

Keeping the shoulders supple prevents other shoulder problems such as rotator cuff injuries, bursitis, tendonitis, and arthritis from developing.For a Quick-Fix, try this shoulder rolling move from the blog I posted earlier this week. You can see more shoulder exercises in the Yoga Tune Up® Quick Fix Video here. In addition, bring some massage therapy products into your regular routine for neck pain relief. I recommend the Upper Back and Neck Series using the Yoga Tune Up® Therapy Balls which you can find here.

Learn about our products for shoulder tension.

Make your posture perfect. – Read the article.

Watch our neck pain relief videos on YouTube.

Jeffrey Lang

Jeffrey Lang is a certified Yoga Tune Up® instructor in Northern California. Jeff likes to fill the gap of classical Yoga with modern understanding of anatomical texts, neurology, biology, physiology and psychology in order to help explain and refine our understanding of enlightened states of being and better health. For more about me or to view my Yoga Tune Up® class schedule go here.

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Frances Rothenberg

I have noticed that with the discomfort in my right shoulder increasing there is an unusual “bump” where my right levator scapulae is located. I am convinced that this is due to habitual tension and the idea of placing a sign to relax and breathe while at the computer, in the car or even while washing the dishes is just brilliant! Thank you

will cristobal

as i was reading this i did notice my shoulders were slumped forward and i was not relaxed. using the tips you mentioned “depress your shoulder blades, release some tension, and breath more into your diaphragm”, i softened at at my neck and shoulders right away. i will bring this level of awareness and relaxation when i walk to a few blocks to class tomorrow.

Stressed Out Shoulders Rise Up Again! | Yoga Tune Up

[…] Read more about shoulder tension. […]


A teacher of mine once made the observation children naturally breath big full yogic breaths and slowly as we get older, our breath gets more and more shallow. The shoulder work with the YTU balls is a wonderful self care habit to get into. I definitely get complacent with the tightness in my traps and levator scapulae that I don’t even notice it anymore. Working on them with the balls causes instant relaxation.


Even though I’m constantly reminding students to relax their shoulders, I have to constantly remind myself the same thing when driving, at the computer, etc. It’s great to learn it on the mat, but we all need to take it out into the world!


Love this> I’ve been realizing I do this when I’m driving in stop & go traffic. The first thing I do I take a big abdominal breath. I’m gonna have to add to that your suggestions.

Anonymous E ;)

Awesome idea about the poster “Relax”!! Love it! Hehe! Can I tattoo it on my forehead as a reminder for my students? ;))

Cathy Favelle

I wear several hats as an esthetician, yoga instructor, spinnng instructor and active business owner….I am constantly running to classes, meetings or appointments hauling heavy bags, pedal to the medal and barely breathing…of course I know better….I teach diaphragmatic breathing to my students and yet how is it I forget to be a student of my own body….all tense, scrunched up and tight by the end of the day….I LOVE your idea of putting up a cue word like RELAX….that is something I can easily implement into my life and pass on to my students!


Splendid idea to put a sign on the computer with the word RELAX!!!
I will do that tomorrow! And also make more signs for my colleagues!
Thank you


Thanks for this insight, Jeff. I have trouble bringing my hands in prayer in utkatasana – perhaps it’s partly due to my posture during the work day. I am going to incorporate the shoulder rolls into my day and post a “RELAX!” reminder on my computer!


So many people don’t realize that should tension also changes how we breathe. Thanks for all the great tension releasing tips!


love the idea of posting reminders to relax in places you tend to bring the shoulders up to the ears, and hold them there without being aware of it!. thanks!


I have become quite aware of my tight trapezius muscle and all of the tension I carry in my shoulders. I try to be mindful of my posture and take frequent breaks from the computer…I keep hoping the tension will melt away eventually! I just got a pair of therapy balls, so I will try adding the Upper Back and Neck Series to my routine. Thanks!


I had a tremendous amount of tension in my neck and shoulders that was exacerbated by a neck injury I sustained skiing several years ago. The events leading to the fall caused a sudden extension of my head and when I hit the ground, I struck the back of my head and literally saw stars. I was very lucky. I couldn’t afford health insurance at the time, and was left to my own inexperienced devises to tend to my injury. I felt mostly embarrassed at first but then the next day, I was laying on my back and couldn’t lift… Read more »

Jen Zweibel

I have had tension headaches for as long as I can remember. They generally start in my left shoulder and works its way up through my neck and into my head. Last night I used a yoga tune up ball to start to relive some of the tension i have in my shoulders. I woke up this morning with such relief. Such a small albeit a tiny bit painful exercise really did leave my shoulder feeling less tense.

Sylvia Alakusheva

I have struggled with chronic shoulder pain for years. Working a stressful job and sitting at a desk for the majority of my day, I know what shoulder tension really means! Although, I am a very active person and I practice Yoga 3-4 times a week, my upper back and shoulders always feel very lumpy and sore, especially after a long day at work. I do believe that stress accumulates in the shoulder area and according to Ayurveda, the tension we feel is built up lymphatic waste that needs to be drained out of the body through movement and massage.… Read more »

Emily Burritt

When I am stressed or cold, I flex my trapezius and levator scapulae muscles. When I wake up in the morning, I find my shoulders are elevated and I have to literally tell myself to depress them. It’s going to take time to reprogram these muscles to gain back my full range of motion. I’ve started working with YTU balls and will now add some shoulder rolls.

Jeffrey Wissler

That sounds just like me, neck tension and shoulder pain. Definitely a problem I’m working on. I’m just getting to know my trapezius, levator scapulae, sternocleidomastoid, scalenes, and other muscles of the neck and shoulders. Now I just need to use my tune up balls to massage them out, and more importantly to relax my shoulders while I’m at my computer all day.

saharah ali

I am gulity as changed. I am neck tight card carrying tight trapezius queen. Thank you so much for the insight on depression of the shoulders to relieve the pain. Heres to pain free neck,! Relax levator scapule, and Mr Trapezius so we can all breath better. 🙂


amazing how bad habits can be found in the most simple, even mundane, daily activities of life! thanks for the reminder!


I used to notice the hiked shoulders mostly in seniors. Now I see it in all ages, even kids! Part of it is the design of computer keyboards and smartphones. But a lot of it seems to be an accumulation of stress that builds up in subtle layers – pushing the shoulders higher – without conscious awareness. Your suggestion about placing an obvious cue to relax should come attached to all computer hardware.


Thank you for this, I find that even if we spend most of our days in internal rotation of the shoulders is not just important to extrnally rotate the shoulders but also to create movement in every posible direction of the shoulder joint and strenghtenin as well releasing the thight and recruiting the weak.

Janet Berkowitz

It is amazing how much we overuse our trapezius muscle.
Yes, I was tensing my shoulders as I was sitting at the computer!
RELAX is a great idea!

Caroline M

Stress is a killer and the shoulder rolling exercises not only feel good on the shoulders but actually relieve the stress that brings the stress to this area. I find I hike my levator scapulae all winter long as I feel somehow it keeps me warm and seriously who doesn’t have shoulder tension?


Th YTU therapy balls have been a life saver for me. Long hours perched at my computer as the traps rise up and my breathing becomes shallow ( because I am focused on work intensely NOT relaxed and my hiked shoulders make it hard to breath from the diaphragm) I stop what I am doing , floss out the yunk with shoulder cirles and rub the tension in my upper trapezius after I feel refreshed and relaxed.
The benefits of YTU & yogic awareness on and off the mat has a lasting affect, love ytu!


The Yoga Tune Up teacher training course taught me, amongst many other wonderful things, have to become more body aware and make frequent posture checks throughout the day. What a difference it has made. Bringing about a new “normal”

Charity Baker

As I was reading this blog sitting at my computer, and then you reminded us to relax our shoulders–it made me laugh. How easily it happens to tense up. Even while you are reading an article about tensing your shoulders! It really is as simple, if you can not automatically remember to relieve the tension, to set yourself up to be reminded. A sign on your bathroom mirror, or a daily yoga practice. It doesn’t matter how you go about reminding yourself, as long as you remember to in some way. The yoga-tuneup balls work magic for this area. I… Read more »

Nancy Kranzberg

I can’t wait to learn everything to do with yoga balls, but most importantly I need to use them on my shoulder muscles.
I carry my day in my shoulders. I do feel it and correct it, but it happens all day long. When I work out and say I’m doing bicep curls, as soon as I feel my shoulders or neck, I stop because I know I’m now wasting time. I’m taking it in the wrong muscles. The last think I need is a big neck!!

Marina Blokhin

During my work hours I try not to forget to do some breathing exercises, stretch my arms and shoulders, rotate neck and twist my spine. Co-workers were sarcastic at the beginning. Now they are repeating after me. 🙂 May be I should bring Yoga Tune balls to work!

Dagmar Khan

Awareness.Awareness.Awareness.It is all about moment-to-moment awareness about how we carry ourselves,how we are holding our heads,sticking our butts,hunching over our steering wheel etc.YTU is the best system I have come across to not only deal with the pain and tension caused by all of our habits,but also correct them and set a new pathways for us to live much better inside of our own skeletons.


Fantastic article. I think I might have one of those ‘over-developed’ trapezius muscles. Going to put a “relax” sign on my computer right now!


Thanks for helping me be more conscious of a bad habit I know I have.


As someone who sits in front of a computer 10-12 hours a day, this is a really relevant article for me. Even with semi-regular massage, there is still a lot of tension in my neck and shoulders which results in my shoulders hiking up a lot during yoga classes. I’ll have to more consciously relax them at work and use the Yoga TuneUp balls to do more self massage.

Elizabeth E

I carry so much tension in my shoulders and try so hard to keep them relaxed and loose. No matter how hard I try, though, I cannot seem to create lasting change in them. I really appreciate your tip to post a note at work or at home as reminder to relax the shoulders. Think that constant reminder will really help me!

Hayden Bird

I can relate to this, how as a deep tissue massage therapist can I work and not bring that tension into my body? My shoulders carry a lot of tension.

Laura H.

I hold a LOT of tension in my neck and shoulders, so much so that I sometimes get migraines from it. The shoulder roll is something easy I can do anytime whenever I notice my shoulders creeping closer to my ears.


I hold my stress in my shoulders, like so many people do. I’ve found the yoga tune up balls to really help me here.


consciously incorporating stretches at regular intervals throughout the workday that depress and adduct the scapulae would seem to be a great supplement to the more mental act of telling oneself to relax. maybe interlace the fingers behind the back and gently draw the hands down and back (inferior/posterior).

Aura Carr

Clearly shoulder rolls are a good regular practice to loosen the shoulders. It is so interesting that when we focus on the breath there is a natural tendency to relax the shoulders. Tension is so cumulating in this area of the body and it takes vigilance to remind ourselves to periodically check out our shoulders, especially when under stress.

Jeff Lang

Thanks for all the great comments!! Keep up the good work in minimizing your shoulder tension with conscious awareness…take a deep breath and just relax!


Oh the shoulders, some how they are always too tight but never actually strong enough. I had a recent revelation about my shoulders, I have had chronic right shoulder issues for YEARS. Sometimes its really bad, and sometimes there is no pain, but I can still find the knot in my trap. However, my left shoulder is the one that is higher, the light bulb went off when I figured out that my right shoulder was probably being pulled down. I had a bone biopsy on my clavical when I was a kid, and I realized that the scar tissue… Read more »


I carry all my tension in my shoulders…crazy to think that the way you breathe can affect the muscles that much


My shoulders need to continue the long but necessary journey downwards. My vice is driving with both arms locked clenching the steering wheel. As you can imagine, my fingers, hands, arms, shoulders, and neck just can’t take it anymore! Add at least 10 hours of computer time in a week, about 10 hours of driving… I guess I have almost an entire day of every week to practice depressing my shoulder blades and breathe!

Tamara Z

Wow – totally guilty on tensing my shoulders while I sit at my computer! As I read the part that says “Can you relax, depress your shoulder blades, release some tension, and breath more into your diaphragm?” I was adjusting my position, and felt so much relief. Thank you for posting the video as well. This is good stuff.


There is no question that you wrote this article for me! I definitely carry tension in my shoulders and you are right –just consciously relaxing, depressing my shoulders and breathing into my diaphragm makes a noticeable difference. I am definitely going to use the therapy balls on my neck and upper back.

Karen K

I never realized how much tension was in my shoulders as I sit at my computer daily or drive my car. I had no idea I was potentially shortening the sides of my neck or leading to overdevelopment of the trapezius and levator scapulae muscles. I will definitely remember now to relax.

Susan Cooper

I carry all of my stress in my neck and shoulders. One of my favorite yoga teachers calls my tension “impressive” – ha! I’m always practicing relaxing my shoulders. I’m now going to try the addition of the yoga tune up balls to my practice. I can use all the help I can get!


Since the shoulder joint is a ball (the humeral head) and shallow socket (the glenoid of the scapula),the range of motion and mobility can be profound. Great reminder that this also means it has less stability, so we need to try and strengthen it if we can, but also take time to relax these shoulder muscles that so frequently engaged unnecessarily.


I will try to keep my shoulders supple to avoid repeating an injury to my rotator cuff.


Realized I was hunching over my keyboard with my shoulders at my ears. Conscious depression of my shoulder blades allowed for deeper breathing and instant relaxation!