Consider a dog or cat after it has taken a nap on the floor – as soon as it stands up, it stretches and shakes out the entire body often with a yawn or deep sigh. The stretch isn’t just for show, it is freeing itself of the fibrous webbing that began settling in the tissue as it was napping.
When did we lose this simple intelligence? More importantly, what can we do to help ourselves find our way back to freedom of movement? What if it became common place to stand up from your desk after sitting for a while and start jumping up and down shaking, yawning and stretching?
That would be a great day for the human race! Until then, Yoga Tune Up® has a few amazing poses that will help strengthen, stretch and relax the traps!
Try these Yoga Tune Up® poses to alleviate trapezius tension:
To warm up: Shoulder Circles, when you elevate and scrunch your shoulders up into your neck you will squeeze out the upper traps, as you retract the shoulders blades and glide the scapula together your wring out the middle trapezius, and depressing while drawing the scapula together will iron out the lower trapezius.
To strengthen: Megaplank with Active Serratus, with forearms parallel to the floor, joint stack elbows directly under shoulders to use your bone structure as scaffolding. Your tubular core is engaged, along with the serratus and a host of other muscles the traps will be active and strengthened. See the video below for instructions on how to do this shoulder and core strengthener.
To warm down: Reversed Crucifix, laying face down on your mat cross your left arm under your chest and follow that with the right arm crossed on top. Press hands palms down into the ground, and scoot your body a little forward, so your chin can rest on your arms or your chin clears your arms toward the mat. This will be a dramatic stretch for your upper traps as well as the rhomboids, deltoids and most upper body muscles!
Discover the Yoga Tune Up shoulder pain relief solutions
Watch the QuickFix Online Shoulder Video
Read more articles on shoulder pain
Kids do the same thing when they wake up or even change positions in their sleep, it’s such an instinctive thing to move and stretch. I think society conditions us to sit still and be quiet. Love these poses you’ve suggested to help us wake up the body.
Thank you for a quick yet very effective shoulder sequence that works mobility, flexibility and strength….awesome!!!
I liked the association with the inate animal instinct to stretch the body after sitting. It shows how the conditions of society can infract our inate capabilities. Instead of doing what feels good we may think its weird to do in a public setting but it is actually exactly what the sitting, hunched over world needs. I never thought of shoulder circles through the whole trapezius either. My focus was more on the top trapezius and not on the lower where I need more activation
Thank you for this helpful shoulder series! The reverse crucifix is a new one for me and I am really enjoying this stretch.
Great reminder that the animal kingdom is a good source of movement wisdom. This is a nice group of exercises. I’ve recently begun to “stack” my activities – moonrises while waiting for the coffee to brew, foot work while standing waiting anywhere, etc. I am trying to do shoulder circles at least every 3-4th time I stand up. It loosens things up. Also, megaplank is the best for serratus activation.
So true, dogs Do shake and stretch uninhibitedly after staying still for a while. How quickly do fibres start to form? Canines are a step ahead in this race I think
That reverse crucifix is something else!
Thank you so much for posting this. I love this sequence!
Another great example of how and where tapping into our primitive strength and intuition delivers exactly what our bodies need! I love looking at fellow mammals for examples of this, as a reminder that so much of our resistance to doing something as simple as a morning stretch could be inhibited by our inner story. Thanks for sharing this and a great set of stretches for the traps and upper shoulders – a super tight area for me from all the computer time combined with cycling carrying a backpack!
I love seeing my fur-babies stretch out first thing in the morning, or even as they are feeling extra playful. It is a testament of how our fascia influences our movement regardless of shape, size or species. I love you descriptive words “wring” and “iron” when referring to the benefits of shoulder circles, they paint a lasting image in my mind. Thanks for sharing such a well rounded approach to shoulder health.
very nice little sequence to practice implementing with a problematic upper back. Many of my athletes ( and myself included ) will experience tightness and knots in our trapezius/rhomboids. I will practice this sequence and build on it. Thanks for sharing.
I miss my dog Luke, we would get down on the flood together and do are morning st retching together. I tell people all the time to watch animals and how they stretch. Why too often as humans we do not take the time.
Thank you for the follow-up article. These poses will definitely become part of my daily routine to help alleviate the tension in my trapezius muscles.
I love to pay attention to my shoulders, and my students do too! The sequence you presented to alleviate trapezius tension includes some of my favorite, tried and true YTU poses. I will make sure to share with my classes!
It is always fascinating to observe animals and their instinctual movements. It is interesting to think as you said “how have we lost this simple intelligence.” Until it returns, I will also utilize YTU poses to help me regain freedom of movement. Thanks for the sequence – I love all 3 of those poses and after a lot of computer time today it was a welcomed relief.
Hi! I often look to my cats for inspiration. They have the best chaturangas I have ever seen. I agree with how they stretch to get the body moving and warming up. I will try your exercise and report how they go. Thanks for writing this blog =)
Whenever I would practice yoga at home I would sometimes have my friends dog come by my mat and do some stretches alongside me. I do see the logic in this and have to agree. Stretching is your bestfriend. Movement feeds your cells, it feeds your soul and also meaningful rest. This article shed a light on the point that there needs to be movement every so often when you are sitting at a desk because the body was not meant to be sitting down and being still for long periods of time. It gave a good alternative to help clear the cobwebs that might have settled over during rest with some exercises and a plank exercise.
I love, Love, LOVE all of these! While they sometimes “hurt so good” while I’m doing them, the relief and release afterwards is absolutely palpable. My students are learning to LOVE YTU shoulder work for the great help it is to them. I’m presenting it to them as a near-term challenge with a long-term payoff!
Non-human animals instinctively care for their bodies quite well compared to most of us. I believe that this is because they are experts at listening to their bodies. As animals ourselves, we would be too if we payed more heed to the things that our body is telling us. The mind is often clouded by so many mixed signals and extraneous thoughts. This is just one example of the wisdom that animals possess, but which few people recognize and respect. It is also related to the pursuit of “Mushin” or the state of “No Mind” that martial artists train to acquire in combat. Our animal bodies have much to tell us if only we would listen. It is an expert at caring for itself and also defending itself more than we know.
This quick routine of shoulder circles, megaplank and reverse crucifix sounds like an awesome routine to wake up the traps and shoulder muscles and alleviate tension. My traps are full of knots, which I try to roll out on the yoga tune up therapy balls, but seem to always accumulate throughout a day at my desk or a session of pull-ups and rows at the gym. Megaplank is also great for waking up and strengthening the abdominal muscles like the transverse abdominis. Once strengthened these muscles will help to maintain good spinal alignment and help to prevent too much load being placed on the shoulders when sitting.
I love the idea of this article! As a cat enthusiast I was quickly drawn to the article’s title. It’s true- we can learn so much by observing other animals. I tried the megaplank pose and must admit it is amazing. Such a great way to quickly find the serratus anterior- which is often a little tricky for me to find and engage. I love that this article gives me the ways to warm up, strengthen, and cool down the muscle area it works on. Often times a good exercise can be given but with out the prep and cool down its affects can quickly be lost- this is something I will definitely take me in my yoga teaching career as I create class sequences and such.
I work on my feet all day and it causes major tension in my shoulders, I cant wait to try these for relief.
I like these suggestions–and they are simple and relatively quick postures too, which makes doing them much more realistic after sitting for longer periods of time. I have two dogs, and they both instinctively stretch when they stand up after lying down. Maybe I’ll take a cue from them next time I get up after sitting on the couch or at my desk!
That was something new for me. It worked out well, I felt the relief.
I love this sequence in and of itself! Its so great for strengthening and stretching the traps and serratus anterior. Because so many of my students are desk workers, I might also add in some Bridge Arms after the warm up to strengthen the rhomboids that tend to sleep in a locked-long position in their bodies, and to open up the internal rotators at the GH that tug them into rounded slouching shoulders. Thank you for sharing!
I enjoyed the “Fido Knows Best” blog, as I experienced a wonderful shoulder opening experience in a YTU class today. My trapezius muscles were emancipated by shoulder circles that enticed by scapula to essentially calibrate the area. THe YTU balls were then placed directly on trap area on the upper left side, and then rolled down the posterior side of the body in an inferior motion.
This simple but effective series of movements is just what the shoulders need to deeply relax and let go. Due to long distance travel I’ve done this summer, I’ve noticed that my shoulders have become super tight and my traps feel as though they weigh a ton. I also found that in trying to release the tension in my traps and in between my scapulae with shoulder shrugs, I felt nauseous. I took this sensation of nausea as an opportunity: what was my body trying to tell me? I became more vigilant as I did shoulder shrugs and found that my pelvis tilted posteriorly. Here is why the Megaplank is an important move: it teaches the body to find the source of relaxation in a strong core, which in turn communicates to your joints–especially the shoulders in my case–that they don’t have to carry the entire load of your existence. Thank you for this post!
I just did the megaplank pose. What an awesome way to awken the serratus anterior.
I have taught the modified push ups on the knees, but Jill’s Mega Plank is far more beneficial. Engaging the tubular core and activating the serratus anterior will create a stronger pose for the students. I think they will be excited to learn where their serratus anterior is located! Thank you!