Many seniors have very limited shoulder movement, and chronic neck tension.  When I do yoga therapy with seniors and begin to give them simple neck and shoulder movements, they are able to move their neck and shoulders without pain, often for the first time in years.

I work with them doing Yoga Tune Up® Shoulder Circles, which was inspired by Jill Miller’s specifics on excavating the shoulder joints.  Shoulder Circles help to release groups of muscles affecting neck and shoulder tension. I also love this movement for students because they are able to reflect on the extreme elevation from the shoulders and then depress them to the other extreme.  They can then be reminded to feel their shoulders, and remember to drop them. Years of shallow breathing creates tremendous tightness and density in the thoracic spine, which leads to a lack of mobility inside the shoulder joint.

The Yoga Tune Up® Shoulder Circles exercise is taught in a way that leaves none of the student’s questions unanswered.  I had one student who had chronic neck pain from arthritis in the cervical spine, but was rooted in the romboids and upper back compression.  I asked him to show me what he has been doing in Physical Therapy and he demonstrated a movement that slightly resembled Shoulder Circles.  It was more like an intensely closeted, and far distant lost cousin. Here’s the YTU version below, or you can also see it as part of the 5 Minute Quick Fix for Shoulders video.

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Shelley Piser

Shelley Piser has been teaching yoga since 1972. Her teaching and studies have taken her to Australia, Europe, and India. Living, studying and teaching at a Zen Buddhist monastery for a year in Upstate New York, she practiced intensive meditation while teaching yoga to visitors and students. She has completed 3 teacher's courses, and holds advanced certificates from The Ohashi School of Shiatsu and Jin Shin Jyutsu acupressure. Shelley's teaching style is inspired by 30 years of extensive study of Hatha yoga in the Iyengar tradition, Zen Buddhism and meditation as well as her deep understanding in the art of Japanese healing.

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I’ve only every known and performed arm circles that really didn’t do much except maybe warm up the tissues and joint. After seeing the deliberate movements in the video it is very clear this version will do so much more for the tissues. ~Thanks


Great point in this article. I love to teach shoulder circles to release tension in the neck. People are simply unaware where or how their shoulders should be placed or used. Education is key.

Bernie Cook

This exercise is so simple yet so affective. Thanks for reporting on it and reminding us that sometimes simple movements are all it takes

Julia Sims Haas

I work on these shoulder rolls quite a bit with seniors. Seniors are often quite sedentary and their shoulders are hunched up with limited range of motion. This allows them to feel the chronic state of tension they’ve been in and improve circulation to improve it.

Hilary Hug

Hooray for shoulder circles!

Alison Pignolet

I love that this is so simple and so effective. It is fantastic to see the change and relief these movements give to people who come in bound up and afraid.


Another aspect I find helpful about shoulder rolls is that one can first go with the existing tendencies in the muscles and then introduce other directions of motion without forcing anything. I am learning when working with seniors especially, many have become so frustrated by limited ranges of motion that they can be very rough with themselves when invited to move and can be quick to discount their abilities before really checking out their range of motion. I find that inviting them to get curious and explore this movement rather than achieving some idea of the movement goes a long… Read more »

Elissa Strutton

It’s amazing what a difference shoulder circles can make in relieving neck pain…… matter what our age. It can be done anytime, anywhere and is a great way to increase mobility in the shoulder joints. We may also find that our breathing improves as we alleviate tension in the shoulders, neck and thoracic spine. Shoulder circles are a definite “staple” of my practice and I will be certain to continue sharing it with my students.


I love these shoulder circles and I can see them being so beneficial for seniors. We watched a Gil Hedley video in class yesterday that addressed the issue of frozen muscles and how movement is so crucial to their lubrication, range of motion, and overall health. Shoulder circles are simple to teach and simple to perform, and so effective in keeping the shoulders happy.


It is amazing how helpful just bringing movement to the shoulders can be to chronic pain in both shoulders and neck. My senior parents have felt intimidated by the idea of doing yoga, but these simple movements would be accessible enough for them and give them huge benefit. Thanks for posting!


I’m studying Yoga Tune Up as part of the 200 Hour Yoga Teacher Training Course. I grew up in a household with several elderly extended family members, so this article is especially helpful.

Cathy Favelle

We live our lives with such forward momentum….hovering over computers, driving cars, watching TV, playing cards with friends….not to mention the forward slump so many seniors begin to see as their spines age. Love the Shoulder Circle exercise to counter that! I include it in all my yoga classes especially my Chair Yoga for seniors….they love it and I always hear a wonderful AHHH in the room as they are doing it!


I do shoulder circles everytime I notice that I am hunching over the computer. As a result of this consistent practice (so much hunching), my shoulders glide easily through flexion and extension. I love that juicy fluid movement. We did shoulder flossing in our training this weekend and it reinforced the benefit of doing my should circles.

mariana m

This is fantastic! and after watching Gil Hedleys Fuzz speech and just by circumducting my shoulders as well as flossing them into int and ext rot I feel even the tension in my neck disapear, thank you Jill!!


thanks for reminding me what a great, effective, and safe exercise this is. it’s easy to go for the more intricate shoulder circumduction exercises bc they look more fun, but with the arms down, there’s less mechanical stress on the joints as we take it into its full range of motion. i think the only thing is we have to remind people not to translate to the spine.


A senior friend fractured one of the muscles in her forearm over six months ago. She didn’t let that or a bright pink cast stop her very active lifestyle. The forearm has completely healed. However, compensation for the injured arm resulted in muscular atrophy and pain in the opposite shoulder. Physical therapy has helped the shoulder, but I already see her compensating in other areas, especially her neck and back. I’m hoping that a regular regime of YTU will prevent a pop-goes-the-weasel rotation of issues.

mariana m

this is wonderful for seniors, because is such a safe movement, it s a great idea every morning to juice up the shoulder joints specially after sleeping because our shoulders are in a fixed position over night creating tightness and stifness!

Terry Ford

Seniors too often immobilize themselves from simply not moving. When they do experience pain from movement, they immediately think it’s a bad thing and immobilize themselves even more. You’re right Todd, taking a very slow progressive approach is the way to go with this population.

todd lavictoire

thanks for the tip. i have been asking students to circumduct their arms but am finding that many students actually have trapezius pain the next day, if there is particular weakness in this muscle, due to inactivity… this is a nice way to work up to circumduction.


Great tip to help seniors. It’s an easy and simple movement nevertheless giving good results.

Kyoko Jasper

It is something how we take things for granted. I have a hyper mobile shoulder joint and never even paid any attention to that area of my body until I injured it. My shoulder had been frozen for 2 years. Now my range of motion is about 70% back, By doing Yoga Tune Up® Shoulder Circles I wish to fully regain my shoulder health. But most importantly, now I have an intelligence to move forward with my life and I am so grateful.


The description here is great for seniors and so relative to thier experience.
They are so trusting of the physiclal therapists suggestions and the contrast and language you present is another tool to give relief to a very needy area.

Kristen L

Although I am not a senior, I too have chronic neck tension. I will have to remember to include these shoulder circles along with my neck stretches. I like your analogy about excavating the shoulder joints.

Basia Going

Shoulders, shoulders…. so much work is needed. We sit in front of the computer – just like I am right now, we drive, we cook, we read…
Shoulder openers – movement routines in shoulder routines of Yoga Tune up and balls are a great gift. Ball are a great prep for shoulders stretches and strengtheners. I often alternate: friction, stretch, strengthen, cool…. works like a charm.

Kristen L

The TYU therapy balls definitely takes some getting used to since they can produce really intense sensations in the muscles. I like the idea of manually rubbing the ball over a student in order to for her to experience some muscular release. The next progression with the blanket also lets students go deeper, but lessens some of the intensity from rolling directly on the balls. These modifications have inspired me to look for ways to modify the positions to best meet the needs of students.

Joelene Marinone

I also teach seniors and it makes sense that the elevation and depression of the shoulders as you circle and move the clavicle and the scapula would help to release the tension in the trapezius, rhomboid major and minor, and the levator scaula, trapezius, serratus anterior, pectorialis minor muscles and other connective tissue.