12-Min Yoga For Upper Back Tension: Stretch & Strengthen

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🧘 If you only got 30 seconds:

Long periods of sitting hunching over screens, spending a full day with a backpack, or carrying a toddler can all result in a nagging upper back tension and pain. This yoga quickie will focus on strengthening and stretching the areas that get the most stress during daily activities: shoulders, upper back, and neck.

This yoga sequence for upper back tension is:

✔️ Short – whether you’re pressed for time or looking for a quick shoulder mobility session, this 12-minute yoga sequence for the upper back is for you!

✔️ Effective – this yoga flow for upper back tension balances strength with length to reduce tension and increase range of motion. First, we bring blood flow into the strained areas by doing strengthening poses and then stretch it for maximum feel-good results.

✔️ All-levels-friendly – this yoga sequence for the upper back tension includes no fancy-schmancy yoga poses or advanced stretches. Every pose is fundamental and can be matched to your physical and mental state at the current moment.

Also, check out this helpful guide on how to relieve upper back and neck tension and the best 15 yoga poses for stiff upper back and neck.

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Quick 12-Min Yoga Flow for Upper Back Tension

Cat-Cow Stretch/ Marjaryasana-Bitilasana

Yoga for Upper Back Tension: Cat Cow Stretch
  • Start in a tabletop position with your shoulders over the wrists, and knees under the hips.
  • Inhale, drop the belly, and lift your chest and tailbone, creating a U-shape in your spine.
  • On an exhale, round your spine and gently tuck your chin to the chest, reversing the curve of the spine.
  • Repeat for 30 seconds.


  • Fold a yoga mat or place a yoga blanket to pad your knee caps.
  • In case of wrist pain, do the pose on your forearms. Place a small bolster or a folded blanket under the forearms to get your body higher.
  • Be mindful of your neck and move slowly between the poses.

Child Pose/Balasana – Kneeling Mountain – Open Arm Twist Flow

Yoga for Upper Back Tension: Child Pose Flow
  • From Table Top position, exhale and send your buttocks back to your heels into Child’s Pose.
  • Inhale as you lift onto your knees and sweep the arms out to the sides and overhead. This is Kneeling Mountain.
  • Exhale and twist to the right as you reach your right arm back and left arm forward. Gaze towards the back of your mat.
  • Inhale and twist to your left, sending your left arm back and right arm forward.
  • Inhale and return to Kneeling Mountain.
  • Exhale, and return to Child’s Pose with hands on your lower back.
  • Repeat the flow for 30 seconds.


  • Fold a yoga mat or place a yoga blanket to pad your knee caps.
  • If you have a hard time sitting on your heels in Child’s Pose, place a thin bolster or a rolled yoga blanket between the calves and the back of the thighs.
  • If your forehead doesn’t touch the floor in Child’s Pose, place a bolster or a yoga block under your forehead for support.

Dynamic Cobra Pose/Bhujangasana

Yoga for Upper Back Tension: Dynamic Cobra
  • From Child’s Pose, come forward on your belly into Cobra.
  • Place your hands on the ground, palms face down and bend your elbows. Press your pubic bone into the ground, lengthening your tailbone.
  • Breathe in as you open through your chest, roll the shoulder back, and lift your upper body off the mat. Keep the neck neutral and engage the muscles along the spine.
  • Breathe out and lower down.
  • Repeat for 30 seconds.


  • Keep your hands on the mat under your shoulders for added support. However, use the muscles in your back to lift and lengthen your spine, not the strength of your arms.
  • If the pose is uncomfortable for your lower back, try doing Sphinx instead.

Downward-Facing Dog/Adho Mukha Svanasana

Yoga for Upper Back Tension: Downward Dog
  • Lift into neutral table top porition, tuck your toes and send your hips up and backn into Downward-Facing Dog.
  • Root through your palms, engage your core muscles by drawing the navel back to the spine.
  • Keep your knees bent as you find length in your spine by pushing your chest towards the thighs.
  • Your body should resemble the inverted letter “V.”
  • Hold for 30 seconds.


  • Long spine is more important than straight legs. Keep your knees deeply bent if that helps you maintain the integrity of the spine.
  • Draw the shoulder blades down your spine to keep your chest open.
  • Press firmly into the outer edges of your palms, fingertips, and knuckles rather than dumping all weight into the center of your palms. Place the heel of your hand on a towel or a blanket in case of wrist pain.

Low Lunge Twist/Anjaneyasana Variation

Yoga for Upper Back Tension: Low Lunge Twist
  • From Downward-Facing Dog, step the right foot forward in-between your hands as you exhale.
  • Drop your back knee to the ground and untuck your toes, coming into Low Lunge.
  • As you breathe in, contract your core and lift your torso upright as you sweep your arms overhead, palms facing each other.
  • Exhale as you press your palms together and twist your torso toward your front leg.
  • Hook your elbow over your front knee and use it as leverage to twist deeper. Try to keep your belly off your thigh.
  • Hold for 30 seconds.
  • Repeat on the other side.


  • Fold a yoga mat or place a yoga blanket to pad your knee caps.
  • To ease into the pose, try a variation with an Open Arm Twist first.


Yoga for Upper Back Tension: Inchworms
  • From Mountain, exhale and bend forward.
  • Place the hands in front of you and breathe in as you slowly crawl forward one hand at a time until your body is in Plank Pose.
  • Engage your abdominals, thighs, and shoulders while in Plank.
  • Hold for a second or two and start to crawl your hands back to your feet.
  • Return to standing Mountain.
  • Repeat for 30 seconds.


  • Keep your knees slightly bent when folding forward.
  • Look between your hands in Plank.
  • You can lower the knees to the ground in Plank pose if needed.
  • Move relatively slowly to feel the stretching and strengthening benefits of the exercise.

Forearm Plank

Yoga for Upper Back Tension: Forearm Plank
  • Start in a kneeling position.
  • Plant forearms onto your mat so that elbows are right under your shoulders.
  • Broaden in the upper body, draw your navel in, and lift your knees off the mat, making a straight line with your body.
  • Tuck your tailbone to protect the lower back and keep your glutes engaged.
  • Hold for about 30 seconds.


  • Look between your forearms or slightly forward to keep your neck in line with your spine.
  • Lower your knees to the mat if needed. Alternatively, lift one foot off the mat for an added challenge.

Dolphin/Ardha Pincha Mayurasana

Yoga for Upper Back Tension: Dolphin
  • From Forearm Plank, start to slowly walk your legs forward into Dolphin.
  • Alternatively, you can start from a tabletop variation on your elbows and knees. Curl your toes under. Exhale and lift your knees off the mat, sending your buttocks up and back.
  • Keep your knees bent if your hamstrings/calves are tight and focus on lengthening your spine and staying open through your collarbone.
  • If comfortable, walk your feet forward, creating an A-shape with your body.
  • Relax your neck, but keep it in line with the spine.
  • Hold for about 30 seconds.


  • Stay active through your core, and don’t let your ribs sink towards the floor. This usually happens if you’re very flexible in the spine.

RagDoll/Uttanasana Variation

Yoga for Upper Back Tension: Ragdoll
  • From Dolphin, lower your knees and walk your hands back into Ragdoll.
  • Take a healthy bend into your knees until you can get your abdomen closer to the tops of your thighs.
  • Grab onto an opposite elbow and let your head hang heavy between the frame of your arms.
  • Focus on lengthening your spine and release any lingering tension in your shoulders.
  • Hang heavy or sway gently side to side.
  • Hold for 30 seconds.


  • Keep a micro-bend in your knees even if your hamstrings and lower back are very flexible.
  • Keep your neck relaxed.

Warrior I with Eagle Arms/Virabhadrasana I Variation

Yoga for Upper Back Tension: Warrior I Variation
  • From Ragdoll, slowly lift up and step your right leg forward, bend your front knee and settle into Warrior I.
  • Keep your hips squared to the front – adjust them with your hands if needed.
  • Spread your arms into W like Cactus arms and take your right elbow underneath your left, wrapping your arms into Eagle.
  • Press firmly into your palms and lift your forearms so that the fingertips are pointing up to the sky.
  • Hold for 30 seconds.
  • Switch sides with your legs and switch the bind of your arms.


  • Keep your forearms away from the forehead.
  • If you can’t wrap your wrists, simply bring your hands across and place them on your shoulders. Try to keep your elbows away from your body at about shoulder height.

Wide Legged Forward Bend with a Twist/Prasarita Padottanasana I Variation

Yoga for Upper Back Tension: Wide-Legged Forward Bend
  • From Warrior I, step your feet wide and parallel to each other.
  • Inhale and puff up through your chest, exhale and start bending forward into Standing Wide-Legged Forward Bend.
  • Once you’ve bent halfway, place your hands on the mat, roughly under your face.
  • Inhale as you roll your right shoulder back and twist your torso to the right and up, lifting your right arm up.
  • Exhale and return to the fold.
  • Switch between twisting left and right for 30 seconds.


  • You might want to widen your stance if your hamstrings feel tight, or shorten your stance for a deeper stretch.
  • Move the weight of your body to the balls of your feet for a deeper hamstring stretch.
  • Use a yoga block under your hands if you find it difficult to reach the mat with your hands.

Yogi Squat/Malasana

Yoga for Upper Back Tension: Yogi Squat
  • From Standing Wide-Legged Forward Bend, shorten your stance.
  • Point your toes to the front corners of your mat at about a 45-degree angle. Bring the hands to your heart.
  • Exhale as you squat down into Garland Pose or Deep Yogi Squat.
  • Gently press your elbows into the knees, inviting your hips to open.
  • Hold for 30 seconds.


  • Keep your spine lengthened from the crown of the head to your tailbone.
  • Your buttocks should be engaged to help the hips open more.
  • Sit on a yoga block or a bolster for additional support.
  • If you can’t keep your feet flat on the ground, roll up a yoga blanket and place it under your heels.

Seated Cat-Cow with clasped hands

Yoga for Upper Back Tension: Seated Cat Cow
  • From Yogi Squat, sit down in a comfortable position with a neutral spine.
  • Interlace your fingers and bring the palms to the back of your head, creating a butterfly shape. Stretch the elbows out to the sides.
  • Inhale and puff up through the chest. Open your elbows as much as possible and look up.
  • Exhale. Bring your elbows forward, tuck your chin and curl your spine forward.
  • Repeat for 30 seconds.


  • On an inhale, squeeze your shoulder blades together as if you’re trying to hold a pencil between them.
  • As you curl forward, you can gently press your hands against the back of your head.

Easy “Arms Out” Stretch

Yoga for Upper Back Tension: Easy “Arms Out” Stretch
  • Stretch your arms out to the sides.
  • Imagine your palms are touching the walls. Breathe in and try to pull these walls apart, lengthening through your arms and spine.
  • Draw your shoulder blades down. You should already feel a great deal of a stretch all along your arms and the pectoral muscles.
  • Exhale and scrunch the shoulders up to your ears as if the walls are squeezing in on you.
  • Breathe in, extend your arms and lengthen.
  • Repeat for 30 seconds.


  • Keep your palms and fingers active and pointing up.
  • Try to keep your arms straight, but you’re welcome to keep a slight bend at the elbows if the stretch is too intense.

Half Lord Of The Fishes/Ardha Matsyendrasana

Yoga for Upper Back Tension: Half Lord Of The Fishes
  • Extend your legs extended in front of you. Keep your feet flexed toward your body.
  • Bend your right leg and bring the foot close to you. Lift the right foot and cross it over to the outside of your left hip. Your right knee should point up to the ceiling.
  • Place the right hand behind you to help you keep the spine upright.
  • Inhale as you raise your left arm to the sky.
  • Exhale, hug the right knee with your left hand, and twist your torso to the right.
  • Look to the right over your right shoulder.
  • Hold for 30 seconds.
  • Repeat on the other side.


  • Start twisting from your core, then turn with the upper back and the neck. To come out of the twist, lead with the neck, then upper body, and core.
  • Press your buttocks into the mat. Both of your sit bones should stay on the floor while twisting.
  • Don’t collapse on your back hand. Instead, press into the palm to create a lift in your spine.
  • Keep your shoulders drawing back and down your spine.
  • If your spine keeps rounding, sit on the edge of a yoga block.

Did you enjoy this short yoga for upper back tension? Let me know in the comments below!

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