Got Shoulder Tension?

These past few weeks have been really stressful at my day job. Yesterday, my shoulders were killing me from tension.

Most people are not aware that tension is self-inflicted. Meaning, you can rid yourself of tension in your body with conscious awareness and breathwork.

What I did yesterday was take a 10 minute break. I went to my car and I put my head back so I could completely relax my shoulders. Then I slowed down my breathing.

On every inhale I focused on the tension in my shoulders. On every exhale I relaxed that tension. Viola! No more shoulder pain!

I thought it would be a good idea to re-post how breathing can help reduce stress. I posted “Say Ahhhhhh” a while back but it is always good to be reminded that you can alleviate the tension and pain from stress in your body just by focusing on your breathing.

Say “Ahhhhhh

When I ask you to say “Ahhhhhh” here, I do not mean like at the doctor’s office with a tongue depressor in your mouth. In this case, I mean exhale with an “Ahhhhhhh”.

Yesterday, in the yoga class that I taught, I really focused on the exhale. We inhaled our shoulders up to our ears, and then exhaled with a sigh, “Ahhhhhhh”. Try it! Believe it or not, exhaling with a sigh will help relieve stress.

As a yoga teacher, it is my job to watch people respond to stress. The most common thing people do first is hold their shoulders up to their ears and internally rotate the shoulder joint. What that does in the body are two things.

First it adds tension to the neck and shoulder area. Ever get home from work and need a neck rub really badly? Chances are you are holding your shoulders “in your ears”, as the expression goes. When students in my class exhale with a sigh, the first thing that happens is the shoulders drop down from around the ears.

The second aspect of tense shoulders is the internal rotation of the shoulders, so people end up looking like the picture below.

On the left, internal rotation of the shoulders. On the right, proper shoulder alignment.


An internal rotation of the shoulders over activates the pectoralis major. The pecs, as they are commonly called, aid in allowing a deep inhale in the chest, but this only happens when they are not engaged.

The internal rotation of the shoulders cuts off deep breathing capacity and makes breathing very shallow. Furthermore, it can create kyphosis, or a hunchback later in life.

So, today I would like you to try to exhale with an open mouth. Try sighing out loud to drop your shoulders from your ears. Then, to deepen your inhale, let your hands hang and rotate your thumbs away from your body. This will facilitate an external rotation of the glenohumeral joint, the shoulder joint.

I would very much like you to watch yourself in a mirror as you practice this. First, look at your normal posture. Second, watch your shoulders as you take a few audible exhales, and then practice rotating the thumbs away from the body to externally rotate the shoulder joint.

I am asking you to become more aware of how you hold tension in your shoulders to help you relax. Shoulders do not lie. The more hunched and the more of an internal rotation they have, the more stress people tend to have because they cannot breathe properly. 

Fact: Deep breathing exercises relieve stress!

The good news is that there is hope. Every time you notice tension in your shoulders, I would like you to stop, acknowledge that how you are holding your shoulders is bad, and then repeat these exercises. With time, you will find much less tension in your neck and shoulders, and a much deeper ability to breathe!

Exhaling with Love,


Friends don’t let friends sit like this!

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