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Fix the Slouch: 4 Poses for Upper Crossed Syndrome

Release workday upper crossed syndrome pain with four relaxing poses to relieve a tight and weak neck.

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  • 1TIGHTrear neck and side necklevator scapulaescalenessternocleidomastoidupper trapeziusshoulder internal rotatorssubscapularisteres majoranterior deltoids
  • 2WEAKupper-arm external rotatorsinfraspinatusposterior deltoidsteres minor
  • 4WEAKdeep-neck flexorslongus capitislongus colli
  • 3TIGHT chest musclespectoralis majorpectoralis minor

Overactive or tight muscles and underactive or weak muscles can include a tight rear neck and side neck, weak upper-arm external rotators, tight chest muscles, and weak deep-neck flexors.


Tight shoulder, rear-neck, and chest muscles cross with weak deep-neck flexors and midback muscles

Injury Zones

Neck strain and rotator cuff syndrome or rotator cuff tears

BACK TO How Yoga Balances Out Our Desk-Bound Muscles

Lying on a Bolster

Lie on a bolster positioned about one-third of the way up your spine, with your shoulders hanging off and rolling outward and the head in a neutral position (you may want to use a folded blanket to support your head). Let your legs fall open as they would in Savasana (Corpse Pose), and stay here for 5 to 15 minutes. It’s a passive way of unhunching your shoulders and opening your chest and neck.

See also Watch + Learn: Corpse Pose

Upward Plank Pose Prep


Sit in Dandasana (Staff Pose) with your back straight, legs extended in front of your body. Press your hands down to the sides of the hips. Externally rotate the shoulders and draw your shoulder blades down the back to lengthen the tight muscles of your shoulders, side neck, and chest. Press the mounds at the base of your index fingers into the mat and then externally rotate your shoulders. Hold your hands in place and attempt to drag them away from your body to expand the chest. Prepare as if about to do Purvottanasana (Upward Plank Pose). Keep your knees bent and your butt on the ground; most of the action is in the upper body. This prep pose activates the weakened muscles that stabilize the shoulder blades (rhomboids, middle and lower trapezius) and stretches tight chest muscles. Hold for 8 to 10 breaths; release. Repeat up to 3 times.

See also 9 Yoga Poses to Keep Athletes Injury-Free

Cow Face Pose


Sitting in Sukhasana (Easy Pose) with your legs crossed, extend your right arm next to your right ear and your left arm down close to your left side. Bend the left arm across the back and up so that the fingers are reaching the midback between the shoulder blades. Bend the right elbow so your fingers reach toward your left fingers. If possible, allow the fingers to connect; if not, use a strap. Then lightly pull. Stay in the posture for 8 to 10 breaths; repeat on the other side. The opening in the upper arm stretches muscles deep within the shoulders that are often tight, such as the subscapularis, and strengthens shoulder muscles that may be weak, such as the infraspinatus.

See also Q&A: I Sprained My Ankle. What Poses Can I Do?

Warrior Pose II

Virabhadrasana II

Stand on your mat with your feet positioned 3 to 4 feet apart, the back foot turned in about 30 degrees. Raise your arms overhead, then lower them to shoulder height as you bend the front leg to a 90-degree angle, keeping the hips square to the long edge of the mat. As you move your arms, feel your shoulder blades moving toward the midline and down your back, which strengthens the rhomboids and the middle and lower trapezius, and your chest expanding forward and opening completely to stretch the pectoralis major and minor. Imagine pressing the mounds at the base of the index fingers down against an immovable object, as you simultaneously externally rotate the shoulders. Stay here for 8 to 10 breaths; repeat on the other side.

See also Watch + Learn: Warrior II Pose