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Upper back tension can be awful. You can apply as many heat patches as you like, switch between hot and cold showers, take painkillers and go for every type of massage available, all to no avail. That tension just doesn’t go. It stays there in your neck and across your shoulders, giving you stabbing pains, giving you headaches as it works its way into the muscles around your cranium.
You don’t know what to do.
This can happen to plenty of people – it regularly does. Whether you’re an office worker who spends too much time sitting at their desk, or a deadlifter who takes the DOMS disproportionately in your upper back, or you’re simply going through a stressful time in your life, that tension can get you.
Luckily, there is a fantastic yoga pose that can be just what the doctor ordered. Thread the Needle is precisely what you need to release all that pent up neck tension and release your shoulders. It is a relatively easy move to learn and practice, so will be practical for beginners and advanced yogis alike and can have some really quite profound benefits.
Let’s take you through Thread the Needle, looking at some of its benefits and some instructions for you to begin it right away and start to loosen up a little.
3 Top Benefits Of Threading The Needle
1. It is a great stretch through the chest and shoulders
Thread the Needle is gentle but profound. It will loosen the muscles through your chest and shoulders, either warding off or relieving chronic shoulder pain, and improving mobility through the shoulder sockets and upper pecs.
2. It stretches and loosens the lower back
Lower back pain is another chronic issue that many of us face. Lower back tightness can cause it, or it can even be the root cause of upper back and shoulder pain. Thread the Needle delivers a soft, twisting motion that stretches and loosens the muscles around the lower back and spine, once more diminishing any mobility and tension issues.
3. Releases tension through the upper back
As well as being a good stretch, aiding flexibility and mobility through the upper back, Thread the Needle will also help to release tension held between the shoulder blades and across the traps. This is common to many people undergoing a lot of stress in the day to day lives, causing them to hunch up and elicit pain and discomfort over time.
How To Perform Threading The Needle
You will need to be wearing loose, comfortable clothing and have a yoga or exercise mat for Thread the Needle. To perform it:
- Start in a tabletop position on the yoga mat, with your wrists directly underneath your shoulders and your knees directly under your hips. Your fingers should be pointing directly towards the top of your mat. Your shins and knees should be hip width apart.
- Soften your gaze downwards, centring your head and spine in a neutral position.
- Inhale softly. As you exhale, slide your left arm underneath your right shoulder with your palm facing upwards. Your left shoulder will come down to the mat. Let it rest there, but don’t press your weight into it and don’t strain your neck or shoulder. Rest your left ear and cheek on the mat, looking to the side, beneath your right arm.
- Keep your right elbow lifted and your hips up.
- Soften and relax your back, especially your lower back. Allow the tension to dissipate from your shoulders, arms and neck as you gently inhale and exhale. Don’t push yourself into the stretch – allow each breath to bring you a little deeper, with a little more relaxation.
- Hold it here. However long you feel you need to fully relax, take it. This can be thirty seconds or thirty minutes (though, realistically, thirty seconds is probably more practical…)
- Release by pressing into your right hand and pulling your left hand back through. Come back up to tabletop and then repeat on the other side.
- You can get deeper than this as you progress. To do so, come into the full pose. Then, bring the forearm of the elbow that is bent – the arm that isn’t threading – behind you. Rest it alongside your body with the back of your hand on your lower back, roughly where your kidneys are. Your lower arm should remain on the floor, palm facing up. This will lengthen the twist.
Pro Tips For Thread The Needle
There are a few things that it’s worth bearing in mind as you practice Thread the Needle. Some of these will be to prevent injury, others will be to maximise the benefits you gain from it. However, try not to overburden yourself thinking about them. Run through the steps above, staying relaxed, staying mindful. Focus on keeping your breath calm and allowing your body to stretch and relax, not forcing it to.
To improve over time, however, and to make the process more comfortable, these tips are worth paying attention to:
- If your knees hurt during practice, this will distract from the relaxation. Fold a blanket or towel on your mat and use it to provide your knees with some padding and relief.
- Try not to let your raised shoulder collapse. It will want to crumble in towards your chest, which will put your neck at risk of torsion. To protect your neck, and also improve and increase flexibility, mobility and strength through your chest and shoulders, keep it raised in position.
- Don’t hold your breath ever. It doesn’t matter how deeply you can go into the move, or how much you can stay mindful of the joints and muscles being activated. Without the breath flowing smoothly, you will never relax into it. Keep your mouth closed and breathe deeply through your nose. It may help to keep your eyes closed as you relax.