How to release upper body tension

mobility Sep 01, 2021

Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, many of us have had to work from home in makeshift offices (or even from the bed or sofa). This can cause a host of postural and alignment issues, which can then lead to upper body tension and pain, particularly in the neck, back and shoulders.

While the focus should be on creating an ergonomic workspace, whether at home or in the office, it’s also important to incorporate free breathing (which is slow and gentle) and regular movement in your day, including mobility exercises, which help to:

  • Boost blood circulation
  • Clear your mind
  • Correct a slouching posture
  • Reduce pain

While daily breathing should be slow and gentle, it’s also a good idea to practice deep diaphragmatic breathing upon waking. This is an effective pain-relief tool as it helps to relax the muscles which tense up from pain. Breathing deeply and slowly also sends a signal to the parasympathetic nervous system to calm the body down, thus reducing anxiety which can exacerbate pain.

See my blog on how to start your day with breathing, which includes useful tips and videos.

If you’re keen to learn more about how life-changing deep breathing can really be, join my Wednesday breathwork classes where we work together to re-set our breath and focus on the powerful connection between breathing and movement.

You’ll learn how to breathe to reduce stress, lower your heart rate and manage pain and fatigue. 

Mobility exercise for upper body tension

One of my favourite mobility exercises, this upper body contralateral movement will help to increase your range of motion and release upper body tension, particularly in the neck and shoulders.

It’s an excellent warm-up exercise for both swimming and running, especially if your core and arms are rigid when you run, and it helps to loosen up the neck and shoulders if you’ve been sitting at your desk for too long. In fact, it’s a great exercise to counteract our modern lifestyles where we tend to round our shoulders, such as when eating, cycling or driving. It also helps with ‘tech neck’ caused by constantly looking down at a laptop or mobile phone.

Here are a few key benefits of this exercise:

  • It allows movement to be organic and soft
  • It helps to loosen up the upper body after hunching over for too long
  • It’s brilliant for rotator cuff injuries, carpal tunnel syndrome and neurological problems
  • It helps to improve balance and flexibility (this is because the equal and opposite movement on either side of the body can really help to restore balance and equilibrium.

Here’s how to perform the exercise:

  1. Stand with feet a little wider than your hips, with soft knees. Think about a tall posture here.
  2. Then picture yourself as Iron Man from the Avengers with a light shining out of your chest and turn your body so that your light faces your right hand, with your palm facing up, feet still facing forward.
  3. At the same time, turn your left hand so that your palm faces up in a cupping motion also known as a “waiter’s tip”. In this position, your wrist is flexed, and your fingers are pointing upwards.
  4. Alternate this side-to-side movement by turning your chest in the other direction so that the light from your chest faces the other hand, palm facing up. As you shift from one side to the other, the aim is to roll your shoulders forward while using your hips to point your chest in the right direction.

TIP: This exercise pattern works well with the happy hips sequence level one and level two, to mobilise that area too.

  1. Lift your arms as you become more flexible and comfortable, but make sure to avoid working your muscles too hard. This is a mobility movement, so your muscles shouldn’t burn. If they do burn or fatigue quickly, lower them back down and continue the movement where it’s comfortable.
  2. Keep it nice and soft and gentle in your shoulders and complete 10-20 repetitions daily, if possible.

WATCH me perform the move here:


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