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Upper Back Tight and Stuck? Try This!

This Video was recorded in time lapse for amusement. The actual routine is done slowly with relaxed, even breathing.

This routine decompresses and mobilizes the upper back, and stretches the chest. It is great for opening up, and reversing the effects of rounding forward over our work. I always feel energized afterwards, like I got "stuck" energy flowing again. This is also a great preparation for deeper back bends, like Ustrasana.

I call this routine "flossing my backbones."

Yes the abs are doing something here, but they aren't the "star" of the show. The key is to relax into the backbends each time.

If you don't have a yoga blanket, use a towel or blanket. Foam rollers work, too.

It only takes 10 minutes or so and helps so much!

Here's how to do it:

Part 1: "Flossing."

First warm up with some cat cows or other movements, like gentle side bends. Sometimes I do this at the end of a yoga class, before Savasana, so we are all nice and warm.


  • Place a rolled up blanket or towel across your upper back, under your heart center

  • Interlace your fingers behind your head, as though you were going to do "crunches"

  • Relax over the blanket. Let your elbows fall open into gravity. This will stretch your chest.

  • After a few breaths, begin the "flossing."


  • Inhale to prepare.

  • Exhale, draw your navel to your spine, point your elbows to the sky and do a little "crunch"

  • Inhale, relax all the way back, letting your elbows open again

    • You are using your abdominals to modulate moving into the backbend mindfully. (Don't just let go and flop backwards. 😁)

  • Repeat the movement about 5 times or so

  • After 5 or so reps, Pause for a breath or two in the backbend

  • Next, scootch your body up so the roll lands on your low back rib area

  • Repeat the movement 5 times or so, with the breath.

  • Scootch yourself down so the roll comes up a smidge higher on your back.

  • Repeat the movement 5 times or so.

  • Continue to travel up your spine until you are out of bones.

  • Return your heart center on the roll and relax into the back bends for 2 or more breaths

Part 2: Stretching Across (Twist)

  • Come out of the backbend to neutral spine, using your hands behind the head for support

  • Cross your right elbow across your chest and roll onto your left rib area

  • Roll through the upperback on the roll to the other side, bringing the left elbow across

  • Repeat 5 times or so

  • Release into the upper back bend for a few breaths

Part 3: Stretching Side to Side

  • From the backbend, bring yourself into a neutral spine, using your hands behind the head for support

  • Side bend right

  • Side bend left

  • Repeat 5 times or so

  • Notice if the opposite shoulder wants to come up and forward as you side bend, and see it is possible to clearly side bend

  • Relax into the backbend for a few breaths

Remove the roll and lie down flat. Notice how you feel?

If possible, stay here and do some breathing for a while.

Additional benefits:

Since the ribs and chest are stretched, your accessory breathing muscles will be opened and the breath can flow more freely in all of your lung tissues.


If you have irritation in your shoulder joints when you let your elbows open, keep your elbows pointing towards the ceiling, instead. You can get your chest stretch in a different way.


  • Osteoporosis or osteopenia.

  • Upper back and neck injuries

  • Pregnancy

  • Post Partum up to 4 months, or longer if breastfeeding

    • (may exacerbate the separation in your abdominal muscles.)

Any questions about this movement? Drop me a line.

Happy Yogaing!




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