Class #4859

Upper Body Release

35 min - Class


If you need to release the tightness or discomfort in your neck and shoulders, then this Mat class by Cara Reeser is perfect for you. She teaches restorative movements that will allow you to stretch and strengthen your neck so that you can relieve pain. She also uses different props to give you the support you need that will allow you to find a relationship between contracting and releasing.
What You'll Need: Mat, Yoga Block (2), Towel, Foam Roller, Theraband


Read Full Transcript

Hi, everybody. I'm Cara Reeser, and welcome to class one in the series that we're calling Upper Body Health. So in class one, we're gonna use a few different props, a TheraBand, and you probably want it to be at a sort of a medium or light resistance, something that you can sort of easily pull with your arms, a hand towel about this size that we'll be using, and we're gonna use two yoga blocks. I'm using the cork style yoga block, but you're welcome to use foam ones. I have those back here.

And a roller. I'm gonna use this soft, small foam roller. This is just my go-to, but you're welcome to use a hard one, whatever you're used to using. And we're gonna get started. So the goal of class one is really just to work on stretching, breathing, releasing tension.

We're just gonna be doing some nice restorative movements. So this class is the kind of thing that would just, you know, help you when you're just feeling a little bit grumpy in this upper quarter, and you just need a little release of tightness or discomfort. So here we go. We're gonna start with our roller, right? And so I'm gonna set my other props aside, and I want you just to put your tush down on the mat and get your roller and bring it just under your shoulder blades, right?

Those bones on your back. And then I want you to interlace your fingers, and I want you to take your hands behind the lower part of your skull, and really specifically have your thumbs right there at the base of your skull. And instead of having your elbows wide, I want you to keep them more narrow, kind of on the diagonals of the ceiling, and reach your scapula kind of up, right? This is gonna let the roller kind of smudge into the muscles between your shoulder blades, which is what we're trying to get to here. Feet pretty close to your sitting bones.

And then I just want you to pick your butt up and start to pull with your feet. So the roller goes up into that area of your upper back and then push away, right? And just starts slowly letting your body weight drop back in inhaling and exhaling. Right and you could make a decision to actually flex your neck a little, if you want, meaning bend it forward and kind of stretch the back of your neck as you're doing this, you could make a decision to lie back a little bit and put more weight into the roller, go way up high. But again, keep the elbows narrow If they're wide, you're gonna be rolling on top of your shoulder blades, rather than in between, which is what I'm getting to.

You could go just about to, you know, behind the sternum and your back body. You don't wanna really go much lower than that right now. So you're gonna breathe, exhale. I think you can see that my friend Sammy has joined class. Hopefully he'll behave.

The next thing you're gonna do is just lay your neck down on your roller. I usually hold my hands out here to the side. And then I want you just to allow yourself to turn your head side to side, right? My mic is a little bit in the way, so I'm gonna go small here, but you can just turn your head pretty fully not rigorously side to side. And what you're doing here is actually sort of just look kind of like a cat would rub itself against a piece of furniture.

Just let yourself kind of move your neck in any direction you want to sort of just get into areas that feel a little tight or restricted, or maybe even a little painful and keep your breath going. Just stay here just a couple more minutes. I always work with my eyes closed when I do this type of thing, just 'cause I wanna really kind of turn inward to sort of by my body and trying to let go of tension that's not needed. One more full inhale and exhale. And then I'm gonna ask you just to bring that knee into your chest, one of your knees, and just roll yourself up to seated here, and we're gonna move the roller away, and we're gonna continue on to a seated series now, right?

So we're gonna be moving back and forth between sitting and lying down, but we're gonna start with two yoga blocks. I'm gonna face the camera and you're gonna sit on your yoga blocks, right? And this allows you to be in more of a sort of comfortable seat. So your hip flexors don't get too tied up. We're gonna start with a little bit of breathing work here.

So we're gonna take our TheraBand, right? And I want you to bring it around your rib cage in the back and make sure it's not like all twisted, but like a nice broad band there. And then you're gonna cross it right under your sternal notch. Right? And you're gonna be holding on either side.

Now, I want you to just take a moment to find the rootedness of your sitting bones, the crown ahead, just find your kind of central access, your axial elongation, right through the center of your spine so you're in kind of a nice upright position. And you're gonna tug on the band slightly, the goal here is for us to really breathe wide into our thorax. So our rib cage starts to bellow, right? Because the tightening down of the rib cages often contributes to some of that discomfort we get in the upper shoulder, girdle, and neck. I'm gonna ask us to go for a four count inhale, four count exhale to start, breathing into the band.

Again, you might wanna close your eyes here and we're gonna go inhale, widening into that band and then exhale, inhale wide, through the nose we're breathing, exhale. Inhale through the nose, stretching that band really three-dimensional movement of the ribs and exhale. See if you can expand to five counts of the inhale, and five counts of the exhale, let's do that twice more breathing in, breathing out, make sure shoulders are not kind of tugging down your back last breath in, and exhale. Now we're gonna keep a nice paced inhale and exhale through the nose, throughout the entire practice, but we'll just let that sort of happen naturally. We're now gonna set your hands down on your thighs.

We're gonna just drop your head, right? And we're just gonna start to let the weight of your skull bring you in to spinal flection or a little bit of what will feel like a forward slump. Take a deep breath in spreading across the shoulder blades exhale, and then just finding your way back to an upright position. Just letting your head come back on top of your neck. Three more times, you're gonna drop your head.

You're gonna really abide by the weight of your skull and let that you should feel a stretch in the back of your neck. But I even feel it all the way down to my mid back. Breathe in, breathe out slowly find your way back up, and again, drop your head. You might wanna even allow yourself to slump a little further down these last two, just really letting go and stacking up. Make sure as you stack up, you allow your chin to lift, right?

So you have this free movement of your skull on your neck. A last time dropping down, just stay with that. Maybe do a little bit of yeses and nos with your heads. So you get a little rotation and a little flection extension movement, and then finding your way back up to seated. Now we're gonna take our fingers and bring them to the tips of our shoulders.

We're gonna start with some simple circles, right? I want you to lead with your elbows forward, open out, and then just let your elbows fall, right? So the real goal here is to make sure that you're not kind of lifting through your shoulder girdle, but you're reaching your elbows forward. You're reaching your elbows open. You're bringing your elbows down, right?

So we're distally leading so that we're getting this sort of nice roll and glide, in the joint of our shoulder, right? Just getting a little bit of like nourishment from that movement. We're gonna reverse the circles open, lift forward, and down, open, forward, and down, open lift, forward, and down, right? You know, these are the kinds of things that you could just choose to do one or two of them, you know, in between a work, you know, stand where you're on the computer a lot or something. The idea being that we just keep things sort of lubricated and moving.

Now you're gonna kneel on your band. If you don't like kneeling, you could easily sit on chair and you could easily stand up right now. But for the purposes of the way I'm working with this camera today, I'm gonna stay kneeling. I'm gonna really hone up on the TheraBand here. We're gonna do some scapula shrugs now, right?

So we're gonna reach our shoulders way up to our neck, to our ear lobes, and you're gonna hold for one, two, three. Now let the band pull your hands back down, right? So we're gonna engage those muscles that often feel knotted up, and we're gonna really tense them up. Like really, really tense them up and then let them go. Right?

So oftentimes we think, you know, to get out of neck tension, we need somebody to rub our neck or rub our shoulders, right? But actually contracting those muscles and releasing them and having that natural relationship with contraction release is really, really beneficial, right, for releasing tension. And one more time with those shrugs, we're gonna go up, up, up, and down, down, down. And then finally in this section, you're gonna take your band and bring it forward. I think you're probably gonna wish you had a little bit more space, you can unravel it.

And then we're gonna do big stretches, inhale, now to get your arms behind you, you're gonna pull all the way down and then to bring it out, you're gonna stretch it out and come forward. Inhale, exhale. What you're looking for here is a lot of movement in your scapula. I'm just gonna turn around so you can see my scapula here. I want them to come to gather and slide, right?

We want a lot of juicy movement up in that shoulder girdle last time up all the way, and all the way around and down. All right, let's move that TheraBand next to our mat. You can stack your yoga blocks next to your mat as well. We're headed to the floor supine we're gonna take our towel. I want you to take your towel and fold it in a one time long, and then you're gonna roll it up, right?

And depending on your particular neck shape, you might need it more thick or less thick. The goal being that you have this roll underneath your neck in a way that it kind of fills up that space between the floor and your neck, right? Our chin is up, we want a lot of space in the area, in our front throat, right? And this actually provides a little bit of traction in my cervical spine. So we have a sense of support here underneath the neck.

As we're lying down, I want your feet pretty close to your sitting bones right now, right? So you feel as if your thigh bones are just, you know, gently falling into the socket, we're gonna start with picking your arms up. And I want you to just reach for the ceiling and slide your scapula up towards your side body. And then just let go and let gravity bring your scapula back down, right? Scapula are your shoulder blades, right?

So you're gonna reach up and feel your shoulder blades kind of coming forward here, and then just let them go. Inhale, exhale. In, ex. One more time. And then you're gonna let our arms come down.

You're gonna interlace your fingers here. We're gonna do a series called Rib Cage Arms here. And we're going to just feel this like oval shape that our arms are creating, fingers pulling out against each other gently. So your shoulders stay wide. And then very, very gently, you're gonna let your arms start to float up, right?

You're gonna feel the weight of your scapula grounding, your shoulder blades grounding into the mat. And then you're gonna just feel your arms, get above your sternum, release that tension in your shoulders. And then just let that shape float back down. The goal here is to use the least amount of effort necessary, right? So we're gonna float up, and then we're gonna keep the grounded feeling in our shoulder blades.

We're gonna start to take the arms overhead, and I want you to feel your shoulder blade, slide up your back body. Try not to let your trunk change shape, right? You don't wanna go into a big arch here, just let your arms float and then float them back up. Really keeping your shoulder blades grounded, right? So we don't wanna be pulling into tension here.

We wanna be grounding down and just letting our arms kind of roll and glide in their sockets. One more time, floating all the way breathing, exhale let them go back, floating all the way up, and down Great. Now let's take this towel and we're gonna do some head lifts, right? We're gonna use the towel as a support system. So I'm gonna fold it one more time.

And then bring it right behind the base of my skull. Again, like we were on the roller elbows reaching up and guys, we're gonna start to build strength over time in this series. But this first two classes, we're gonna use the towel to support us, but we're gonna lift our head just a centimeter off the mat. Head is at neutral we're just gonna hold and come back down. Right?

So we're building strength by holding up the weight of her head, but we're using the towel to help us. So we don't feel too much strain and back down, right? So a lot of times we think, "Oh, you know, my neck is bothering me. I need to stretch it." But we actually know that neck pain is really helped by increase in strength and back down. Right?

So one more time, you're gonna float. And now I want you to pull on the towel. You might even pull up the back of the skull a little and you're gonna flex your neck. And you're just gonna come up into almost like an upper abdominal curl, and just pull up on the back of that towel, stretching the back of your neck and then roll yourself back down. And when you come down do let your chin go back up to ceilings or back to neutral inhale, pulling in, really stretching through the back of that neck, easy shoulders, exhale back.

One more time we're gonna go in and pull and back down. Now I want you to just to let that towel lay down and stand your hands on your thighs. And then I want you to start to roll your pelvis kind of forward into what's called an anterior or posterior pelvic tilt and then backwards, right? So really what that means is that you're gonna do a little bit of curling of your pelvis. And I want you to try to push your thighs into your wrist a bit and roll.

So we're kind of now doing the same movement with our pelvis, the other side of our spine that we were just doing with our head, right? So that's also gonna help release some of this tension that we get upstairs here at the top of the skull. And then I want you to take that towel back and we're gonna do a little combo movement here, where you're gonna do your head lift with your towel. And then you're gonna do a little bit of that pelvic lift. And that pelvic lift is gonna lay your head down, keep your pelvis up and start to do your head lift and let that head lift slowly, roll your spine down.

So now we're doing a little bit of a seesaw movement here. Right? Moving through now the whole spine. So we're just getting a lot of kind of movement, a little bit of flow through the spinal column. One more time in and leave your pelvis down and come on down.

Right? And you can just pull the towel away from your head, take the knee and roll yourself up to seated because we're gonna want our yoga blocks for this next thing. I'm gonna put my yoga blocks at the top of my mat. They're gonna create a basically kind of like a pillow for my head, and we're gonna go into sideline. All right.

So you're gonna have your knees bent in. You're gonna have your head at the very edge of this block. So when you roll open, right, you actually have a place for your head. Your arms are reaching out, just gonna press the top of this hand a little bit into the floor, and you're gonna inhale. You're gonna reach across, look at the ceiling exhale, open your chest, and you're gonna inhale come back, exhale, right?

So we're just doing a little bit of rotation. You're gonna open up. You are welcome to let that leg kind of also come up towards ceiling. You're gonna look either for up at the ceiling, or you could even look a little over at your hand and come back, right? So we're just doing a little bit of rotation movement or laying on the side of our body.

And we're gonna go open and back up. Then we're gonna do one more and we'll stay in the stretch here for a moment, breathe in, breathe out. And then you're just gonna turn around, right? I'm gonna have my back to you just so that we can stay in the flow here, but you're just gonna do the same thing. Inhaling let your gaze go up to the ceiling or maybe even if it's okay.

A little bit towards that hand, breath in exhale. Right? Let your head be heavy. Let it really roll on those blocks. So we're doing a little spinal rotation all the way and back up two more times, breathe in, breathe out.

Last one, open up, just leave that arm there. Take a full breath cycle in and out. I just love that's yummy stealing that from the sort of Feldenkrais tradition, and take your knee into your chest and roll up to seated. And we're gonna go into quadrupedal now, right? So we're gonna go onto all fours, go ahead and move your yoga blocks to the side of your mat.

And then in your quadrupedal, just get your shoulders directly over your wrists. We're just gonna do a little bit of cat and cow here. So let your spine arch look up with your head. Be very specific about your neck here. And then as you exhale, you're gonna curl, drop your head really let it hang down, round your spine, and then come back through and really let your eyes shine up to that front wall, right?

So we're using the spine in both directions, right? And we're standing in our arms. Try to keep yourself from collapsing here, but push pretty firmly with your hands into the mat as you're doing this, right? And you're just gonna round under that's your exhale. This is your inhale.

Two more. And then bring yourself to more of a neutral, right? I call this a drafting table position, and we're gonna do what I'm gonna call lazy active cat, which means at first I'm gonna let my body slide down. My shoulder blades are gonna squeeze together, and then I'm gonna push away and let them broaden, right? This is really important work for kind of releasing tension in the upper shoulders, where I'm getting that broad, that closing, and then that broad sweep of the scapula two more breathe.

And I want you to just bring your knees back a little bit, and your toes are stretching long. You're gonna just pull back, leave your hands where they are, let your shoulder blades slide up your back and drop your head. So it's between your biceps, right? In a passive shoulder stretch here. And then you're gonna come forward and bring your shoulders over your wrists.

You're gonna inhale, and exhale. Right? There's no right or wrong here, really. It's just a way of getting some stretch and movement in the shoulder girdle vis-a-vis changing our trunk. So two more times just rocking back and forth.

You wanna go as deep, as comfortable for you, right? You're gonna go back. I'm gonna come all the way down. You're gonna turn your head to the right, and you're gonna drop your body weight down. Just completely let go here.

Now you're gonna just pretend somebody is giving you a little massage in the front of your shoulders. You're just gonna slowly pick the front of your shoulder girdle up just so your shoulders are now equal to your side body. Then you're gonna bring your gaze straight down on the mat. And then you're going to look all the way up towards the wall. So you're really squishing the tissue in the back of your neck.

You're gonna look down again. You're gonna turn your head and you're gonna lie down. And I'm gonna be a little bit ginger here with my mic, but you guys are gonna rest all the way down and your shoulders come up, you know, look down. And then what you're trying to do here is really engage the muscles in the back of your neck, right? So you're gonna squeeze.

This exercise has gotten me out of many cranky necks after long flights or heavy workload on the computer. Really a good go-to shoulder girdle up, looking down. And again, I'm not extending my spine, just working my neck, individuating the work of my cervical spine release. Last time up, look down, extend, extend, extend, look down and turn and release. Now you're gonna take your arms into sort of a goalpost arm position here.

I'm not gonna have my head all the way down. I'm gonna float my head up slightly, right? So I'm getting to use these muscles in the back of my neck thing. Then guys you're gonna pick up your arms and I want you to squeeze your shoulder blades together really tight, and then let them go. So if your shoulder blades were a little elevator doors, they'd be closing the elevators doors, and then widening them, right?

I'm squeezing, I'm widening two more times, right? So now we're getting those muscles in between our shoulder blades just to activate a little, right? Just to get a little activation there and arms down. I want you to bring your hands down by your side body, press yourself up. Open your knees pretty wide and bring yourself down into a child's pose, breathe in, breathe out.

Remember that TheraBand across your ribs. Two more breaths in, exhale. Last one, exhale. Just roll up. And we're gonna finish with a seated section.

You're gonna grab your yoga blocks again and set them down. And we're going to sit on our yoga blocks. And what I wanna do here is I want you to take your TheraBand again, and stretch your legs out, right? We're gonna stay in that theme of those upper back muscles now, right? A little activation before we finish and just sit up tall.

And I want you to... I've wrapped this band around my hands, right? That makes it easier on my hands. And it also chokes up on the band. Nice long seat and then you're gonna pull back.

You're gonna squeeze your scapula together and arms forward, seated rows, inhale, exhale. Good. Let's keep that big wide breathing in the ribs and then spring the scapula to touch each other in the back if you can and away, two more times, And then you're gonna turn your palms down. This one's a little bit more difficult. So you might got go really far, but you're gonna pull out, breathe in try to migrate the scapula closer to your spine.

Exhale, come home, inhale, exhale. Right? And as you're doing this, you may feel like, oh God, am I really feel tired at the top of my shoulders and then my neck feels really like it's grabbing. And you know, but remember we're trying to get those muscles to do their job, to hold our shoulders up. Right?

So we wanna fatigue a little bit there. So try not to get overly concerned about that and then bring your arms down. Just go and drop your head for a moment round down a little bit, slowly bring yourself back up to seated. I want you to cross your legs, find the top of your skull, reaching up, and we're gonna close our eyes. If that's something you feel comfortable with, and I want you to visualize you have sort of a band around your skull, kind of like the ring of Saturn.

And I want you to orient your ear holes that they're just listening straight out to that band. As if music we're playing on that band, you're gonna listen with your right ear and you're gonna follow the band of sound to the right. And as you're doing that, you'll find that you're rotating your neck to the right, so your right ear is listening back, your left ear is listening forward. Now really stay with this image. Your right ear is listening forward.

Your left ear is listening back and you're following that sound with your ears and your cervical spine. Your skull and neck are just naturally sort of finding their range of motion and rotation, right? So the axis of rotation is right down the center. And as you listen, your skull is just sliding and gliding on the top of the neck, right? So we're getting some really good movement at the very, very top of what's called the AO joint.

Super important. Keep that range, emotional life in rotation. One more on each side using the ears to listen behind, back around using the ear to listen and slowly come up. And then guys, we're gonna spine stretch forward from the Feldenkrais tradition. We're gonna reach our arms up, or maybe you just wanna reach them forward.

We're gonna take a deep breath in. Now here's that movement we've done before, right? Dropping the head, letting our body follow, reach down, reach towards the top of your mat, let your skull be heavy and then coming back. But I do want you to keep your head in between your arms, meaning as you come forward into this stretch, be conscious of not dropping your head below. That's gonna create a little bit of rotation in your shoulder blade.

So I want you to keep more of an equal relationship between your biceps and your cheeks or your temples. One more time down and all the way up. Just let your arms float easily down by your side. All right. Last thing, since this is, you know, on the Pilates Anytime channel, we gotta do some core work, right?

And that kind of core engagement is gonna certainly help us support in our upper quarter, you know, in our upper body health, as we're calling it. So let's take our hands and wrap this band. You're gonna sit up and then I want you again to let your neck fall down. Now that movement we did earlier, when we did that pelvic tilt, we're gonna do that now. And we're gonna do that to allow ourselves to roll down.

My elbows are straight, right? I'm gonna go down just to my sternum and I'm gonna roll myself back up. Now, this is hard, right? I'm making this quite easy. You might need to put your feet sort of under your sofa or your bed, or something to support you more.

And let's go down again just to here, keep that chin tip down, back the neck on the stretch forward. Now we're gonna go all the way down this time. You might actually wanna have a yoga block back there to catch your head depending or you could try using your towel, but I'm gonna go all the way back. I'm gonna lay my head down and I'm gonna bring my chin to chest out. Keep your arms straight If you need help pull up instead of bending your elbows.

So the spine really gets a chance to open two more times, inhale, exhale all the way down. Inhale bring that chin into your chest all the way up, and last time. So you're going from the lower spine, middle, upper. This sit up will come up in class two as well. And by the time we get to class six we'll be doing some hardcore abdominal work.

Okay. Everybody. Thanks for watching. I hope that helps you kind of let go of a little bit of holding and have a great day.


Jennifer E
2 people like this.
Loved this class and the use of the props! Thank you so much, Cara!!
Thank you! Great for postnatal!
Dianna V
1 person likes this.
Great class it was amazing Thank YOU 
Was definitely helpful to  my right shoulder which seems to have “moved in” next to my right ear.  Thank you.
Lina S
Nice to see you back! Nice variety of exercises. Thank you!
Cynthia G
really looking forward to the next class.  Thanks.  Seems simple but each move builds on the previous and helped me to stop falling into some old habits like jamming my chin down.  Loved the focus on the scapulae.
Nice  restorative ending after 6 hours of yard work!  Thanks
Welcome back Cara!  Always excited when you resurface on PA!!  I feel I've come so far in my body since I worked with you years ago and when I do this work I'm actually feeling something rather than "doing".  I have you to thank for opening up this way of moving and connecting in my body....Gratitude to you always! 
Julie Lloyd
Fantastic class. I learnt a lot today. Thank you Cara.
Thank you for this! 
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