Five Yoga Poses to Release Neck and Shoulder Tension

We are so excited to share our first Five Things Friday that includes yoga poses that YOU can do on your own complete with photos and videos. From sitting in long rehearsals or standing up when performing or teaching, we all can benefit from these poses so we really appreciate Dr. Kate Umble Smucker for writing and sharing these with the Brass Chicks community and special thank you to Rebecca Steinberg for modeling for the pictures!

Dr. Kate Umble Smucker is a trumpet player and music educator based in New York City. She currently plays with Calliope Brass Quintet and teaches trumpet at the Music Conservatory of Westchester. Kate is also a 200 hour registered yoga teacher. She is passionate about sharing her knowledge of yoga with fellow musicians so they too can experience the benefits she has enjoyed by incorporating yoga practice with trumpet practice. 

Kate is a dreamer who loves to bring big ideas to life. Working with Calliope Brass, Kate assisted in the development of the educational show, “What’s Your Story?” She is a founding member of Spark Brass, a brass and percussion ensemble dedicated to promoting the positive impact of music education. She is also the founding artistic director of Lancaster New Sounds, a concert series that showcases new music by living composers. Her love of jazz prompted her to put together and lead the 18-piece King Street Big Band which is still active in Lancaster, PA.

Kate holds a Doctorate in Trumpet Performance from the University of Missouri in Kansas City, a Masters of Music from the University of North Texas, and a Bachelor of Music Education (K-12 instrumental) and a Bachelor in Trumpet Performance from the University of Northern Colorado. Her primary teachers were Dr. Keith Benjamin, Professor Keith Johnson and Dr. Robert Murray.

  1.    PREVENT strain through awareness of posture and alignment:

The key here is being aware of our posture, especially in tense situations where our mental stress can translate into tight muscles and lead to strain and overall inefficiency. We want to use our body in maximum efficiency mode, letting our skeleton do the work of holding our body upright and therefore allowing our muscles to do their work unhindered. Here is a quick checklist:

o   Weight Distribution: Where do you feel your weight supported in the chair? You should feel your two “sitz bones” directly under each hip where your thighbone meets your hip joint. If you have trouble finding them see this helpful video:

—-> Note: If you are standing to play, you won’t be balancing on your sitz bones, you will be balancing on the “four corners” of your feet (the heel and ball of both feet) with your feet hip width apart, keeping awareness of where your thigh bone connects into your hip joint, keeping your knees unlocked and the same awareness of a flat back, floating head, neutral chin. Thank you to Lindsay of “Thousand Petal Lotus Living” for this excellent graphic showing the pitfalls of standing and proper alignment:

o   Head: Your skull “floats” on a ball and socket joint. Slowly and gently trace an infinity sign with your chin. Can you feel a length in your neck and free and easy movement through the whole movement? If not, take a pause at the spots where you feel tension and breathe in and out through your nose for a few breaths as you release the tension in those spaces.

o   Chin: Are you bringing the instrument to you or jutting your chin toward the instrument? Is your chin in a neutral position or aimed down at the floor or up toward the ceiling? (It should be neutral)

o   Shoulders: Bring your shoulders up to your ears, roll them back to squeeze your shoulder blades together and then bring them down away from your ears. Do this a few times until you can feel the weight of your arms hanging from your shoulder joints and a length across your body from the top of one shoulder to the other.


  1.    Shoulder stretch and neck release with Chair

This simple stretch can be done any time during practice or a rehearsal break. Simply stand behind a sturdy chair and place your elbows on the back of the chair. You can rest your forehead on the back of the chair between your elbows or, if you are open enough, you can let your head drop between your elbows as you see Rebecca doing in the photo. Be sure to walk your feet out and away from the chair so you ankles are directly under your hips to give you a flat back (no sway back or arched back).  Hold for several minutes, breathing deeply and out through your nose, making sure you don’t lock your knees.

  1.    Eagle Arms

Many of you have probably come across this one before, but I had to add it into the mix because it works so well! Standing or sitting, bring your arms out to the side so you are in a T shape and then bring your elbows together in front of your body, crossing your right elbow over your left elbow. If it is available to you, bring your left fingertips to meet your right palm so your arms are twisted around each other in a spiral. You should feel a stretch across the back of your shoulders. Be gentle! If you want a deeper stretch you can pull your elbows down and/or out away from your body. ** Do this on the other side by releasing your arms and crossing left elbow over right elbow.



  1.    Rag Doll

This is a simple forward fold, folding forward from the hip joint, staying balanced on the four corners of your feet.  Bend your knees as needed to feel the lengthening of your spine. The neck and shoulder release is created by adding downward weight when you clasp your elbows or, (if available to you), placing your palms under your feet. Hold this for at least a minute, longer if possible, concentrate on breathing in and out through the nose, and come up slowly when you are ready to release.



  1.    Wall Twist

This twist is less intense than what you might do during a yoga practice because you should be properly warmed up before you jump into a really deep twist. Keep that in mind as you do this at the wall! Place your chair about 1-2 feet from the wall and stand beside the chair, between the chair and the wall. Place your right foot on the chair. Keeping your right knee above your ankle, turn your torso to face the wall and reach your left arm straight out along the wall. You can reach your right arm up or straight out in line with your left arm. Repeat twist on the other side, placing your left foot on the chair.  


Further Recommended Reading:

Great insight into proper alignment and how to incorporate free and open breathing into your playing:

The Breathing Book, David Vining (this is the trumpet version but there are also versions for trombone and bass trombone)




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