It seems to have become winter in the space of a week here in London. And I'm seeing my students (and myself) arrive at class with arms crossed and shoulders hunched up against the sudden cold. So we've been doing a bit of work in class to undo that tension in people's neck and shoulders, and here are some of the actions we're using. Although I'm showing them seated here, in class we've mainly been doing them in standing postures like high lunge and warrior 2. And if it's summer where you're reading this, obviously they work just as well in warm weather too!
Photo 1: This one is great for warming up your shoulders for binding postures. Hook your left arm behind your back and catch hold of your right upper arm. Pull your right fingertips straight forwards. As you pull your right arm forwards, it'll make you want to turn your chest to the left. Resist that! Pull forwards with your right arm and take a few deep breaths up into your chest. Repeat on the other side.
Photo 2: Reach your arms out wide, then hook your right elbow over your left. Squeeze your elbows together and (if possible) bring the backs or the palms of your hands together. Lift your elbows slightly and then strongly draw your shoulder blades away from your ears. Tilt your arms a little to the right, and lean your left ear towards your left shoulder. Take a few deep breaths into your chest and then repeat on the other side.
Photo 3: This one is super simple, and probably doesn't need much explanation. Just make sure your top palm is facing towards the floor - that'll help your shoulder blade to move in a way that will facilitate reaching that top arm. Breathe into the left side of your ribs, then repeat on the other side.
Photo 4: Clasp your hands behind your back, and then bring the fist that your two hands are making into the left side of your waist. Keep lengthening up through the back of your neck, and then squeeze your elbows towards each other. On this side it'll be easier to move your left elbow, so make sure your squeezing the right one in too. Breath up into the sensation in your chest, then repeat on the other side.