Stress and tension are real. No matter who you are or what you do, there will be times of accumulated stress which may manifest in the physical body. During those times, especially for me, the place directly between my spine and right scapula (shoulder blade) seems to get as tight as piano strings and it feels as if there's nothing that will ever relieve the tension.
After a few years of dealing with this sporadic pain, I've come up with a few poses that I find incredibly helpful. Hopefully you will too!
Prone Shoulder Opener Lay on your belly and then bring your elbows under your shoulders for Sphinx pose. Thread your right arm behind your left, turn the palm up and reach the hand as far as is comfortable to your left. Begin to straighten your left arm out to the right and turn the palm face up. You can bring a block beneath your forehead if it doesn't comfortably come to the mat. Stay here for 5-7 breaths and repeat with the right arm in front. The pose helps to release tension in the middle fibers of the trapezius as well as the rhomboids. Feel the scapula move away from the spine and breathe deeply into the space at the back of the heart.
Garudasana Arms in Vajrasana Begin by sitting on your heels or in any comfortable seated posture. Bring your right elbow on top of your left. You can reach your hands around and grab opposite shoulders, bring the backs of your hands together or double wrap the hands so the palms come together (as pictured). Squeeze your elbows together, lift your fingertips up toward the sky and relax your scapula down your back toward your hips. Hold for 5-7 breaths and repeat with the left elbow on top of the right. Similar to the prone shoulder opener, this posture targets the muscles of your neck, upper back and shoulder blades by protracting (moving the scapula away from the spine). This is a wonderful stretch for releasing excess tension in these places.
Garudasana Arms with Fold Begin the same as the previous posture, seated comfortably and wrap your right elbow on top of the left. Hug your elbows in toward your midline and raise your fingertips up toward the sky. On an exhale, round in your upper back and bring your forearms to or toward the ground or stacked blocks. Continue reaching your fingers forward on the mat and take 5-7 breaths in to the space between your scapula. Inhale to return your torso upright and exhale to release your arms. Repeat with your left elbow atop the right. The rhomboids and trapezius are generously stretched in this pose.
Gomukhasana Arms Begin in a comfortable seated posture with a tall spine. Reach your right arm toward the sky and bend your elbow. Hold your elbow with your left hand. This may be enough of a stretch in your triceps and parts of the lateral shoulder (deltoids, rotator cuff muscles and the serratus anterior). If you would like to increase the stretch, swing the back of your left hand up the center of your back. If your hands come together, clasp them. If they don't, that's totally okay! Don't force it. You can use a strap, belt, scarf or hold onto your clothing for a few breaths. Draw your scapula toward one another and your elbows toward your midline. Extend the elbows away from one another and lift your chin away from your chest. Hold this posture for 5-7 breaths and then exhale to release. Repeat with the left arm alongside your ear. Gomukhasana arms stretches almost your entire shoulder girdle in one way or another. With the arm in flexion (the one by your ear), you are stretching your rotator cuff muscles, lateral deltoids, and serratus anterior. The arm in extension (the one up the back with the palm facing out) stretches the anterior shoulder including the pectoralis minor (yep, that's a shoulder muscle because it attaches to the anterior surface of the scapula!) as well as your anterior deltoid.
Prasarita Padattonasana with Twist This is probably one of my absolute favorite poses to get deep beneath the scapula and relieve a lot of excess tension. Begin in a wide legged forward fold with your hands under your shoulders or on blocks. Sweep your right hand underneath your left arm and reach for the outside of your left leg (anywhere except the knee joint!). Once you have a hold on your leg, bend your elbow down toward the ground and rotate your chest to the left. To increase sensation, round in your upper back slightly (think Cat Pose). Remain here for 5-7 breaths and then return to center. Repeat by threading your left hand beneath your right arm. This pose targets the deep rhomboid muscles which are responsible for drawing your shoulder blades toward one another (retraction). You will also access some of the deeper trapezius fibers.
Seated Neck Stretch Sit comfortably with a tall spine. Lower your chin toward your chest. Slowly turn your chin toward your right collarbone and pause. Sometimes this is all the stretch you need along the left side of your neck and upper back. However, to deepen this stretch, extend your left arm and experiment with moving it up, down, forward and backward finding a nice stretch. For more stretch, you can float your right hand to the left side of your head, just above your ear and gently encourage the chin a bit closer to your collarbone. Take 5-7 deep breaths into the left side of your neck and upper back. Release your hands to your thighs and your chin to the center of your chest. Repeat on the left side. This neck stretch primarily targets sternocleidomastoid muscles (the fairly prominent muscles on either side of your neck), the trapezius and the levator scapulae muscles which are deep beneath the other two.