Thread the Needle Exercise Stretch – How to Perform, Benefits & Muscles Worked

thread the needle

Thread the Needle is a gentle stretch that is popular in yoga and a great choice for beginners.

Some describe the way it gently twists the spine as invigorating, as though you are literally ‘wringing’ out the body from built up tension particularly in the upper back, shoulders and neck.

It is particularly useful for those who spend long periods of time stationary, such as office and desk workers or after a long drive, not only for its ability to release tension, aches and pains but because it enhances mobility in regions of the body that are known to suffer most from sedentary lifestyles.

Let’s guide you through this calming stretch, step-by-step.

How to Perform Thread the Needle

  • Step 1. Position yourself on all fours on the floor in a neutral table-top position (shoulders over wrists, and hips over knees).
  • Step 2. Tuck in your chin, and make sure your back is flat. Do not allow your ribs to drop.
  • Step 3. Hold your weight on your right hand and begin to guide your left arm underneath your stationary right arm as though the moving arm is a thread through a needle.
  • Step 4. Twist your spine, whilst keeping your lower back and hips still as you reach your left arm further into the stretch.
  • Step 5. Allow your shoulders and head to drop down so that your left shoulder and left ear rests on the floor. You will feel the twist in your thoracic spine as you continue to reach your left arm into the pose. Remember your hips and lower back should stay still. This puts the pressure on the twist in your spine whilst preserving the muscles in your lower back.
  • Step 6. When you feel the stretch, hold the pose briefly (don’t forget to breathe), before returning your left arm back to the neutral starting position.
  • Step 7. Repeat the stretch, this time with the opposite arm. 3 sets of 4-6 repetitions are a good starting point for a beginner.

Thread the Needle Variations

Make it easier

Grab an object

Position an object to your sides so that you can reach it to grab as your arm stretches out underneath your body. This will help you maintain control in your core as you hold the stretch

Padding and support

If you’re struggling to reach your shoulder to the floor, prop it up using a cushion or folded towel to a allow you to achieve the stretch from a more comfortable height. You could also add a towel under your knees if holding the table-top position makes them hurt.

Yoga blocks

For weak wrists, you could utilise yoga blocks to help hold your weight as you thread the needle. If that is still a challenge, start with your forearms on the floor rather than having your wrist supporting your weight on your hands.

Make it harder

Arm raise

Follow the movement as above but as you bring your left arm back to through the ‘needle’ , continue the movement so that you rotate your body up to the ceiling raising your arm outstretched above you, as though you are reaching for the ceiling. Slowly rotate your spine to allow you to bring your arm back down to the starting position. This enhances the stretch in your chest.

Stacked shoulders

Reach your arm through the needle as before but continue the stretch until your shoulders are positioned one above the other, as though they are stacked. You’ll feel the stretch even more in your thoracic spine but do not push yourself to achieve this position if it doesn’t feel comfortable.

Remember, a good stretch should be mildly uncomfortable without any pain.

Thread the Needle Benefits

Beginner friendly

This is a gentle stretch making it an excellent option for beginners and especially those with a limited range of motion.

Relieve built up tension

Thread the needle stretch helps to relieve tension and reduce muscle tightness in the areas of our body that often suffer most from sedentary lifestyles i.e. our shoulders, upper back and neck.

Enhanced mobility

The way thread the needle twists the spine makes it a good stretch for improving upper and mid back spinal mobility and by stretching out the muscles in the posterior shoulder, it also works to increase the range of motion in the shoulder.

Supports lower back

By keeping your hips and lower back in a fixed position and instead activating the thoracic spine for the twist, you take the load and pressure off your back. This is of huge importance for those who spend long periods of time in a stationary position.

Improved posture

As this stretch works the thoracic spine, which is part of structure that attaches the ribs to spine, strength here is key to good posture.


It’s worth noting that a gentle stretch, can often be incredibly relaxing and is part of the reason thread the needle is a popular choice for yoga.

Muscles Worked During Thread the Needle Stretch

The muscles in your thoracic spine work hard to allow the twist for this stretch. It also opens up the shoulders, upper back and neck engaging the rhomboids, trapezius and deltoids as well as the pectorals in the chest.

Prior injury to the knees, wrists and shoulders may make this exercise unsuitable for some so always consult your doctor or physiotherapist first. As a gentle stretch however, it should be a great option for most and with no equipment required, you’re ready to give this one a try today!

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