Yoga Poses for a Happy Neck

Relieve neck pain, open shoulders and create a healthy neck alignment with these yoga poses.

Neck stiffness and pain is unfortunately a way of life for many people. One of the main causes of neck pain is misaligned posture with a rounded upper spine and the head carried forward of the shoulders. When the head is frequently carried in front of the shoulders, it puts pressure on the vertebrae of the neck, reverses the natural cervical curve, and also makes the upper back and shoulder muscles work harder to hold up the head, creating neck and shoulder discomfort and an overall feeling of fatigue throughout the body. This sequence will help release the muscles of the neck, upper spine and shoulders, relieve neck pain, reduce fatigue and recreate a healthy neck alignment.

Child’s Pose Variation (Balasana variation)

This active variation of Child’s Pose creates space between each vertebra of the spine, stretches the shoulders, and releases the muscles of the neck. It creates a traction effect on the shoulders and spine.

To get into the posture:
Come to hands and knees, then bring the knees wide to the edge of your mat and big toes together to touch behind you. Bring the hips directly in line with the knees, the drop down to your elbows and interlace your fingers with your forearms on the floor. Walk your elbows a few inches forward of the shoulders, then release your forehead to the floor. While pressing your forearms into the floor, pull your tailbone toward the wall behind you, allowing the hips to come slightly behind the knees. Stay for 5-10 slow, deep breaths.


Helpful Hints:

• Do not allow the hips to come all the way down to the feet like regular child’s pose. If your hips come too far back, walk your elbows farther forward.

• Keep your belly button drawing up and in to avoid collapsing into the low back. Keep the low back long.

Thread the Needle (Parsva Balasana)

This posture twists and opens the upper spine, which helps to free the neck.

To get into the posture:
Come to hands and knees. Keep your hips directly on top of your knees, twist to your right and bring your left shoulder to the floor with your left arm reaching to the right. Bring the right hand directly below the elbow to support the twist. Hold for 5-10 breaths, then repeat on the left side.



Helpful hints:

• Your head and neck should be perfectly comfortable. If you feel too much of your body weight is in your head or neck, bring your hips back slightly behind the knees to shift the weight into the knees.

• If you would like a deeper shoulder opener, reach the right arm straight forward from the shoulder, bringing your fingertips to the floor but keeping your palm off the floor.

Downward Facing Puppy (Adho Mukha Svanasana Variation)

This posture strongly lengthens the spine, stretches the shoulders and releases the neck.

To get into the posture:
Come onto your hands and knees, with your knees hip bone width apart and your hands shoulder width apart. Keep your hips directly on top of your knees, and walk your hands forward with straight arms until your head comes to the floor. Your hairline should be what touches the floor, rather than the crown of your head or your forehead. Press your palms into the floor and lengthen from fingertips out through your tailbone. Hold for 5-10 breaths.


Helpful hints:

• Make sure to keep the core engaged, do not collapse into the low back.

• If you feel too much pressure on the knees, place a blanket under your knees.

Low Cobra (Bhujangasana variation)

This posture opens the shoulders and strengthens the back muscles to help counteract a rounded spine.

To get into the posture:
Lie on your belly with your feet hip bone width apart. Prop yourself up on your elbows, then walk your hands a few inches farther forward until your elbows are off the ground. Press your legs firmly into the floor, and roll your shoulderes back and down. Engage the triceps to pull back on the hands as though you are trying to pull your body forward across the floor, which brings your heart forward through the shoulders and engages your upper back. Hold for 5-10 breaths.


Helpful hint:

• If your ribs or hip bones are uncomfortable on the floor, lie down on a blanket.

Easy Seated Pose with Neck Releases (Sukhasana variations)

This easy seated sequence releases and stretches the muscles of the sides and back of the neck.

To get into the posture:
Sit on the floor with one foot in front of the other. Sit up tall, extending the crown of the head toward the sky. For each release, hold for 5-10 breaths. Once you complete all three of the releases, repeat on the other side.

Release 1: Drop your right ear toward your right shoulder, making sure to let gravity do the work. Actively reach your left fingertips toward the floor at a diagonal, and feel a deep release of the muscles on the left side of the neck.

Release 2: From release 1, turn your head and look down at your right shoulder. This moves the stretch more toward the back of the neck.
Release 3: Return to the position of release 1, then rotate your right ear toward your sternum. You end up with your head dropped forward, but looking to the left. The stretch will move farther toward the back of the neck and down between the shoulder blades.




Helpful Hints:

• If sitting on the floor is not comfortable for your low back or hips, sit with your hips elevated on a block or blanket, or do the sequence sitting in a chair. The spine should be effortlessly in its neutral curves.

• If you would like a deeper release of the neck, rest the opposite hand on the head to deepen the stretch. You are adding the weight of the arm to the stretch, but be sure not to actively pull on the neck.

• Make sure in any of the three releases that you do not side bend the back. Isolate the movement in the neck.

Foam Roller Crunches and Supported Fish (Matsyasana Variation)

Crunches on a foam roller massage and open tight upper backs while working the front core muscles, which support a healthy alignment of the spine. Supported fish afterward extends the back and opens the neck and shoulders.

To get into the posture:
Lie down on your back and place the foam roller just below the bottom tips of your shoulder blades. Interlace your fingers behind the base of your skull. Make sure not to pull on your neck; keep your head and neck in line with the rest of your spine. On an inhale, lower your head and shoulders as close to the floor as they will come, then exhale lift to a straight spine. Do 10-30 slow crunches, then let your head come down to the floor. Fold your arms and bring your arms up overhead for Supported Fish. Hold for 1-2 minutes.



Helpful Hints:

• Do not go all the way into a rounded spine in the crunches. Stop when the spine is straight.

• If your head does not reach the floor or your neck is uncomfortable in supported fish, support the head with a block or blanket.

• If your shoulders are uncomfortable or if you start to get tingling sensations in the arms or hands, release the fold of the arms and extend the arms straight out from the shoulders.

Foam Roller Neck Stretch

This deep neck stretch on the foam roller uses gravity and the weight of your head to release the muscles of the neck. No effort required!

To get into the posture:
Place the middle of your left ribs over the foam roller. Reach your left arm straight forward from the shoulder, and let it rest on the floor. Bend your left knee, and bring the knee straight forward from the hip, and let it rest on the floor. Place the right leg wherever it is comfortable on top of the left leg. Drape your right arm behind you, bending the elbow to bring the hand toward your left hip for a half bind. Lie sideways on the foam roller and allow your left ear to hang toward the floor. Hold for 5-10 breaths, then to release roll forward on the ribs, allowing the head to drop forward, chin toward chest. Bring the right hand in front of your chest and press yourself up without engaging any muscles in the neck; just let the head hang forward as you release from the posture. Repeat on the other side.


Helpful Hints:

• If this is too much stretch for the neck, support the head at a comfortable stretch with a block or blanket.

• This posture is also an intense opening of the ribs. If there is too much pressure on your bottom ribs, place a blanket or towel on top of the foam roller.

Strap Harness Chest Expansion (Tadasana variation)

This posture opens up the chest, shoulders and upper spine. It helps you to find a balanced position of the head and neck on top of the spine.

To get into the posture:
Stand with your feet hip bone width apart, center lines of the feet parallel to one another. Make a large loop in your strap, then place it around the fronts of your shoulders like you are putting on a backpack. The top of the strap should be behind the neck, and a large loop hanging down the back of your legs. To make the harness, pull the loop at the back of your neck down, which brings the loop behind your legs up. Bring it up until the loop fits snugly just below the shoulder blades. Hold the strap behind you, and cross the two side of the loop three times. Hold on to either side of the loop, then straighten the arms. The harness pulls the shoulders open and broadens the chest. Hold for 5-10 breaths.


Helpful Hints:

• For more shoulder opening, hold high on the loop before straightening the arms. For less, hold lower on the loop.

• Make sure you do not bend backwards. Keep standing upright and isolate the movement in the arms and shoulders.

• Make sure you balance your head and neck directly on top of the spine. Do not jut your chin forward. Find the position where your neck muscles are working the least to hold up your head.




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