If I was given a pound for everyone who told me they had tension in and around their neck recently, then I would have a lot of pounds! It seems like it is a growing problem with our modern lifestyles.
What causes neck pain?
Neck pain is a really common complaint and can be caused by many factors. Having poor posture, being stressed out or anxious, bad sleeping habits, staring at your screen and other repetitive daily movements or activities can all contribute to neck issues. It doesn’t take much strain for neck pain to appear and if left untreated, it can result in chronic headaches as well as permanent muscle damage.
But, fear not. For practicing regular yoga can help to provide pain relief in the neck and ease the tension you are holding in that area.
How can yoga help?
Stretching and strengthening the muscles in and around the neck can help to ease your tense neck and alleviate pain that has built up. Therefore, attending regular yoga classes with a yoga teacher (online or in the studio) can help you to do both of these things.
The key is to practice your poses with mindfulness and to work within your own individual limits and boundaries. Your yoga teacher can guide you and give suggestions, but only you know how your body feels, therefore, you instinctively know when something feels good, or if something feels too uncomfortable.
Consistency and patience are also key factors to reducing neck pain, so take it slow and gradually you will feel the benefits. Also, if you have neck injuries or extreme pain, then always consult your GP first before doing yoga.
What yoga poses can help?
Simple neck poses to lengthen and stretch overworked muscles can be a great starting point. These are simple to do at home or at your desk too. I tend to do these stretches as soon as I wake up in the morning too, to combat the stiffness accumulated through the night.
Start seated in a comfortable position, tall spine and crown of your head over your shoulders and your shoulders over your hips. Inhale to draw the crown of your head toward the sky, and exhale to gently release your left ear toward your left shoulder. Soften your shoulders and your jaw as you lengthen through the entire right side of your neck. You can experiment with turning your gaze (and chin) down or up to find the angle of the stretch that best serves you. Hold for between 8 -10 breaths and then repeat on the right side.
Rag Doll Pose
By allowing gravity to help pull the weight of your head down towards the floor, this can help to lengthen your cervical spine and release any built-up tension in the neck and shoulders.
Start by placing your feet hip-distance apart and then hinge forward from the hips into a standing forward fold. Feel free to keep a little softness in your knees if needed. Relax the weight of your head and torso and let everything fall down towards the earth.
Take hold of the inside of your elbows with opposite palms. Allowing the added weight of your arms to move you further into your release. Hold and breathe for about 8 – 10 deep breaths. Be careful when rolling back up to standing and keep your neck in towards your chest until your spine is straight.
Cat/Cow addresses multiple causes of stress in the neck through the flexion and extension of the neck. Stretching the front and back of the neck in Cat/Cow can help with many of the aches and pains you are experiencing.
Start on your hands and knees with your wrists directly under your shoulders, and your knees directly under your hips. Centre your head in a neutral position and soften your gaze downward in between your thumbs. Broaden across your shoulder blades and draw your shoulders away from your ears
Begin by moving into Cow Pose: Inhaling as you drop your belly button down towards the earth. Lift your chin and chest and gaze up towards the sky.
Next, move into Cat Pose: Exhaling as you draw your belly to your spine and arch your spine up towards the sky. The pose should look like a cat stretching its back.
Inhale, coming back into Cow Pose, and then exhale as you return to Cat Pose.
Repeat between 5 – 10 times – matching each breathe with each movement.
Those with neck injuries should keep the head in line with the torso, not dropping it forward or back.