Yoga for neck pain/Yoga for the neck

How to vanquish a pain in the neck.

Ok, so this Yoga practice is not specifically designed to vanish people who are bugging you, but if it works, super!

On a physical level I promised a video on Yoga for neck pain. In fact I recorded a video twice. Something wasn’t quite right. I weighed up my recording dilemma with my usual approach and clarity dawned. Protecting and making your neck strong and healthy has little to do with specific poses. There is no definitive “Yoga for the neck” sequence to show you. Yoga for the neck has everything to do with how we practice. Let me offer you some tips for a healthy pain free neck that I have learned from offering Yoga Therapy session and Private Yoga lessons.

What I have observed in Yoga One-to-Ones/Yoga Therapy sessions for the neck.

Many with neck issues tense & flex neck muscles unnecessarily.

On a physical level, over-use of the muscles in the neck becomes evident during activities demanding strength and stamina: Students may arch their neck during supine core work. Their neck may tense in plank.  I have noticed students holding neck muscles tense in poses that have precious little to do with neck! Bring awareness and softness to your neck during core work and strenuous activities such as lifting weights. Headaches can also be a factor for these individuals. (See 1. Below for more tips on this.)

On an emotional level over-use of the neck might be seen as forcing or pushing with the will.

The neck is part of the spine, keep it in line:

To relieve neck issues it is often necessary to improve functional posture.  Physical understanding from the outside in, is key to healthy re-alignment of neck and back. This generally calls for me to adjust a student. An individual may feel they are following verbal guidance and aligning their neck when in fact they are not. It is often necessary to experience what good alignment feels like before recreating.  From observation I would watch for the head drooping in Table Top, Ardha Uttanasana, at the wall (half forward bend), and Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog). Similarly I would watch for awkward arching of the neck, jutting of the chin and flexing mid neck. This can be seen in poses such as Up Dog (urdhva Mukha Svanasana), Bhujangasana (Cobra), back bends and even high/low lunges and the Virabhadrasanas (Warrior poses).

I often tell One-to-oners: pretend that your neck starts between the shoulder blades. Move from there.

Frequently there are upper back issues going on simultaneously for those with neck issues.

People with upper back issues combined with neck issues tend to round their back. The neck muscles can be quite weak and held at a completely different angle from the body while standing or sitting.  Sometimes vertebra degeneration is a factor; such individuals may have a very sedentary life-style. When upper-back and neck problems show in Yoga Therapy sessions/One-to-Ones, I usually see them as interrelated.  I have noted such individuals tend to arch mid neck. There often seems to be a disconnection in movement between neck and upper back. Adjusting poses with props, particularly forward bends, is very important for the health and safety of the upper back. Props can also be put to good use in low lunges etc. The student can experience the feeling of spinal alignment. There are some instances where the spine should not be rounded at all during practice (until strength returns). I have taught sequences practicing with a neutral and concaved spine for those with crush fractures and vertebra degeneration. Like good first aid, firstly we do no harm.

Chakra work

On an emotional level I would encourage self-enquiry. With upper back issues I would facilitate looking in at the heart centre. Has the heart been enclosed? Is there a shell built preventing the assimilation or feeling of emotions? This journeying inward is guided with breath work, mantras and visualisation. I do not decide on an answer or interpret. This is the student’s own journey

In a Yoga Therapy session/Yoga One-to-One for neck care, I may include breathing and visualisation for the third eye chakra & throat chakra. For interrelated upper back issues I bring in exercises for the root chakra & heart chakra too. We work on the third eye chakra in instances where someone holds their neck rigid, or when an individual is suffering from headaches. I would investigate if they are allowing information to flow freely and if they are living as equally in their bodies and spirit as in their mind. I do not get involved analyse or diagnose; I do the work and get out of the way. It becomes clear very quickly when the work is working.

  1. Relaxing & Re-aligning.

For certain individuals with neck pain, relaxation is key to progress. Movement is central to most Yoga one-to-ones but we can move in a tension free manner. I ask students to gently bob their chin in half plank etc to check if their neck is relaxed. Allow the breath to flow. Breath teaches awareness. Physical awareness assists in understanding and caring for our bodies. Approach your practice with softness. This does not mean you will never be able to do a kick ass session. Learn how to work the right muscles and keep your neck in line with your spine in active and inactive situations. For emotional factors effecting the physical body, releasing tension is crucial. Learn how to release anxiety and stress to bring about physical harmony. Passive relaxation may help calm an overly pushy will or ego and balance the mind with the body. I have had Yogis in serious need of a gentler session come looking for a high challenge, high intensity physical challenge! You may have to look at what your mind wants and what your body needs and find a happy solution!

  1. Checking in

Learning or improving physical awareness is crucial. We need to practice proper alignment until we know how it feels from the inside. We need to learn when our physical body is strained and when our emotional body is stressed.

  1. Modifying poses & avoiding certain positions for the neck

While we build strength, it may be advisable to modify our practice. Usually this means keeping the neck in one long line with the spine in poses. Rather than rotating the head and looking upwards in Trikonasana (Triangle) we might just look down at the hand. Rather than looking up towards the ceiling in Bhujangasana (Cobra) and Tadasana (Mountain) it might be advisable to look straight ahead. Twists can be similarly modified.  I tend to stay steer clear of poses such as Setu Bandha (Bridge), Sirsasana (Headstand) etc. For a time I also avoid backbends where the head hinges back. Modifications need not be for a life-time but until physical awareness improves, the neck and back become stronger and a person can care for their body appropriately.

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