Given the lifestyles we lead today, pain occurs easily in the neck, upper back, shoulders and lower back. Neck pain, a common area of pain for many, occurs due to many factors. It could be sedentary lifestyles, repetitive forward-bending movements, sitting hunched over a laptop or smartphone, poor posture, etc. Ergonomics plays a critical role here. How you sit, stand, work on a laptop, watch TV, sleep, etc. all affect the neck muscles. Repeated neck pain or ignoring the pain can lead to headaches, injuries and more severe conditions like cervical spondylitis.
How can you combat neck pain
The neck has a shallow, concave curve. This is supported by the neck muscles. This natural curve can begin to straighten based on our daily habits and lifestyle. When it straightens, it causes pain in our head, neck and shoulders. The pain may last a day or become chronic and last for years. Yoga is an effective way to treat neck pain. When it comes to any chronic pain, yoga has always been an effective measure that allows practitioners to manage pain in a better way. With neck pain, yoga asanas and other basic exercises improve functional movements, release stiffness and tension, and provide counter-movements to the muscles and connective tissues.
Yoga postures for neck pain
Standing forward bend
In the forward bend, allow your neck to drop and relax when you bend forward. This will ease tension and stiffness.
How to do standing forward bend:
- Stand straight with your feet firmly on the mat and hands by your side. Now slowly place the hands by the hip and start bending from the waist. You can bend your knees a little bit as you bend forward.
- Bring your palms next to the feet. Your chest will be touching your thighs. Straighten your knees if possible. You can also grab your ankle.
- Stay here for a few breaths and then slowly start coming back up.
The Camel Pose is an effective backbend, this posture stretches and strengthens the neck, shoulders and back. It is very good for thyroid and releases tension from the neck region. It strengthens the front neck muscles and stretches the upper trapezius muscles, which eases tension in the back of the neck and along the shoulders. It also gives the neck a counter-movement, especially if you are constantly bending forward.
How to do camel pose:
- Come onto your knees in a kneeling position. Make sure the hips and knees are hip-width apart and in one line with the shoulders.
- Now place hands on the sides of the waist and push the thighs and hips forward as you slowly start bending backwards. Now extend the right hand to the right heel and left hand to the left heel. Now slowly drop your head backwards.
- Stay here for a few slow deep breaths.
- To come out of the posture, first release the hands, support your lower back and slowly come up. Rest in child’s pose for a few minutes.
In this posture flexing and extending the neck helps relieve tension, tight muscles and stiffness. The pose lengthens and strengthens the muscles as well, and is a wonderful movement to do after a long day of working in front of a laptop.
How to do cat-cow pose:
- Come onto all fours with the palms directly under the shoulders and knees underneath your hips. Ensure your weight is equally distributed on all fours.
- Inhale and fill your abdomen with air as you let your belly drop towards the mat. There will be an arch in your back as you do this. Look up towards the ceiling and lengthen your neck and throat.
- As you exhale, pull the naval towards the spine, curve your back and tuck your chin into your chest as you lift up.
- Continue this movement for a few breaths. Let your breath guide you through the movements.
- After a few rounds, release and come into child’s pose.
A great posture for relieving tightness and tension in the neck, shoulders and upper back. This pose relaxes the muscles and provides a counter-movement.
How to do thread-the-needle pose:
- Start in a neutral position on all fours, keeping your hands under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. Tuck your toes under.
- Open up your chest to the right as you extend your right arm toward the ceiling. Direct your gaze toward your raised hand.
- Now move your right arm under your chest toward the mat. Your torso should naturally shift to face downward. Keep both knees and your left arm grounded for support.
- Continue to slide your right arm onto the mat, allowing your right shoulder to rest on the mat. Extend your left arm overhead so your fingertips touch the mat, and rest the right side of your head is on the mat. Continue shifting your right fingertips to the left until you feel a stretch. Hold the pose and focus on your breathing.
- Now repeat on the other side.
Perfect for relieving stress, as well as stretching and lengthening the back, especially the upper back. This posture also opens up the shoulders and eases any discomfort.
How to do puppy pose:
- Come onto all fours with the palms directly under the shoulders and knees underneath your hips, like you would for Marjariasana. Equally distributed on all fours.
- Now take your hands ahead of the shoulders and place them towards the end of your mat in front of you.
- Slowly inhale, and as you exhale, keeping your hips in place and thighs in place, lean forward bringing your chest and chin close to the mat.
- Make sure your upper body is getting a nice stretch. You can adjust the position of your arms as required for comfort.
- Stay here and keep taking deep breaths.
- To come out of the posture, raise your upper body, release the hands and come into Vajrasana.
The cobra posture releases tension from the back, shoulders and neck. It also strengthens the muscles. Staying in this position for a few minutes can ease the stiffness from the back. Focus on letting go of stress and tension.
How to do cobra pose:
- Lie flat on the stomach with the legs straight, feet together and the soles of the feet facing upwards.
- Place the palms of the hands flat on the floor, below and slightly to the side of the shoulders, with the fingers together and pointing forward.
- Position the arms so that the elbows point backward and are close to the sides of the body.
- Rest the forehead on the floor and close the eyes.
- Relax the whole body, especially the lower back. Now slowly raise the head.
- Straighten the elbows, using the back muscles first, then the arm muscles to raise the trunk further and arch the back.
- In the final position, the pubic bone remains in contact with the floor and the navel is raised a maximum of 3 mm.
- The arms may or may not be straight; this will depend on the flexibility of the back.
A wonderful restorative posture, this relaxing pose eases tension, stiffness and discomfort from the legs, lower back, upper back, neck and shoulders. Resting in this position for a few minutes at the end of the day can release tension and give the muscles much needed relief.
How to do legs-up-on-the-wall pose:
- Lie down with your buttocks close to a wall and legs falling to one side. Now slowly lift the legs up along the wall. Adjust your position to make sure you are as close to the wall as possible. Make sure you are comfortable.
- Now relax the throat and head. Keep the arms on the side of the body or above your head - whichever is comfortable for you.
- Stay here for a couple of minutes. Try to take slow, deep breaths.
- To come out of the posture, slowly drop the legs to one side and push yourself away from the wall.
Other stretches for neck pain
Rotate the neck in a clockwise and anti-clockwise direction 5-7 times each. Do this gently, and try to coordinate the movement with your breath. This is very effective in releasing tension, tightness and stiffness from the muscles.
Bend the neck to the right, bringing the right ear to the right shoulder. Repeat this on the left side too. Ensure your shoulder is not lifting upwards. This is also an effective stretch that provides the neck with a counter-movement and eases stiffness.
Now, bend the neck forward, bringing the chin to the chest, and then backward. This movement will stretch the neck muscles, providing relief from stiffness.
The best part about practicing yoga is it will boost your awareness and ability to be mindful of posture and stress. Most often, neck pain is a result of bad posture and lack of movement. With a regular yoga practice, your mindfulness improves. Even breathing patterns become better and healthier. The more fully and deeply you breathe, the lower your stress levels. A better posture will also help you breathe more fully. All of these aspects will contribute greatly towards managing, and even eliminating pain.
The neck is a tender and sensitive part of the body. Ignoring the pain can lead to severe and chronic conditions down the line. Simple exercises for 15-20 minutes a day can make a big difference and boost your health and well-being. Join a live yoga class, with an experienced teacher, to experience profound benefits.