Whether you sit at a desk all day, are on your feet, or you’re feeding an infant, we carry a lot of tension in our necks. The constant tension and stress can cause the muscles and ligaments to shorten and tighten. It’s more than just a pain in the neck, but it can restrict movement in the neck.
So what’s the best medicine when you wake up with a stiff neck, or you have chronic tight neck muscles?
Once again, yoga to the rescue.
With yoga you can move your neck in its six primary directions to lengthen and stretch the muscles. It can prevent chronic neck pain and treat sudden onset pain from sleeping poorly.
We’ve pulled together our favorite yoga poses for neck pain relief. If you have a chronic neck problem, speak to your doctor before beginning a yoga program and work with an experienced teacher. Move mindfully and stop if you experience any pain whatsoever.
Warm up moving through Cat and Cow with the breath. This pose addresses multiple causes of stress in the neck through the flexion and extension of the neck.
We often hang our heads -- staring at our mobile phones, studying a textbook, watching TV -- all of these things cause our heads to fall forward in front of our shoulders.
The ligaments and muscles in the back of the neck are constantly strained holding the weight of the head. Stretching the front and back of the neck in Cat and Cow can help with many of the aches and pains we experience.
2. Thread the Needle
This warm-up posture twists through the cervical spine -- nothing like a good twist to wring out all the stale energy!
From Tabletop position, inhale as you extend your right arm up. Exhale, thread it through the space between your left hand and left knee, palm facing up. Rest your right ear on the mat. Hold for one minute and repeat on left side.
3. Melting Heart Posture
This pose melts your heart into the earth for a gorgeous backbend through the upper and middle back — a space that is notoriously difficult to access and causes tension in the neck.
Remember to keep your hips just above the knees and arms reach out at shoulder width. I like to clasp my hands around the back of my neck, with my elbows reaching forward, to bring the stretch into my triceps as well.
4. Rabbit Pose
Rabbit Pose opens up and creates space in the thoracic and cervical spine. It stimulates digestion and brings fresh oxygenated blood to the brain. Tightly grasp your heels as you inhale to lift your hips towards the sky.
Try to bring your forehead to touch your knees and lightly rest the crown of the head on the floor. Use your arm strength and grip to lighten the load of your head. If there is sensitivity in the knees, fold up a blanket and place it underneath them.
5. Bridge Pose
Although this might sound surprising, Bridge is a great pose to stretch the back of your neck and stimulate the thyroid by compressing the front.
Plant the feet about 6 inches from the tailbone. Inhale and lift the hips up off the floor. Place the hands under the sacrum to support you, or use a block either at its medium or highest height.
Hold for 2 to 3 minutes. Slowly remove support. Lower the hips.
6. Fish Pose
Lie down flat on your back and slide your hands, palms facing down, under the torso. Touch your thumbs together. Extend your legs onto the floor, feet together. Inhale as you press down through your elbows, lift your heart to the sky, and roll the crown of the head onto the floor.
Try to maintain most of the weight of your head in your elbows and forearms, not the crown of the head. When you come out of the pose, press through the elbows, lift your heart to the sky, and tuck your chin. Slide the back of head onto the floor.
Afterward, rest into your Savasana and allow any leftover tension to melt away.
These six poses stretch the neck in the six different directions -- front, back, side-to-side, and twisting right and left. The above poses will help release tension and stretch the neck to prevent restricted movement.
Let us know what you think, or if we’re missing any of your favorites in the comments below!