Looking after our neck is often forgotten, until it hurts. In this time when many of us work at a desk, slouch on a sofa, bend our head over a book or phone, or drive long distances, our posture often puts the neck forward of the shoulders, and the neck muscles at a greater risk. Neck care can help prevent muscle pains and strains, neck tightness, upper back pain, shoulder pain, degeneration of the cervical discs and neurological pain. Having had to manage a forward head myself, and having woken up numerous times with a stiff neck, I know I have to include daily neck care to prevent any chronic condition from developing. This blog discusses four ways in which yoga can help to keep your neck healthy.
The neck moves our head and keeps it in position. Muscle strain in the neck is often caused by a misaligned posture, when the head is held too far forward. The head weighs about 11 pounds and when it is held in front of the shoulders, it is said to add about 10 pounds per inch it is held forward.
To correct our posture we have to start from the base: the feet or (when sitting) the sitting bones. Last summer I wrote a series of blogs on posture, sitting, standing and walking. For our purpose here, Let’s do an exercise to observe and possibly correct the position of the whole spine:
Stand so you can look at yourself sideways in a mirror. Check if there is a straight line from the centre of your shoulders to the centre of the hips and the centre of the ankles. If your neck and head are held forward of the shoulders, try the following to correct your posture:
-Balance the weight over the heels and behind all the toes. If you find your toes carry weight, bring the weight more over the heels.
-Engage the abdominal muscles, so you feel the lower back is lengthening.
-Lift the chest and if needed, re-balance the shoulders over the centre of the hips.
-Imagine a thread is pulling the centre of your head upwards. Allow the chin to gently relax down.
Look sideways in the mirror again: can you see an improvement? If yes, do this exercise regularly until the body has assimilated the new standing habit. If not, why not make a Skype or in person appointment to work on improving your posture with me? You can contact me on my contact page: https://beneyoga.co.uk/contact-for-yoga-classes-in-chiswick/
Abdominal muscles may seem unrelated to neck health but core strengthening is actually critical to keep the back and the neck aligned. To learn how to strengthen your core muscles in coordination with other muscles and in a safe way for your back, click this link to learn more: https://beneyoga.co.uk/videos/
2. Neck stretches
Stretch your neck every day with these 3 simple head movements. Done in coordination with the breath, they also relax the mind.
1/ Look to the side:
-Exhale, look to the right. Keep the shoulders still and forward.
-Inhale, look centre.
-Exhale, look left. Coordinate the breath with the movement so you work slowly.
-Repeat 5-7x to each side.
2/ Chin down and up (moving the head and not the neck)
-Exhale, move your chin down. Be careful not to move the head forward: instead, your neck stays upright and only the head tilts on the top vertebra.
-Inhale, move the chin up, making sure this does not hurt the back of your neck.
-Repeat 5-7x and finish with the chin down.
3/ Ear to the shoulder movement
-Exhale, move the right ear to the right shoulder. Keep looking forward so the chin is in the centre of your chest. You can add a hand on the shoulder to keep the shoulder down and relaxed.
-Inhale bring the head up to the centre.
-Exhale, move the left ear to the left shoulder.
-Repeat 5-7x to each side.
Finally, rotate the shoulders a few times in each direction.
3. Neck lengthening
Poses such as angry cat and dog are excellent opportunities to release neck muscles. Too often, I see people still holding their head in this position. Next time you perform these poses, allow your head to hang. It may take some practice to let go of the head, so with every exhalation, breathe and allow the weight of the head to be there and the neck to relax.
Angry cat pose
This pose is a lovely stretch for the whole spine, while the neck benefits from the weight of the head to relax down.
-Start on all fours, arch your back with an exhalation, bringing the navel up towards the spine and allowing the head to hang.
-Breathe in and return to the neutral position.
This position is difficult for those with tight hamstrings and tight shoulders. It is not advisable for those with nerve pain or sacroiliac derangement.
-Start in child’s position, with the feet hip-width and the hands mat-width apart. The hands have to be placed this wide to allow space for the neck.
-Tuck the toes and “unfold” the legs but keep them bent.
-For our purposes here, do not worry about straightening the legs if your hamstrings are tight. Rather feel how you can send your tailbone up and the spine is hanging down from the hips.
-Allow the head to hang heavily.
-Stay for a few breaths if comfortable and rest down in child.
4. Neck support
When lying on your back on the yoga mat, notice how your neck feels. Does it feel tight? Is your chin up? This means that the back of your neck may be chronically shortened. Place a cushion, a yoga block or a book under your head to lengthen the muscles at the back of your neck. Notice how that allows the chin to come nearer the throat. A block or book may feel hard at first, but many people find it becomes more comfortable and is even relaxing for the lower back. Enjoy!