Yoga For Neck Pain: 14 Yoga Poses for Managing Neck Pain

Most people live a sedentary lifestyle that involves spending several hours a day on a desk, crouched over a computer. They then go home to lie on the couch while watching TV and swiping through their phones and afterwards end the day by sleeping. Unfortunately, if you have a bad mattress or pillow and a poor sleeping posture, you wake up feeling tired and probably with a neck or back ache. Such a lifestyle spells doom to your spinal and neck health.

Common Causes of neck pain

One the primary causes of neck pain is poor posture that often results from sitting for many hours throughout the day and sleeping in wrong posture. Even people who make the effort to be active may end up having neck pain as a result of doing strenuous exercise and bad form which causes muscular imbalance around the shoulders, middle back and neck.

Another common cause of neck pain and stiffness is Psychological and emotional stress. Have your ever noticed that when you are tensed you tend to lift your shoulders up? The lifted shoulders cause the muscles around the neck to tighten.

Bad sitting posture and bad form when exercising cause the upper back muscles and the muscles surrounding the neck to tighten.  As a result, the joints in the back of the neck become compressed. The muscles in front of the neck are less utilized hence becoming weak.

When seated or looking through the phone, you tend to lapse your head forward, and round your shoulders. This overstretches and weakens the middle back muscles that stabilize the shoulder blades. Also, the front of the shoulders and the chest close up and tighten.

Tips for Managing Neck Pain

  • If you spend the most part of your day seated, make a habit of taking a break every hour to walk around and stretch your neck and shoulders.
  • If you are prone to neck pain as a result of a sedentary lifestyle or strenuous exercises, endeavor to do the yoga poses below at least 3 times a week or daily if possible.
  • The best way to counter neck pain is to prevent it from happening in the first place. Always sit in an upright position.
  • Place gadgets and devices at a head level to prevent dropping your head downwards to look at the screen.

14 Yoga Poses for Relieving and Preventing Neck Pain.

Yoga is a helpful tool for relieving neck pain. It serves four main purposes: releasing tension, stabilizing and strengthening the neck muscles, and restoring the full range of motion. Furthermore, doing yoga regularly can help you to relieve emotional stress hence alleviating neck pain and stiffness.

Below are 15 yoga poses that help in strengthening, stabilizing and promoting the full range of motion of the neck muscles and other surrounding muscles.

1.         Neck stretches

There are various neck stretches that you can do to lengthen and restore full range of motion within the neck muscles as well as relieve tension on the muscles surrounding the neck. You can do these stretches from anywhere – at your desk, when travelling, on the coach or as part of your exercise warm up.

Instructions

  1. Seat in a comfortable, upright position either on a chair or the ground (legs crossed or extended in front).
  2. Keep your neck lengthened and head sturdy.
  3. To stretch the right side of the neck, tilt your head to left. Hold for 3-5 breaths.


Right Side Neck Stretch

  1. To stretch the left side of the neck, tilt your head to the right, bringing your ear near the shoulder. Hold for 3-5 breaths.


Left Side Neck Stretch

  1. Come back to the center.
  2. Tilt your head backwards to open the front side of the neck. Hold for 3-5 breaths.


Front of the Neck Stretch

  1. Come back to center.
  2. Draw your chin towards your chest to lengthen and stretch the back of your neck. Hold for 3-5 breaths.


Back of the Neck Stretch

Modifications

For deeper stretching and lengthening, use your hands to take your head deeper into the side the head is tilted towards.

For instance, place your right hand on the left ear and gently push your head down towards the right side for a deeper stretch on the left side, and vice versa for the stretch on the left side. For a deeper stretch of the front of the neck, brings the heels of your hands to touch and place them on the chin. Push the chin up and backwards. Finally, for a deeper stretch of the back of the neck, interlace your fingers and place them at the base of your head and gently push the head downwards and forward.

Note that you are not literally pushing the head in the respective direction, rather you are holding it firmly to encourage the neck to lengthen and release.

2.         Thread the needle

The thread the needle pose stretches and stabilizes the shoulders, consequently allowing the neck to release tension.


Thread the Needle

Instructions

  1. Assume an all fours position, with knees stack under the hips and wrists under the shoulders.
  2. Reach your right hand forward with fingers spread to open your chest.
  3. Pass your right hand through the space between the left hand and the left side of torso until the head, right shoulder and entire arm are resting on the ground.
  4. Rest your right cheek on the mat and look forward.
  5. Maintain a neutral alignment of the pelvis.
  6. Either keep the left hand where it s or take it past your head and rest the palms on the ground a few inches in front of the crown of the head. Alternatively, you may rest it on your lower back.
  7. Hold for 5-10 breaths.
  8. Come back to your fours and switch sides.

Modifications

For more comfort, you may place a pillow under the shoulder that is on the ground.

3.         Rabbit Pose

The rabbit pose is a-must-do asana for relieving neck pain not only for its anatomical benefits to neck and the surrounding muscles, but also for its calming effects. In this pose, the heart is at an elevated position relative to the head. This increases blood flow to the brain and calms the nervous systems hence relieving stress. The pose also lengthens and stretches the back of the neck, engages the muscles on the front of the neck, and opens the chest, shoulders and mid-back.


Rabbit Pose

Instructions

  1. Come to your fours with knees stack directly under the hips.
  2. Round your back, hinge from your hip joint and lean forward and downwards while reaching your hands to the heels or outer edges of the feet.
  3. Keep lean forward and downwards until the crown of your head rests on the ground and your arms are straight.
  4. Maintain the rounded back and a firm grip on your heels/feet as you draw your belly in and lift your tailbone towards the ceiling.
  5. Stay active and avoid collapsing the weight of your body on the neck.
  6. Hold for 5-10 breaths.
  7. To come out of the pose, release your hands beside your legs, keep your chin tucked to the chest and roll up slowly, each vertebrae at a time.

Modifications

For added comfort, place a thin blanket under the head and knees to protect them from the pressure of the ground.

4.         Forward bend

This is another easy to do inversion that offers calming effects to the nervous systems. It lengthens the entire posterior side of the body. As the head hangs downwards from the base of the neck, the mind tunes inwards and blood flow to the brain increases promoting stress relieve. The neck lengthens while the shoulder blades and mid-back open.


Forward Bend

Instructions

  1. Stand in mountain pose– feet hip-width apart, hands beside your body.
  2. Bring you hands to your waist, hinge in front and lean forward and downwards from the hip joint into a forward bend.
  3. Bend your knees slightly so that your chest rests on your thighs.
  4. Allow your head to hang downwards – crown of the head pointing to the ground, and bring your hands to rest on the ground.
  5. Hold for 5-10 breaths.
  6. To come out of the pose, gently roll up one vertebrae at a time.

Modifications

In a yoga practice that focuses on working the leg muscles, an emphasis is put on keeping the knees straight, and only micro-bending them when necessary, in this pose. However, when doing the forward bend for neck pain relieve, it is best to bend the knees up a little bit more to allow the chest to rest on the thighs. This supports your back, and allows you to hold the pose for longer.

You may rest your hands on blocks placed on the outer edges of your feet, or wrap your hands around your calves.

5.         Yogi squat with neck pull

In traditional yoga, the yogi squat primarily works the legs and opens the hips. The yogi squat with neck pull offers works the legs while offering you additional benefits of stretching, lengthening and opening the back, shoulders and back of the neck.


Yogi Squat with Neck Pull

Instructions

  1. Open your feet to a distance slightly wider than hip-width.
  2. Crouch down into a yogi squat.
  3. Draw your chin to your chest.
  4. Interlace your fingers and rest your hands at the back of your neck.
  5. Hold firmly to allow your neck to get deeper into the stretch.
  6. Hold for 5-10 breaths.

Modification

Since the primary focus of this pose is to open the back muscles, the shoulders and the back of the neck, you may opt to maintain the yogi squat position but sit on a block and bolster.

 

6.         Eagle Arms

The eagle arms are an adaptation of the eagle pose that focus on opening the chest, shoulders, mid-back and lengthening the neck without having to think about the balancing aspect of standing on one leg.


Eagle Arms

Instructions

  1. Come to standing with feet hip-width apart.
  2. Reach both hands in front, parallel to each other, inline with the shoulders.
  3. Take your right bicep under the left triceps.
  4. Bend both arms at the elbow, so that the fingers are pointing upwards.
  5. Interlace the forearms so that the right hand fingers either rest on the left palm or grab the right thumb.
  6. Ensure the elbows remain inline with the shoulders.
  7. Hold your neck long and tall.
  8. Hold the pose for 5-10 breath.
  9. Release and switch sides.

Modifications

You can do the pose either seated on a chair or on the ground.

Instead of keeping your neck tall and long, you may draw your chin to your chest for a deeper stretch on the back of the neck.

7.         Angry Cat

The angry cat pose is variation of the traditional cat pose that exaggerates the rounding of the middle back and the shoulder blades. This allows the shoulders to open and for the neck to lengthen relieving any tension held by the surrounding muscles.


Angry Cat Pose

Instructions

  1. Come your fours, in a table top position.
  2. Untuck your toes and press the palms of your feet down.
  3. Draw your belly in, round your back and tilt your tailbone inwards.
  4. Drop your head downwards to hang from the base of your neck between your shoulders.
  5. Keep your knees stack under the hips, and shift the weight of your body more towards the front so that you feel it heavier on the palms and lighter on the knees.
  6. Hold for 5-10 breaths.

Modification

You may place a thin blanket under the knees to protect them from the pressure of the ground.

8.         Cat-Cow Pose

The cat-cow pose is essential for relieving neck pain and stiffness as it promotes spine and neck flexibility. As you transition from the cat and cow position then to cat pose and so on, the back and spine sequentially flex and extend promoting a full range of motion in the surrounding joints and muscles.

Instructions

  1. Come to an all fours position with knees hip width apart, hands shoulder width apart, torso and head in a neutral position.
  2. Inhale, arch you back, drop your belly downwards and lift your chin away from the chest as you gaze forward (cow pose).


Cow Pose

  1. Exhale and round your back, tuck your tailbone in and drop your head downwards (cat position).

Cat Pose

  1. Repeat the cow pose on the inhale, and cat pose on the exhale.
  2. Repeat 5-10 times.

Modifications

For comfort, place a thin blanket under your knees.

If you have a knee injury, you can do the pose while seated. Seat in an upright position hands resting on your knees.  Inhale, take your tailbone outwards, push the belly and chest forward and lift your chin away from the chest. As you exhale round your back outwards, draw your belly and chest inwards and drop your chin towards your chest.

9.         Child’s pose variation with hands tucked behind the knees.

Tucking your hands behind your knees in child’s pose takes the focus of the pose from opening the hips and thighs to lengthening, stretching and opening the entire back, shoulders, shoulder blades and the neck. As your forehead rest on the floor, the back of the neck opens without overstretching.


Child’s pose variation with hands tucked behind the knees

Instructions

  1. Come to a kneeling position on all fours.
  2. Sit back onto your heel like you would in the traditional child’s pose.
  3. Drop your head downwards so that your forehead is resting on the ground.
  4. Lift your glutes to allow room for your hands.
  5. Slide your hands in the space between the thighs and calves.
  6. Gently sit back on your forearms.
  7. Round your back and draw your shoulders away from the ears.
  8. Tuck your chin towards your chest. Keep an active chest to avoid collapsing the weight of your upper body on the neck.
  9. Hold for 5-10 breaths.

Modifications

You may place a thin blanket between your chest and thighs. Consider placing a thin blanket under your knees if the pressure from the floor is too much. You can keep your hands resting beside your shins and instead slide a rolled blanket or yoga mat between your hamstrings and calves.

10.   Child’s pose variation with elbows bent and resting on a block

Similar to the child’s pose variation with hands tucked behind the knees above, this pose also allows you to get better access to the shoulders and back of neck. It particularly strengthens and opens the upper back while offering a gentle lengthening of the entire spine.


Child’s pose variation with elbows bent and resting on a block

Instructions

  1. Take a block or rolled mat and place it nearby.
  2. Assume an all fours position, sit your glues on the heels, and reach your hands forward – into a child’s pose.
  3. Take the mat or block and place it under your elbows.
  4. Bring your palms to touch.
  5. Bend your elbows and take your forearms and hands backwards.
  6. Tuck your chin into your chest.
  7. Hold for 5-10 breaths.

Modification

Place a thin blanket under your knees.

11.   Plow Pose

*Disclaimer: the plow pose is a great pose for stretching the neck and opening the shoulders. However, if done with the wrong alignment, it may worsen the neck pain. if you are a beginner or you feel not ready to do this pose, you may skip it.


Plow Pose

Instructions

  1. Lie on your back with knees bent towards your belly.
  2. Lift your legs up and rock up to take legs towards the front so that the tips of your big toes are touching down a few inches in front of your head.
  3. Bend your elbows and rest your palms on the lower back for extra support in the pose.
  4. Adjust your torso so that the weight of your body is sturdily resting on your shoulders and upper back.
  5. Keep your neck lengthened, and the chin away from the chest.
  6. Gaze upwards and do not move your neck from side to side.
  7. Hold for 5-10 breaths
  8. To come out of the pose, straighten your arms and rest the palms on the ground. You’re your back down to the ground slowly.

Modification

If your feel that your legs are too stretched out, you may slightly bend your knees towards your chest.

12.   Half Lord of the Fishes

The half lord of the fishes is a gentle twist that lengthens the spine, and opens the shoulders and the chest while lengthening the neck.


Half Lord of the Fishes

Instructions

  1. Seat upright on the ground with feet extended in front of you.
  2. Bend your left knee and take the left foot towards the outside of the right hip.  Keep the outer edge of the leg on the ground.
  3. Bend your right knee to point upwards, take the right foot over the left thigh and root the four corners to the floor.
  4. Lengthen your torso and twist such that your right shoulder is pointing backwards.
  5. Bend your left elbow and wrap it over your right knees.
  6. Turn your head to face backwards.
  7. Hold for 5-10 breaths.
  8. Switch sides.

Modifications

Instead of turning your head to face backwards, your may twist the torso and turn your head slightly to the side.

13.   Cobra Pose

The cobra pose strengthens the upper back and middle back muscles, and opens the chest and front of the neck.


Cobra Pose

Instructions and modifications

  1. See instructions here

14.   Corpse pose

The corpse pose is a restful and restorative pose that allows the spine and neck to take its normal curve. You do not put effort into the pose rather you lie down, let go and allow the entire body to release both emotional and physical tension. It also helps to release mental tension and stress hence alleviating neck-pain associated with stress.


Corpse Pose

Instructions and modifications

  1. See instructions here.

Conclusion

While the above poses come in handy in managing the occasional neck pain and tightness, I recommend that you seek medical help for acute neck pain. If the neck pain is accompanied by other symptoms such as nausea or dizziness, seek medical help immediately as there could be a serious underlying condition.

It is okay to skip some of the poses if you feel that they are too much or that your body is not ready for them. Listen to your body as you do each pose and get out of the pose immediately if you experience pain.  Note that not all yoga poses are appropriate for reducing neck pain, therefore, consult with a qualified yoga instructor on which poses you should or should not be doing. Do not do this poses if you have a neck injury or chronic neck pain, rather see your doctor. These poses are not to be used as replacement for prescribed physical therapy.