Neck tension and pain are widespread today and some of the most common causes are due to our modern lifestyles. This article offers practices to help one become more aware of the anatomy of the neck and heal from some of the physical causes of neck pain. In the second installment of this two-part series on yoga therapy for the neck, the effects of psychological stress and emotions will be explored, too.
Do You Have Text Neck?
A recent phenomenon observed by chiropractors and bodyworkers called “tech neck” stems from excessive time spent on smartphones and computers. It involves the postural positioning of the head, neck, and thoracic spine in the flexed position to look down at the device. This creates a repetitive stress injury to the cervical spine. Your suboccipital (a cluster of muscles that live where your spine and skull meet) and nuchal ligament (running laterally from base of skull to 7th cervical vertebra) both hold a lot of power when it comes to supporting your posture. The longer our bodies remain in forward position due to constant screen time, the more stressed out these become resulting in head, neck and eye pain/strain. If you spend hours at a desk or on a device each day, you might be hyperextending your upper cervical vertebrae and shortening the muscles in the front of your neck.
If This Is You…
For those who spend substantial time in a head forward position, strengthening the back of the neck and lengthening the front of the throat can be helpful to create healthy alignment of the head (directly over the shoulders with a lordotic curvature of the cervical spine). Depending on one’s needs, the yoga asana practice may contain more relaxing postures, which slow down the heart rate, respiration, and relax the nervous system. Or, it may contain energizing postures, which stimulate the metabolism and energize the nervous system.
Try This Theraputic Yoga Sequence for Your Neck
Stand in Mountain pose (Tadasana) while placing your attention on the neck and spinal alignment. Then, stand against a wall and face straight ahead. Gently pull your head back towards the wall. Keeping your face level, without looking up or down, jut your neck forward. Then, bring it straight back as if were on railroad tracks. You should feel like a turtle pulling his head back into its shell. For those with neck tension or injuries do not force the head back. Move slowly. Repeat five times. Then hold your head back for five breaths, feeling the neck muscles engaging.
Follow this with another active posture: Cobra (Bhujangasana). This pose is great for strengthening the entire back body, including the neck muscles. As you enter the posture continue to lengthen the crown of the head forward as you begin to lift the head up. Soften the shoulder blades down the back. Allow the head to draw back as we just did in Mountain pose at the wall. Look towards the tip of your nose, without lowering your head. After four to eight breaths (or less if you become fatigued) lower the forehead to the floor.
For a more relaxing posture, try Prone Spinal Twist (Jathara Parivartanasana). This is great pose to relieve tension in the neck and shoulders and for calming the mind. It also has the added benefit of releasing strain in the low back and hips, which can bring misalignment to the upper spine and neck.
Lay flat on your back with your feet on the floor. Bend the knees into the chest. Lengthen the legs straight up toward the sky. Stretch both arms out onto the floor shoulder-height in a T position. Bring both legs together to the floor to one side. Move the toes towards the fingers. It is not necessary for the toes to touch the hands. If it is more comfortable knees could be bent. After the legs are resting on the floor move the abdomen away from the direction of the legs. Exhale and release the shoulders towards the floor further. Revolve the belly and rib cage, shoulders and head away from the direction of the legs. The gaze follows the placement of the head, if it is comfortable for the neck. To come out of the pose engage the lower abdominal muscles and lift the legs back to center. Bend the knees into the chest. Release the legs long onto the floor.