In an age when most people spend a good chunk of their week hunched over a screen, neck and back issues are becoming some of the most common ailments that people deal with. While preventative measures like better desk setups are the best approach, there’s only so much that can be done.
Luckily, yoga brings a host of new solutions to the modern physiological problems. Here are the 10 best poses for tackling shoulder and neck pain that you can do every day to alleviate any symptoms.
Shoulder and neck pain results usually results from injury to the soft tissues in the upper region of the body. This can result from
whiplash, inflammation, physical stress on these areas, emotional stress leading to stiffness, arthritis, or sitting still for too long.
Physical injury may also result in long-term soreness.
You should always consult a doctor if you have extensive pain, but you can also take steps to make your lifestyle healthier and
manage mild pain. This includes plenty of rest, hot and cold compresses, elevation, and muscle relaxation. One way to relax your
muscles is through yoga - that’s because this physical activity is intense enough to keep you moving, but gentle enough to
prevent further strain. Before you get started, here are some primary types of shoulder and neck pain.
There are many causes of shoulder and neck pain that can affect your body to varying degrees. They include the following.
1. Ear to Shoulder/Neck Rolls
Probably the most popular/well known stretch for relieving neck tension, the yoga equivalent takes it a little bit further. Sit upright and relax your shoulders, and push your chin against your chest to straighten your spine. Next, gently roll your head to the right or left until your ear touches your shoulder - use one hand to push your head, and the other to slowly push your opposite shoulder in the other direction.
This is an extremely delicate stretch that doesn't require a serious amount of pressure - the opposing stressors and the sensitivity of neck and shoulders muscles will make you feel it right away.
2. Seated Forward Bend
For the seated forward bend pose, sit upright with your legs aligned exactly straight. Take a deep breath inwards and fold forward, trying to cup your heels - make sure your chest touches your knees, or comes as close as possible. Now, here’s the important part - tuck your chin inwards while rolling forward, and hold that stretch, while slowly pulling your shoulders in.
Count slowly to 5, exhale, and pull back out. This is a great pose because it’s intended to align your neck with the forward, natural motion of your upright spine.
3. Cross Body Shoulder Stretch
Another classic stretch, this pose is wonderful for releasing tension in your shoulder muscles-- especially when a yoga breathing pattern is incorporated. Muscle tension in the deltoids and triceps are a common reason for your shoulders/trapezius clenching together, and this pose can aid in releasing the entire system.
As always, start off in a comfortable upright seated position, and gently pull your arm across your body until you feel a stretch in your shoulder. Hold this stretch for at least 3 breaths (inhale and exhale), then release, and switch to the other shoulder. This is an easy pose to do anytime during the day (vs just during a Yoga session), since you can do it from almost anywhere and it
brings near instant relief.
4. Warrior II Pose
This is a fantastic pose that’s primarily focused on releasing your chest and shoulders, which then indirectly forces your neck upright - 3 birds with one stone! (Or a slightly more morbid, less morbid saying).
From a standing position, bring one foot back and another foot forward in a slightly slanted V shape (align the heel of your back foot with your front foot). Then, slowly, lean into your front foot while bending that knee (thereby stretching your back foot). While doing this, slowly lift both your arms and spread out your entire wingspan - one hand facing your front foot, the other
towards your back. Hold the pose for 30 seconds, then flip.
5. Two-Footed Pose
This is one of those rare poses that does a great job at addressing two completely separate musculoskeletal regions. First lie on your back with your arms extended on your side, palms down, and keep your feet flat on the floor with your knees bent. Then slowly inhale and raise your butt off the floor, keeping your feet and palms where they are. It's important to keep your chin tucked into your chest this entire time and not move your head at all during the movement.
Hold the post for 3 or 4 breaths and then exhale downwards.
This is a fantastic pose, not only for neck alignment and shoulder release, but also for your pelvic area and can be a great core strengthening workout.
6. Cat/Cow Stretch
Not the most flattering stretch (either in name or in movement), but this pose directly targets and stretches both your neck and shoulder muscles. Start in tabletop position with your back arched and look up at the ceiling (cow position) - then, slowly, round your back and shoulders forward and lower your chin until its nearly touching your chest (cat position). Alternate on inhale/exhale for at least 8 breaths.
7. Standing Forward Bend Pose
This is one of the most foundational yoga poses you'll see in any beginner yoga class--and for good reason. It’s a wonderful way to correct rounded shoulders and generally release neck and shoulder tension.
Start off standing at an upright position, with your feet aligned facing forward. Tuck your chin to your chest and slowly roll downwards, gradually moving lower until your hands touch your feet - hold that stretch and slowly exhale.
Gradually come back up and repeat - its important that the rolling motion to the floor happens gradually, attuned to your breath, and your chin is tucked in at all times.
8. Hand Clasp Behind Back
Another beginner pose, this is extremely good for people with tight shoulders or any kind of pain in the shoulder blades. Simply put, you stand upright and interlock your hands behind your back, then straighten your arms as far as you can while gripping tight. For an extra stretch to your neck while doing this, tuck your chin into your chest as hard as you can.
You can adjust this pose depending on the severity of the tension on your shoulders by simply gripping harder or softer.
9. Melting Heart Posture
This is an advanced pose that might be difficult for people who are still building up their flexibility. If you can hit it, though, it delivers a remarkable stretch to your entire neck, shoulder & upper back and is simply fantastic at releasing soreness and tightness.
Simply put, you stretch forward on all fours as far as possible while keeping your legs in a 45 degree angle at the knees, and create as much of a curve in your back as possible. This is entirely a comfort game - the more of a stretch you can safely do, the better it is for you.
10. Sphinx Pose
Another classic, the Sphinx pose is a good alternative to the melting heart for beginners. Simply lie down flat on your stomach with your palms facing down, shoulders on a 45 degree angle. Keep your legs entirely flat, then slowly raise your head and lift your upper torso as high as you can - this stretches out your entire back, and the further up you go the more your neck is
stretched out as well. Once you're looking straight ahead, hold the post for a minute or 2 (or as long as you can).
Consider complimenting this with the cat/cow pose to make sure you aren’t adding tension to your neck by only moving it a single direction.
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