One of the most common areas of tension in the body is the neck. Many people suffer daily neck pain due to poor posture, stress or accidents.
This is an easy area to injure, since the neck contains the most fragile vertebrae in the spine, the cervical vertebrae. When your neck seizes up due to stress, it's important to work the kinks out without endangering these vertebrae.
To relieve pain and restore mobility, your first impulse might be to swivel your head around and push through that annoying crick in your neck. However, a more effective way of releasing any tension in this areas is to perform all four of the following gentle yoga stretches.
1. See-Saw Shoulders
HOW TO DO IT: Kneel on the floor, sitting on your heels, or sit a few inches away from the backrest of your chair. Lengthen your spine. Relax your arms by your side or rest your forearms in your lap. Soften your shoulders and move your shoulder blades slightly toward each other to counter poor posture.
If your stiff neck permits, settle your head in the center between your shoulder blades. On an inhale, raise your right shoulder as high as you can, while lowering your left. When exhaling, lower your right shoulder and raise your left. Coordinate your shoulder shrugs with your inhale and exhale for up to two minutes.
2. Slow Roll
HOW TO DO IT: Sit comfortably with a straight back, either kneeling on the floor or a few inches away from the back rest of your chair. Relax your shoulders down and back if they’re tensed up around your ears.
Exhale and slowly drop your head toward your chest without forcing the movement. Inhale and raise your head, then exhale and slightly bend your head to the left, ear toward left shoulder. Inhale and raise your head back to center.
Exhale and repeat this maneuver to the back (if your neck will allow). Inhale back to center and exhale your head to the right, ear toward right shoulder. Do two more repetitions of the entire circuit. Finish by performing neck rolls in a clockwise and counter-clockwise directions.
3. Upside Down Neck
HOW TO DO IT: Stand with your legs hip-width apart. Slightly bend your knees and fold forward from your hips until your arms are close to the floor. Allow your arms to dangle or grab opposite elbows. Let your head hang naturally. You can stay in this pose for up to a minute. Then nod your head "yes" and shake your head "no."
For a seated variation, slide to the front of the chair and place your legs two to three feet apart. As in the standing variation, fold forward at the hips and let your arms and head droop downward. Remain in this pose for up to a minute. In either variation, bring your head up last as you return to the starting position.
4. Cat Cow
HOW TO DO IT: On the floor, come into a table-top position on your hands and knees. Hands are shoulder-width apart and directly under the shoulders. Knees are hip-width apart and directly under the hip points. Allow your neck and head to dangle for one round of breath.
Nod your head "yes" and shake your head "no." On an inhale, draw your head to look upward toward the ceiling as your sternum reaches forward and opens your chest. On your exhale, tuck your tailbone under and arch your back up into a curve, into cow pose.
Keep your arms rigid and allow your head to hang down between your arms. Inhale and return to your original, neutral, flat-back position, but keep your head dangling. Continue alternating poses for up to three minutes.
Tips for Stretching Your Neck
- Take it slowly.
- Breathe deeply.
- Do all four poses for your neck to reap the different benefits.
- If you feel any stabbing pain, do not proceed with the exercises.
- Be mindful with yourself and don't give up.
Easing a stiff neck takes time and doing a couple of these exercises in the morning, during the day at work or before you go to bed should restore range of motion in your neck.