Chronic neck and shoulder pain is all too common in our modern world…
So much so, that yoga instructors are often asked to help with persistent symptoms of aching and daily discomfort. This condition affects anyone who works with their arms held out in front of them for hours; such as a computer desk job, carrying heavy objects and children, washing dishes, cooking and physical labour work. Though it may not seem like it, these tasks can be particularly demanding for the neck, back, and arms, especially when the body is not in proper alignment.
Here are some yoga postures that will bring relief to an aching neck and shoulders:
- Standing at the Wall Stretch
This is a simple stretch that will help warm up the shoulders and back for the following asanas. Place the fingertips of one hand on a wall, at shoulder height. Straighten and extend the arm fully. Cup the fingers so only the tips are touching and then rotate the arm outward so the thumb is pointing upward. Lift and open the chest and roll the collarbones back. Inhale and exhale for several cycles.
- Opening the Chest
This can be done seated or standing. To correctly do this, bring your arms behind you. Bend the elbows, interlace your fingers, keeping the palms separate. Square the shoulders then draw them slightly back. Keep the arms parallel but do not straighten the elbows, as this can hyperextend the elbows. Rather, move through the thoracic and the shoulders to lift the heart up. The shoulders should not rotate in and downward.
Breathe 5-8 times before releasing.
- Uttanasana (Forward Fold)
The gravity of this pose is great for decompressing the neck and shoulders. Stand with feet about hip distance apart. Hands rest on the crease of the hips. On the exhale, bend forward to a flat back as the hands slide down the front of the thighs. Descend as far down as possible, allowing the chest to move towards the thighs to fold. On the inhale, leading with the chest, lift again to the flat back position. Engage through the back and shoulders while keeping the neck neutral to rise back to standing.
- Sukhasana Parivrtti (Easy Seated Twist)
Begin in Sukhasana, or easy cross-legged pose. Spine is erect. Place your left hand on the right knee, and your right on the ground behind you. The right arm should externally rotate so the fingers point at the diagonal, away from you. Breathe, and on the exhale, begin to rotate from the torso (not the hips) towards the right. Head moves in sync. Go as far as you can on the first exhale, inhale, and exhale again to restart the twist. Go as deep as you can without cranking the neck, spine, or hips. Hold for a total of 5-8 breathing cycles before gently untwisting. Repeat on the opposite side.
- Purvottanasana (Upward Facing Plank)
Using the same principle from 2. Opening the Rest, you can use that to get a deeper stretch for the neck and shoulders with Upward Facing Plank. If you are not comfortable with this pose, do Upward Facing Table first. You do not have to take the head backwards if you are having difficulty raising the hips and utilizing the back body.
Shoulder work is a foundation of yoga practice.
This is largely because this part of the body tends to carry so much tension. Treat your body right with these asanas. As you lengthen the shortened muscles of the shoulders, chest, and back, you will be fighting spasms and pain away, while actively improving your alignment and posture!