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7 Stretches Yoga Instructors Use to Ease Neck Pain

I wouldn’t wish neck pain on my worst enemy. The excruciating way it shoots down your spine and leaves you irritable at best and miserable at worst — it’s a nightmare. It was during a particularly bad bout I had earlier this week (that came out of nowhere, of course) that I had the thought, “I wonder what yoga teachers do when their necks hurt?

So I asked them. And despite that I thought some would say, “What do you mean, ‘neck pain’? I’m a yoga instructor,” they came back with detailed and helpful answers. Here are the neck stretches these 7 yoga instructors have made their go-to when feeling stiff.

They’re simple yet effective and after taking 10 minutes to try all of them, I was beyond impressed with how much better sitting at my desk felt. 

 

1. Resting on floor neck stretch

How to do it:

“My favorite neck stretch is practiced lying on the floor, face up,
legs in a comfortable position (either resting on the floor or in a
constructive rest). Constructive rest is when the knees are bent and
gently together.

Head is centered, and on the floor. Begin to focus on breathing, feeling the heaviness of the head resting on the floor, slowly turn your head to the right, looking towards your shoulder, avoid lifting your head up to turn the head. The floor should assist
in gently massaging the back of the head. Repeat to the left.

The first or second time you look over to your shoulder, spend 30 seconds or more in the position. Then repeat the activity several times, moving slowly. In addition to this stretch, keep the body in the same position on the floor, this time you will create small circle patterns with the head. Imagine your nose as a paint brush and the ceiling is your canvas, paint circles in both directions, slowly.

Why they love it:

I have used these stretches for several years in teaching yoga. I have a client that has an ongoing neck injury. This client is a pediatric MD at the UR hospital in Rochester, NY. It’s a supportive, and gentle way that helps her stretch out her neck. The breathing and continuous movement patterns is also, very meditative.”

Laura Regna, Yoga Teacher and Personal Trainer
 

2. Tadasana (Mountain Pose) at the wall

How to do it:

“Rest your buttocks, shoulder blades and back of your head on the wall, standing up straight. Roll your shoulders back and lift your heart up. Lift up from the crown of your head. Your feet should be shoulder width apart, or closer together as you prefer. 

Simply doing Tadasana at the walls helps to improve posture, alleviate some back discomfort, and draw the neck into better alignment. Most of us have ‘front head carriage,’ meaning that our chin and head are too far forward. Standing in Tadasana at the wall tells us how our posture is and gives our neck muscles an opportunity to relax and find better alignment. For those of us with poor posture or very tight necks, it is a stretch too!”

Why they love it:

Tadasana at the wall is a huge help for many beginning students because it helps show where “standing up straight” really is! Many times we sit at computers every day and slump forward, and that becomes our new “straight..” This pose at the wall shows us, and is an easy and do-able way to work on posture and help counteract all those hours online!”

Annalisa Berns of Big Bear Yoga, also on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram

 

3. Seated neck stretch

How to do it:

“Starting in an easy, seated position, simply tilt your head over to one side, bringing the ear as close to the shoulder as possible. To deepen the stretch, take the opposite arm and extend it to the far side, letting the finger tips just brush the floor. Hold for five to seven slow breaths, then return the head to a neutral position and repeat on the other side. This stretch reverses the effects of the habit most westerners have, where our shoulders creep upwards until we’re wearing them like earrings by using the weight of the head as gentle resistance to stretch the trapezius muscles (traps) that run on top of the shoulder.”

Why they love it:

“I had a student come to me one day after class and tell me that she often needed to adjust her rear view mirror after class, because the back and neck stretches we did in class made her enough taller that she noticed a difference.”

Lisa Meece, Yoga Teacher for 12 years at All People Yoga Center in Indianapolis, IN, also on Facebook and Twitter
 

4. Ear to shoulder neck stretch

How to do it:

“A great pose for the neck is to stand up tall and behind your back grab one
of your wrists with the opposite hand. For example, your right hand would
gently tug on your left wrist behind your back. As you do this draw your
right ear toward your right shoulder (gently). Never push, tug or force a
stretch. Now release the jaw by opening the mouth and making the ‘haaaa’
sound.

Then do the other side. Grab your right wrist with your left hand,
lengthening the arms and taking your left ear toward your left shoulder.
Again, open the jaw and say ‘haaaaa.’ Imagine in your mind you are releasing
built up tension and stress.

I once had a yoga student imagine herself untangling a ball of string. See it loosening up as your jaw opens. […] They can also imagine steam rising from their neck as they release the tensions of the day.”

Why they love it:

“This stretch is beneficial because it stretches both the shoulder and neck.
Very often, neck pain is due to tension in the shoulders. It encourages the
student to both soften and tune into what it feels like when your shoulders
are away from your ear. Stress often creates a habit of keeping the
shoulders shrugged. Also, modern day living (computer usage, driving etc.)
create a physical pattern of shrugged and rounded shoulders.”

Sherianna Boyle, Yoga Teacher for 13 years, Author of The Four Gifts of Anxiety (complete with many meditations and yoga poses)

 

5. Neck stretch with wrist and shoulder movement

How to do it:

“This stretch can be done in a chair at a desk: Drop right ear to right shoulder. Stretch left fingers away from you until you feel a stretch. Begin to roll the left wrist one direction and then the other for 5 breaths each. Then, holding wrist still, roll the left shoulder forward and then backwards for 5 breaths each. Drop chin towards chest to intensify stretch. Repeat on opposite side.”

Why they love it:

“I frequently get neck discomfort and tension from working on my laptop.
This works like a charm. I also teach this at my yoga retreats to guests
who have been driving a long time and have neck discomfort. They love it.”

Theresa Polley, Host & Instructor, Retreat in the Pines, also on Facebook

 

6. Standing forward bend with fingers interlaced behind the back

How to do it:

“From standing let the torso fold down towards the ground, reach the hands behind the lower back interlacing the fingers, draw your arms towards straight, let the head dangle free while the neck muscles stretch, and to stretch the sides of your neck turn your chin over to each shoulder.”

Why they love it:

“The average head weighs about 10 pounds and this reverses compression in the cervical spine. When I was 17 I got bad whiplash from a car accident that cause chronic stiffness in my neck. This is my go to stretch to keep me neck and shoulders open. Try it. It’ll feel amazing!”

Travis Eliot, Yoga Teacher, Creator of The Ultimate Yogi DVD program

 

7. Posterior neck stretch AND neck rolls

How to do it:

“Before you begin, find a comfortable sited position.

For the posterior neck stretch — Inhale. Then, as you exhale, slowly take your chin down towards your chest. Hold for 3 deep slow breaths. Note: if more sensation is needed, you may interlace your fingers behind your skull to add extra pressure.

For the neck rolls — Inhale. Then, as you slowly exhale take your right ear to your right should then start to draw a semi-circle bringing your chin to your chest and stop when you take your left ear to your left shoulder. Pause. Inhale. As you exhale, reverse the direction. If you want a little more, start to draw full circles. Remember to move with your breath. 3x each direction.”

Why they love it:

“After two car accidents and chronic shoulder tendinitis, I’ve been dealing with neck/shoulder pain for the past five years. […] Throughout the years I’ve come to realize that neck pain/stiffness is very common amongst the yoga students and can stem from a variety of causes. […]

Benefits of these stretches that you can do in the comfort of your home include relieving stiffness, easing tension and pain in the neck, and enhancing flexibility and mobility of the neck.”

Joy Torres, Yoga Instructor, Founder/Director of FitFit (for unique, comfortable yoga apparel), also on Instagram

 

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