Your neck is part of your spine. It helps support your head and facilitates blood and oxygen flow to the brain. It’s also the most mobile region of the spine, especially compared to the thoracic spine. Keeping your neck spine strong, mobile, and pain-free is essential for overall neuromuscular and skeletal health. Here’s a yoga sequence to help relieve neck pain.
1. Neck Rotation
Your neck can move in different planes of movement, and actually has a lot of movement possibilities. This sequence will work different muscles of the neck, and hit targeted areas that may be most prone to pain.
Begin in a comfortable seated position. Ground your sitting bones down, lengthen through the sides of your waist, then extend the crown of your head up towards the ceiling.
Start to make circles with the head, moving clockwise then counterclockwise. Feel free to do this very slowly, really savoring the sensation that you feel as you rotate the head. Alternate between clockwise and counterclockwise for one minute, then realign the head back on top of the neck.
2. Lateral Neck Flexion
As you continue to sit down comfortably, gently place your right hand on the left side of your head. Lean your right ear towards your right shoulder, and feel the stretch on the left side of your neck.
Notice if your shoulders hike up towards your ears. Soften the shoulders and the upper back down, and focus on stretching the left side of your neck instead. See if you can deepen the stretch just a bit more. Stay here for 30 to 45 seconds, then switch sides.
3. Neck Flexion
Bring your chin closer to your chest, looking down towards your breastbone. For a more potent sensation, interlace your fingers behind your head and bring the chin lower.
Again, notice if your shoulders tense up from this action. Pull the scapula and the trapezius down and away from the ears. You will most likely feel a deeper stretch along the line of your neck all the way down to your upper-mid back.
Stay here for a few breaths, then slowly bring your neck and head upright.
4. Ardha Matsyendrasana
Bring your right knee to your chest, then extend your left leg forward. Root down through the sitting bones, and flex the left foot so that the toes point to your face. Hug your left arm around your right thigh. Take your right arm behind you as you perch high onto the fingertips, or press your palm flat on the mat.
Inhale, lengthen the spine, then exhale as you hug the left arm around your right thigh and twist. With every inhalation try to lengthen the spine a bit more, and with every exhalation try to twist a bit deeper from your ribcage to your shoulders.
For an extra release in your cervical spine, look towards your right shoulder and feel the twist in your neck. Stay there for a breath or two, then look towards your left shoulder and feel the twist in the opposite direction.
5. Cat Cow
You may have heard of and even done Cat Cow several times already, but it’s still an effective way to release and rehydrate the spine–especially the neck.
Come onto your hands and knees. Align your shoulders over your wrists, and your hips over your knees. Firmly ground your palms down, and relax the top of your feet on the mat.
Inhale and drop the belly, lift the tail bone up, and reach the chest forward. To feel the stretch more on your neck, try to look up towards your ceiling and pull your throat to your chin. Feel the stretch at the front of your neck.
Exhale and round the spine, push the ground away, and dome up the upper back as your draw the navel in. Let the neck and the head hang and gaze in between your ankles. Exaggerate the rounding of your spine to really feel the back of the neck release.
Do this for a few more cycles, linking the breath with your movement. When you feel that you are done with your practice, come into child’s pose or rest in savasana.
Releasing your neck with these exercises and stretches can help prevent migraines, improve mood and energy levels, and even unwind the rest of your spine. Try to do this sequence at least once a day, perhaps before or after seated meditation.
This is a yoga sequence to help relieve neck pain and discomfort, but if you continue to experience neck pain, consider consulting your healthcare and medical professional.