10 of the best yoga poses for neck pain relief
The verdict is in: tech neck is real, and it could be causing you tremendous pain. If you are one of the millions of people who spend an average of 11 hours per day hunched over a computer or looking at a screen, you may frequently experience neck pain that ranges from mildly irritating to debilitating. If you find yourself in this situation, yoga for neck pain can help. Here’s some poses you can try.
Yoga for neck pain is an easy, side effect free way to relieve all sorts of pain in the complex area of your body that includes the neck, shoulders, and upper back. Yoga can be practiced anywhere, at any level, and with very little experience. Yoga poses for neck pain are even easy to do while sitting at your desk or while watching TV.
Better still, you don’t need special tools, equipment, or clothing. Yoga is available and accessible for every person, just as they are.
While a pain in the neck can originate there, in some cases, the interlocking muscles, tendons, and bones of the neck, shoulders, and upper back are related and cause what is known as referred pain.
Referred pain originates in one part of your body, but you feel it somewhere different. This means that an injury to the trapezius in the upper back can cause tightness and pain in the shoulders and neck. In some cases, this referred pain can even lead to headaches and other seemingly-unrelated side effects.
Yoga for neck and shoulder pain is also often helpful for relieving headaches and other types of pain. When yoga for neck pain and headaches is recommended, this might even help with shoulder and upper back pain. In short, the entire area of the upper back, shoulders, and neck can benefit from yoga for neck pain.
When starting off with any exercise program, it’s important to talk to your doctor. They will make sure that you are healthy enough for activity and may offer suggestions for areas to focus on. They’ll also be able to tell you if you need to avoid certain postures.
Once you get the all-clear, you may want to start by finding a qualified yoga teacher in your area. Yoga teachers are trained and well-versed in the anatomy of the upper back, neck, and shoulders and are able to clearly explain the connection between the poses you are doing and the potential for pain relief. When you attend your first class, ask for suggestions or modifications when you need them.
The most important thing to remember when starting yoga for neck pain is to listen to your body.
Sharp, stabbing pain or numbness and tingling are signs that you need to back off from the pose. This is crucial if you are using videos at home. Trying to pretzel yourself into a pose you are not ready for can cause further injury. Go slowly, and be compassionate with yourself, wherever you are starting.
Finally, as you begin the poses below, remember to keep breathing. Use your breath to move into a pose and to relax once you get there. Deep, even breathing is key. If you find yourself unable to take a full breath, that’s another sign you’re in too deep.
Start with the first pose and move all the way to number ten as you are ready.
This can be a powerful release, but be mindful of how it feels in your neck and go slowly. Sit relaxed, either in a chair with both feet on the floor or on the floor itself. Take a deep breath in, and on an exhale, drop your chin to your chest. Inhale, and slowly bring your right ear to your right shoulder. Exhale to return to center, then inhale your left ear to your left shoulder. Repeat at least three times on each side.
Some people will feel comfortable rolling their neck in a full circle, inhaling as they roll their head back and exhaling as they roll it forward, chin to chest. For others, rolling the head back can cause painful compression in the cervical spine. Pay attention to what you are feeling.
Sit on the floor with legs crossed and arms at your side. Inhale and lift the right arm up and overhead. Exhale and drape your right hand over the top of your head, fingertips touching the left ear. Allow the weight of your hand to gently stretch the left side of your neck as your right ear moves towards your right shoulder (keep the right shoulder relaxed).
If you want more stretch, you can tiptoe your left fingertips out to the left (or wrap your left arm behind your back). Stay here for at least ten easy breaths, then inhale to gently release. Repeat on the other side.
This can be done seated in a chair or standing.
- Seated: Create some space between your knees so that your torso can fold forward. Inhale, and on an exhale, fold your torso forward either between your parted knees or to rest on your thighs. Interlace your hands behind your neck just below the roundest part of your head (the occiput) and allow the weight of them to apply gently lengthening pressure to your neck. Stay here and breathe for at least ten breaths, then inhale to release your hands and slowly rise back up to seated.
- Standing: Stand with your feet hip-width distance apart. Inhale and fold forward as you exhale. Bend your knees as much as you need to. Interlace your hands behind your neck just below the roundest part of your head (the occiput) and allow the weight of them to apply gently lengthening pressure to the neck. Stay here and breathe for at least ten breaths, then inhale to release your hands and slowly rise back up to standing.
If you have lower back pain but want to do the standing option, bring your hands to blocks or the floor to give your lower back support. Then shake your head “yes” and “no” instead of applying weight with your hands.
As with the third pose, this can be done either seated or standing.
Start in your chosen position, then interlace your hands behind your back. Inhale deeply, then fold forward on the exhale. Your hands can slowly lift away from your back to come overhead, but do not strain. Continue to keep your shoulder blades moving away from your ears. This stretches the shoulders and creates space in the upper back and neck.
Start on all fours with your knees beneath hips and wrist beneath shoulders. Inhale and drop your belly towards the mat or floor as your sitting bones lift, shoulder blades come together, and your gaze lifts (cow pose).
Exhale and round your back, starting as the tailbone tucks, moving up the back until your shoulder blades slide away from each other and your head releases down. Think of pressing the mat away with your hands. This is cat pose. Repeat three to five cycles, following the full length of your breath and starting the movement in your tailbone.
Start on all fours (knees beneath hips, wrists directly beneath shoulders). Inhale and lift your right hand and arm to the sky. Exhale and thread the needle, passing your right hand behind your left wrist and bringing your right shoulder, back or arm, and cheek to rest on the floor (hips stay high).
If this is too intense, you can rest on your forearm and use a yoga block to support your head. Breathe here for five to ten breaths, then press into your left hand and sweep your right hand up and overhead to come out of the pose. Repeat on the other side.
Start on all fours, then on an exhale begin to walk your hands forward, lowering your chest towards the ground (hips stay high, right above your knees). You will feel your shoulder blades come together on your back.
You can place your forehead on the mat, or, if you feel very open, bring your chin to the mat. Breathe ten long, deep breaths before walking your hands back to come out of the pose.
You need two yoga blocks for this pose. Behind you on your mat, place one yoga block horizontally on the second highest setting, and another on its highest setting farther away from you. Slowly lower your back onto these blocks.
The horizontal block should be at the bottom tips of your shoulder blades, and the higher block should be underneath the roundest part of your head. Extend your legs long on the mat, or bend your knees and allow the soles of your feet to touch, allowing your knees to fall wide. Arms can rest at your side, palms face up.
Stay here for at least three minutes. You may be able to lower the block beneath your head to its second highest setting during this time, or you may just enjoy the support and lengthening as it is. Use your forearms to gently prop yourself up enough to remove the blocks, and then lay flat for a minute to feel the full effects of the pose.
Sit in thunderbolt pose with a strap or belt handy. Take the strap in each hand, hands wide apart from each other (this will vary, as you will see). Inhale to raise your straight arms up and overhead, then exhale to lower them behind you, still straight. You may need to make your hands wider to keep them straight. Inhale again to bring your arms back over head, then exhale to lower them down in front.
Go slowly, and keep extending the crown of your head up towards the sky (don’t jut your chin forward). This move releases tension in the shoulders and upper back that may be causing neck pain. If you notice one spot that is particularly tender, stay there and take three full, even breaths before continuing your movement. Complete at least three of these.
Start by sitting back on your heels (like thunderbolt). Grab the backs of your heels, one in each hand, and take a deep breath. On an exhale, begin to round your spine forward to reach the crown of your head to touch the ground (not your forehead). Once the crown of your head reaches the floor, lift your hips and pull on your heels with your hands. Draw your shoulders away from your ears to length the neck. Don’t place pressure on your head. The action of pulling on your feet should balance your weight instead.
Another option is to interlace your hands behind your back, and as you lower the crown of your head and draw up your hips, lift your interlaced hands to the sky, lifting your shoulders away from your ears.
Take three full breaths (or as many as you can comfortably take), then round up the spine to come back out.
If heading to class isn’t an option but you want more guidance to begin with, a yoga for neck pain video can bridge the gap. Here are some of our favorites.
This five-minute sequence relieves soreness and tension in the neck and can be done several times in regular intervals during your day.
Here’s a slightly longer video that brings pain relief to the neck and shoulders.
The sweet spot in between, this eight-minute video focuses on releasing tension that causes pain (including headaches).
Unless you are a seasoned yogi who knows how to make proper modifications, it’s best to avoid head and shoulder stands when you have neck pain. The extra pressure on the cervical spine can cause further pain and injury.
If you are finding little to no relief with yoga for neck pain, you do have other options. These include:
- Chiropractic care
- Physical therapy
When it comes to neck pain, everyone is different. The best approach is a holistic one that includes a variety of treatments (including yoga for neck pain).
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