Yoga is a physical, spiritual, and mental guide for attaining holistic wellness. Since yoga can help with an extensive array of health issues, today we will discuss yoga for neck pain — its effects, beneficial poses, and tips. Neck pain, also known as cervicalgia, is a distressing issue that can last from a few days to several years. The most common causes of this are bad posture, injuries, bad sleep position, mental stress, etc (1).
Neck pain can lead to excruciating and numbing pain around the neck and inner parts of the shoulder, stiffness, and low range of motion. Therefore, yoga which includes gentle stretches, meditation, and massaging asanas can help alleviate these symptoms. However, before discussing this further, it is essential for us to remind you to first consult a professional healthcare person and an experienced instructor who can diagnose and offer remedies for your specific concerns, ensuring safe and effective yoga practice.
How Is Yoga for Neck Pain Helpful?
Yoga can offer a myriad of benefits ranging from flexibility, stress relief, mindfulness, tranquility, and many more. Here, we will discuss the various benefits of regular practice of yoga for neck pain offer:
1. Improved Posture
Yoga emphasizes awareness of body alignment and encourages proper posture while performing the asanas, which is essential for maintaining a neutral spine and neck position that is not strained. Moreover, yoga improves strength, especially around the core, which further offers better support to the upper body, allowing you to maintain good posture and keep your spine and neck healthy (2).
2. Muscle Strengthening
Yoga poses like downward dog, plank, and bridge engage the muscles of the neck, shoulders, and upper back. These poses allow deep stretched and regulated breathing practices, which warms up the targeted muscle groups. Additionally, holding these poses allows the muscles to improve balance and strength, providing better spine and neck support (3).
3. Increased Flexibility
Yoga involves gentle stretches and poses that target the neck and surrounding muscles. Flexibility allows a better range of movements and reduces muscle strain and fatigue. Yoga also promotes better elasticity of neck muscles, thus relieving stiffness and pain around it (4).
4. Stress Reduction
Yoga not only improves physical health but also helps enhance mental health by inducing relaxation and mindfulness. It can help reduce neck pain through slow movements, pranayamas, and meditation yoga, which improve blood cortisol levels, reducing stress and associated muscle tension (2).
5. Better Range of Motion
Through regular yoga practice, you can increase the range of motion in your neck. This means you can freely move and stretch your neck muscles without experiencing any discomfort. Thus, yoga helps reduce motion restrictions and stiffness that may induce neck pain (4).
Yoga is not only therapeutic but also preventive. Regular practice can help prevent future neck pain by promoting a strong, flexible, and well-aligned neck and spine.
8 Best Yoga Poses to Relieve Neck Pain
After discussing the various benefits yoga provides for neck pain, let us now discuss some of the most helpful poses you can practice at the convenience of your home. You may choose to tailor these routines according to your individual needs and limitations.
1. Neck Twists (Neck Stretches)
This exercise is a simple yet effective way to relieve pain, discomfort, and stiffness, as it helps in reducing strain and tightness around the neck and shoulders. You may also experience better flexibility and range of motion around your neck.
- Sit with your back straight and your shoulders relaxed, or stand with your feet hip-width apart and your arms hanging by your sides.
- Gently lower your right ear towards your right shoulder. Avoid lifting your shoulder to meet your ear; let gravity do the work.
- Hold the position for 15-30 seconds, feeling a gentle stretch along the left side of your neck.
- Slowly bring your head back to the neutral position and then repeat the tilt to the other side, bringing your left ear towards your left shoulder. Hold for the same duration.
- Perform the tilts 3-5 times on each side, breathing deeply and maintaining a relaxed, controlled pace.
- Be mindful not to force the stretch, and adjust the duration and depth of the tilt according to your comfort level.
2. Neck Rolls
Neck rolls can have a calming effect on pain and discomfort. It does so by increasing blood circulation, improving range of motion, and reducing tension in the neck muscles.
- Start in a comfortable seated or standing position with your spine straight and shoulders relaxed.
- Allow your shoulders to drop down and back, away from your ears.
- Slowly tilt your head to one side, bringing your ear towards your shoulder. Keep the movement gentle and controlled; do not force your neck.
- Continue the movement by rolling your head forward, letting your chin come down towards your chest, and then rolling to the other side until your opposite ear approaches the other shoulder. You should complete a full circle.
- Perform this gentle rolling motion for several rounds, and then reverse the direction. You can do this for 30 seconds to a minute or as long as it feels comfortable.
3. Cat-Cow Pose (Marjaryasana-Bitilasana)
It is a yoga pose that can offer benefits for neck pain by improving spinal flexibility and promoting better posture. Here are the steps to perform this pose:
- Begin on your hands and knees, with your wrists directly under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. Ensure your fingers are spread wide for stability. Your spine should be in a neutral position.
- Inhale as you arch your back, lifting your tailbone towards the ceiling, dropping your belly towards the floor, and lifting your head and chest. This is the "Cow" position.
- Exhale as you round your back, tucking your chin to your chest and tucking your tailbone under, like a cat arching its back. This is the "Cat" position.
- Alternate between the Cow and Cat poses, moving with your breath. Repeat this flow for several breath cycles.
4. Child's Pose
It is a great way to stretch and relax the neck as it allows you to stretch and lengthen the spine, reduce compression around the neck and shoulders, and improve posture too.
- Start on your hands and knees in a tabletop position, with your wrists under your shoulders and your knees under your hips.
- Inhale deeply, and as you exhale, sit back on your heels, reaching your arms forward on the mat. Your big toes should touch, and your knees can be apart or together, depending on your comfort level.
- Lower your chest and forehead toward the mat, keeping your arms extended and your palms facing down.
- Breathe deeply and hold the pose for 30 seconds to one minute, focusing on relaxing your neck, shoulders, and back. You can also gently rock from side to side to increase the stretch and relaxation.
- To release the pose, inhale and slowly walk your hands back towards your body, returning to the initial position.
5. Thread the Needle Pose (Parsva Balasana)
This yoga pose offers several benefits for neck pain, as it gently stretches and releases tension in the neck and upper back muscles.
- Start in a tabletop position with your palms and knees placed gently on the ground.In this pose, one has to keep their wrists at a shoulder’s distance and knees under their hips.
- Inhale, then exhale as you slide your right arm under your left arm, reaching to the left side. Your right shoulder and the right side of your head should gently rest on the mat.
- Hold the position for several breaths, keeping your left arm extended and your hips over your knees. Feel the stretch in your right shoulder, neck, and upper back. Breathe deeply, relaxing into the pose.
- Inhale to return to the tabletop position, then exhale as you slide your left arm under your right arm, reaching to the right side. Repeat the stretch on the other side, and hold for several breaths.
- To release the pose, return to the tabletop position, and then, if desired, rest in the child's Pose to further relax and release tension in your neck and upper back.
6. Puppy Pose (Uttana Shishosana)
It is similar to Child's Pose, but with your hips over your knees and arms extended forward. This pose provides a deep neck stretch, releasing tension in the neck and upper back.
- Begin in a tabletop position on your hands and knees, with your wrists under your shoulders and knees under your hips.
- Walk your hands forward while keeping your hips over your knees, allowing your chest to move toward the floor. Your forehead or chin should rest on the mat.
- Extend your arms fully and spread your fingers wide, pressing your palms into the mat.
- Relax your neck and allow your chest to sink toward the floor. You should feel a gentle stretch along your spine, from your lower back up to your neck and shoulders.
- Hold the pose for 30 seconds to a few minutes, breathing deeply and relaxing into the stretch.
7. Sphinx Pose
It allows you to stretch and strengthen the neck and upper back muscles, promoting improved posture and reducing neck pain. Additionally, this pose also lets you open your chest wide, inducing better breathing, blood flow, and stress levels.
- Start by lying on your stomach on a yoga mat with your legs extended and feet hip-width apart.
- Place your forearms on the mat, parallel to each other, and position your elbows directly under your shoulders.
- Press your forearms into the mat and lift your chest while keeping your pelvis on the floor. Your lower back should feel elongated, and your neck should be in a neutral, relaxed position.
- Hold the pose for 20-30 seconds or longer, breathing deeply and focusing on gentle elongation and relaxation of the neck and upper back muscles. Avoid excessive strain or tension.
8. Bridge Pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana)
This backbend may be extremely therapeutic for mild neck pain as it helps relieve tension in the neck and shoulders while strengthening the upper back and shoulders.
- Lie on your back with your knees bent, feet hip-width apart, and arms resting at your sides.
- Inhale, press into your feet, and lift your hips and lower back off the mat, keeping your knees directly over your ankles.
- Clasp your hands beneath your body, or keep your palms flat on the mat with fingers pointing toward your feet.
- Press your shoulders, arms, and feet into the ground as you lift your chest toward your chin while keeping your neck in a comfortable, neutral position. Hold the pose for several breaths, then release and lower your back to the mat.
End your practice with deep relaxation in Savasana, focusing on releasing tension in the neck and allowing it to rest in a neutral position.
Expert Tips for Practicing Yoga for Neck Pain
Although yoga is helpful in alleviating neck pain symptoms, one must never practice yoga as a beginner without the supervision of a professional, as it may lead to serious injuries. Therefore, before beginning any yoga practice for neck pain, consult a doctor or physical therapist to ensure it's safe for your specific condition. Furthermore, here are a few important pieces of advice from our panel of experts you must consider as you begin your journey:
- Start with Gentle Poses: Begin with gentle neck stretches and poses, like neck tilts, neck rolls, and cat-cow, to warm up and increase flexibility.
- Focus on Alignment: Pay careful attention to your alignment during poses to prevent straining your neck. Keep your neck in a neutral position and avoid excessive tilting or twisting.
- Use Props: Utilize props like yoga blocks or a cushion to support your head and maintain a comfortable position during poses.
- Focus on Your Breath: Incorporate mindful breathing techniques to relax and release tension in the neck and shoulders.
- Go Slow And Steady: Take your time and don't rush through poses. Slow, controlled movements are more effective and safer for your neck.
- Avoid Overstretching: Do not push your neck to the point of discomfort or pain. It's essential to respect your body's limitations.
- Strengthen Supporting Muscles: Include poses that strengthen the muscles around your neck, shoulders, and upper back to provide better support and stability.
- Balanced Practice: Incorporate a variety of yoga poses that target different areas of the body to address overall well-being and posture.
- Practice Regularly: Consistency is key. Gradually increase the frequency and intensity of your practice as your neck becomes stronger and more flexible.
- Listen to Your Body: If you experience increased pain or discomfort during a pose, stop immediately or be willing to modify poses to accommodate any limitations or discomfort.
- Avoid Heavy Meals: Although proper hydration and a balanced diet are essential to support muscle function and overall health, which can contribute to pain relief, one should not consume heavy meals or high amounts of fluids before performing yoga.
Neck pain can not just be uncomfortable but also limiting, preventing you from performing even simple daily tasks. Therefore, through our article, yoga for neck pain, we attempted to offer you a natural, safe, and effective way to deal with this problem. Yoga, as we discussed, provides several benefits that help relieve painful symptoms by increasing flexibility, improving postures, and preventing further neck pain incidences. So, using our expert tips and after consulting with a professional healthcare provider, you may perform these yoga asanas to lead a pain-free life.