Nowadays, you might find everybody around you, including yourself, suffering from some form of neck pain or the other. With the urban lifestyle of modern times, where sitting on chairs, carrying heavy backpacks and handbags, and staring at screens all day long is a requirement, many of us face problems ranging from discomfort to acute pain and movement problems when it comes to the neck and shoulder region. While we may muscle through it, this pain is indicative of stiffness, improper use and other problems of the region, which can translate into long term problems related to disc/vertebrae. In order to ensure that you are able to shoulder your daily life effectively, here are some natural remedies and tips you can use.
Yogic Asanas for Neck: Stretch and Strengthen
The practise of Yoga is an all-round, natural and effective way to deal with neck troubles. It stimulates and stretches muscles, strengthens them, and at the same time, it also helps in calming and relaxing the mind and body, so that both physical and psychological tension is released from the neck region. Here are some asanas that can help you out with this –
- Gowmukhasana (Cow Face Pose) – Known for its wide array of benefits, the regular practice of Gowmukhasana is known to help in blood pressure management, improve posture, and bring mental relaxation to the individual. It also specifically targets the neck region by stimulating and stretching the arms, triceps, chest, and stiffness in shoulders.
Modifications – It may not be possible for you to clasp your hands behind your shoulders initially. Do not force this movement, instead, you can use a piece of cloth to connect your hands, and gradually work towards the full pose.
- Parsa Balasana (Threading the Needle) – A pose from Yin Yoga, this asana allows the chest to compress while individually working the shoulder muscles, which in turn work out the neck from all angles. This is an ideal beginner’s pose that allows people with all levels of flexibility and shoulder stiffness to participate and provides a good warm-up for more intense poses. Engage in the pose on both sites and repeat a few times.
Modifications – You can cushion your knees with a blanket for better comfort. For initial days, you can also place a block beneath your forehead and you outstretched hand to get a hang of the pose.
- Matsyasana (Fish Pose) – Just looking at the final pose will let you know that this asana means business when it comes to your neck and shoulders. Do ensure that your neck does not face any strain – the idea is to stretch your neck while your shoulders carry the weight.
Modifications – You can place blocks or other support, like cushion or bolster under your neck and shoulders to understand the pose. For a greater challenge, you can tuck your legs into padmasana, or bring up your hands to a salutation with arms outstretched towards the ceiling.
- Uttana Shishoasana (Extended Puppy Pose) – Another beginner level asana which provides a calming stretch, this pose helps in working out the shoulders, opening the chest and back muscles while strengthening the lower body, thus ensuring that your entire body gets a good warm-up.
Modifications – Place extra support under your knees if you have problems. If your neck feels too stiff or uncomfortable, you can place a block under for forehead. For an advanced version and extra stretch, fold your arms at the elbows and bring them back to the head.
- Bow Tie Pose – Another pose from Ying Yoga, this pose helps in targeting the shoulder and neck region specifically while the rest of the body relaxes, thus enabling you to focus on where the action is. Place a yoga block under your forehead to ensure that you are able to do this pose properly.
Modification – You can choose to keep your head on the floor if it is easier for you. Try holding the pose for a longer duration as you progress. (Position of your arms in Garudasana can help you relax your shoulders in a similar way)
- Cat-Cow Pose – Integrate something more dynamic into your workout with this pose. With its alterations, the cat-cow pose helps in flexing various the neck and back muscles, stretching them and stimulating blood flow to them. Make sure that your motion is fluid and not sudden, as the latter can cause injuries.
Modification – If you suffer from a stiff back and neck it is best to begin with very gentle movements for u to thirty seconds, which you can then extend to a minute.
- Utthita Trikonasana (Extended Triangle Pose) – An all-rounder pose that helps in toning the lower body and relieving tension and pain from the upper body, this asana opens up the shoulders, gives a good twist to the spine and stretch to the obliques, and allows the neck to relax in a gentle stretch.
Modifications – If going all the way down is uncomfortable for you, place your palm on a block. For a deeper pose, align your front heel with the back foot’s arch.
- Ardha Matsyendrasana (Half Lord of the Fish Pose) – Yet another all-rounder, this asana gives a stretch to all the major muscles of the body – the hips, back and shoulders. Make sure, however, that your twist is focused along the entire spine, and not just the shoulder or lower back region.
Modifications – You can choose to turn your torso in the direction of your legs or on the opposite side depending on your level of challenge and comfort.
- Jathara Parivartanasana (Reclining Twist Pose) – A relaxed way to stretch out your body, this asana enables you to focus on your shoulders, obliques, and neck. Make sure that you repeat the asana on both sides, and that your knee does not face any problems during the twist – if it does, adjust its position.
Modifications – If your knee does not reach the ground, you can add a block or blanket to support it.
- Neck Rotations – To really get the blood flowing through the neck muscles and ensure that all the muscles of the region get a good stretch, do engage in some dynamic neck stretches and rotations at the end of your session. With yoga, you have the option to sit in a comfortable position and breathe normally as you engage in these exercises, which means a more relaxed mind and body and thus more effective exercises. Along with this neck stretch on the sides and shoulder rotation, should also be done to ensure better mobility and blood flow in neck and upper back.
- Neck Stretches – After you are done with your dynamic neck rotations, relax back into normal functioning with some slow neck stretches. Along with the general stretches we all know – the cardinal directions and half-rotations, use the palm of your hand to make your exercise a little more intense. You can also use props like towels and yoga blocks if the stretching feels to intense to you.
Modifications – When your neck is stiff and in pain, it is likely that your shoulders are facing some trouble too. Both these regions are intrinsically connected, so to ensure that you get the best symptom alleviation and work out all the affected muscles, do engage in some shoulder stretches while you work your neck.
Lifestyle Practices: Address the Root of the Problem
While these yogic asanas will surely help in reducing the pain and stiffness of your neck and enhance its flexibility and strength, all these benefits will be of no use if you do not address the root cause of the problem. There are many day-to-day practices we engage in that jeopardize neck muscles and fatigue them. Thus, making these small changes alongside yoga means that not only will you alleviate your symptoms of pain and stiffness, but also ensure that they do not come back to trouble you again. Here are some things to look out for –
- Looking continuously at screens that are too high or low can cause unnecessary strain on your neck muscles. Additionally, staring at a screen for hours will not do other parts of your body (like your eyes) any good either. So ensure that your screen is at the right level, and take frequent breaks from it. Avoid unwanted use too, especially in bed where you will strain your neck even more.
- When you sit, ensure that you sit in the correct posture. Do not slump your neck or back, and certainly do not hunch over your screen. You do not have to sit completely still and straight, but you should also not have any unnatural curves in your posture. Sitting in yogic poses such as the Vajrasana can also help in correcting posture.
- Regular walks with a straight and correct posture can help in blood flow towards the neck, which helps in alleviating stiffness and prevents pain.
- Regular massages can help in relieving knots and tensions from the neck region. A good massage can also release stress and psychological tension, which may weigh down on your shoulders more heavily than you realize.
- Your neck needs a good night’s rest, and your pillow may be the root cause of your daytime stiffness. An ideal pillow is one that supports the natural curve of the spine. Experiment with different types of pillows, such as flatter variants or orthopaedic ones with deeper depressions. You may find your neck pains decreasing and your sleep quality improving.
- Many, women in particular, often carry heavy loads such as backpacks and handbags on one side of the body. This can cause the shoulders to become uneven, straining the neck muscles. Thus, be sure to carry only your essentials (you can carry a separate bag too), and use backpacks that distribute weight evenly on your shoulders.
So, make sure to follow these lifestyle practices and yogic asanas, not just for the sake of your neck, but for your overall health too.