Yoga and Neck Pain
Many people occasionally experience pain, tension, soreness, or stiffness in the neck. This problem often results from habitually holding your head in one position, as well as having poor posture. Studies suggest that practicing yoga for neck pain is an effective way to alleviate the problem.
A randomized controlled study published in The Journal of Pain in 2012 found that yoga effectively reduced chronic neck pain in people who did a yoga course for nine consecutive weeks.
A systematic review and meta-analysis that included three studies and 188 patients, published in the journal Clinical Rehabilitation in 2017, suggested that yoga can be a good treatment option for chronic neck pain, mood, and quality of life, especially when done on a regular basis.
Those who suffer from neck pain often include office workers who stare at a computer all day, truck drivers who are on the road all day, and construction workers who are frequently bent over for their job.
In this article, we will guide you through 13 specific yoga poses for neck pain. We will also examine the benefits of Iyengar yoga for neck pain in particular. Letâs get startedâ¦
Iyengar Yoga May Reduce Neck Pain, Study Says
Iyengar yoga is a form of hatha yoga that was developed by and named after Bellur Krishnamachar Sundararaja (B.K.S.) Iyengar. This type of yoga has an emphasis on precision, detail, and alignment of postures (asanas), and breath controlâalso called pranayama.
In Iyengar yoga, postures are held for long periods and can be modified with props. This method is designed to cultivate strength, stability, awareness, and flexibility, while it can also be therapeutic for certain health issues, like neck pain.
Scientific evidence even supports Iyengar yoga for neck pain. In a study published in the journal Pain Medicine in 2013, researchers concluded that weekly 90-minute Iyengar yoga classes had improved pain and neck-related disability for at least 12 months after completion of the nine-week intervention.
For the study, 51 patients with chronic neck pain attended nine weeks of an Iyengar yoga program led by a certified Iyengar yoga instructor and a physiotherapist assistant with experience in using the practice for patients with chronic pain. The class included 75 minutes of gentle yoga postures that focused on strengthening and lengthening the neck and shoulder muscles, followed by 15 minutes of guided relaxation.
Throughout the classes, the instructor and assistant focused on correcting improper posture and alignment. The patients were also provided blocks, belts, blankets, and bolsters to help prevent injury and enhance alignment.
Participants were also encouraged to continue their yoga practice daily at home. For this, the patients received a manual describing and depicting yoga postures to help them in their practice.
At the conclusion of the study, about 70% of the patients rated their health as improved due to Iyengar yoga, whereas about 30% said that the yoga had very much improved their neck pain.
Yoga Poses for Neck Pain Relief
Through the practice of yoga, you can release the tension youâre holding in your body, especially in your neck. If you want to practice yoga for neck pain, you can consult a yoga instructor to help tailor a routine for you.
Each posture can be held for about two minutes, and it is best to practice for at least 30 minutes at home, or 60 to 90 minutes with an instructor.
The following are 13 yoga exercises for neck pain that really do help.
1. Bitilasana Marjaryasana (Cat Cow Pose)
Cat cow pose allows you to extend and flex your neck and release tension in the neck.
Start on all fours with your hands aligned with your shoulders and knees aligned with your hips. As you inhale, let your belly fill up with air and slightly drop toward the floor. Look toward the ceiling and let your head drop back.
As you exhale, turn and look over your right shoulder. Maintain this stare for a few moments before returning to the center. Exhale and look over your left shoulder; hold and return to center.
Tuck your chin into your chest and round your spine. Hold and let your head hang down. Next, move your head back and forth and from side to side. You will continue these cat cow pose motions for about 60 seconds.
2. Virabhadrasana II (Warrior II Pose)
Warrior II pose will allow you to open and strengthen your chest and shoulders, which in turn will support your neck.
From standing, you will bring your left foot back with your toes facing out to the left side at a slight angle. Bring your right foot forward. As you do so, the inside of your left foot should be in line with your right foot.
Bring your arms up until they are parallel to the floor, with your palms facing downward. Your right knee is bent; however, be sure not to extend your knee farther forward than your ankle.
Press down into your feet as your extend through the spine. Look forward past your fingertips, and remain engaged in the pose for 30 seconds. You will then repeat this posture on the opposite side.
3. Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend Pose)
In this yoga pose for neck pain, you will stand up and let your knees bend a little as you flex from your hips. You will feel your spine lengthen as you bend down. Keep a slight bend in your knees as your stomach touches your thighs and you let your head hang free.
Gently shake your head from front to back, side to side, or make circles with your body. As a result, you will release tension from your shoulders and neck.
You will want to hold this position for at least one minute. As you come out of the pose, bend your knees. Rise up and keep your spine neutral with hands on your thighs. When you roll your spine up to standing, you will want to bring your arms and head up last.
4. Sucirandhrasana (Thread the Needle Pose)
Thread the needle pose is also able to help relieve tension in your back, shoulders, and neck.
Begin on all fours with your knees under your hips and your wrists under your shoulders. Lift your right hand and move it along the floor with your palm facing upward. Press your left hand into the floor and rest your body on your right shoulder, and look to your left.
Remain engaged in this posture for 30 seconds. As you release the pose, sink into childâs pose for a few breaths. Repeat this posture on the opposite side.
5. Utthita Trikonasana (Extended Triangle Pose)
Triangle pose will relieve tension and pain in your upper back, shoulders, and neck.
For this pose, place your feet wider apart than your hips. Turn your left toes out at an angle and shift your right toes forward. Bring your arms up until they are parallel to the floor, with palms facing downward.
Reach forward with your right arm and lower your right arm before lifting your left arm toward the ceiling. Next, do gentle neck rotations by looking up and down. Remain in this posture for 30 seconds, and then repeat everything on the other side.
6. Viparita Karani Asana (Legs-up-the-Wall Pose)
Legs-up-the-wall pose can also help alleviate pain and tension in your neck, back, and shoulders.
From a seated position, move your hips forward toward a wall. When you reach the wall, lie back and raise your legs up against the wall. Place a pillow or folded blanket under your hips for support. Place your arms in a comfortable position, and remain in the pose for about 20 minutes.
7. Gomukhasana (Cow Face Pose)
Cow face pose is a stretch that opens your shoulders and chest.
For this posture, you will start in a comfortable seated position. Raise your left elbow and bend your arm back. You will use your right hand and gently pull your left elbow over to your right side. You can also bring your right hand up to hold your left hand.
Hold this pose for 30 seconds before repeating the position on the opposite side.
8. Uttana Shishosana (Extended Puppy Pose)
Extended puppy pose is a great posture for stretching your shoulders and back and relieving tension in your neck.
You will begin this posture on all fours. Next, walk your hands forward and lift your heels and come onto your toes. You will then slowly bring your buttocks toward your heels; however, you will stop halfway.
Engage your arms and lift your elbows. Rest your forehead on the floor, and allow your neck to relax. Slightly bend your lower back and press into your palms, stretch your arms, and draw in your hips toward your heels.
Hold the extended puppy pose for one minute.
9. Balasana (Childâs Pose)
Childâs pose is a posture where you can relieve neck pain and headaches.
Start this posture by kneeling and sitting on your heels in a comfortable position. You will then lengthen your spine and walk your hands in front of you, and hinge your hips to help you fold forward.
Keep your arms extended or bring your arms back to lie at the sides of your body. Breathe in deeply to help let go of tightness or tension. This is a rest pose you can hold for a few minutes.
10. Ardha Matsyendrasana (Half Lord of the Fishes Pose)
Half lord of the fishes pose is a twist that stretches the hips, shoulders, spine, and neck.
For this posture, you will begin in a seated position and bring your right foot to the outside of your left hip. Next, bend your left knee and cross it over your right leg where your left foot is rooted to the floor and to the outside of your right thigh.
Lengthen your spine, twist your upper body to the left, and place your left hand behind your buttocks on the floor. Your right arm should be placed to the outside of your left leg.
Turn your head and look over your right shoulder. You can also do a gentle neck movement backward and forward. Hold this posture for a minute, and then repeat this pose on the opposite side.
11. Savasana (Corpse Pose)
Corpse pose, or savasana, is like a meditative nap that allows you to let go of any remaining tension and stress in your body.
To do this posture, simply lie down on your back with your feet a little wider than your hips and your toes out to your side. Your arms will also be placed alongside your body with your palms facing upward, and your head, neck, and spine should also be aligned.
Remain relaxed in this posture for at least five minutes and as long as 15 minutes.
12. Tadasana (Standing Mountain Pose)
Another yoga pose for neck pain is the standing mountain pose. This is where you stand with your feet hip-width apart, and lift up your rib cage. Also move your shoulders back and away from the ears.
Your head will reach up toward the ceiling, and you will stretch and elongate your spine as if you are being pulled upward. Keep relaxed with slow and deep breathing.
Your chin will also be parallel to the floor throughout the posture, which you will hold for about a minute.
13. Salamba Bhujangasana (Sphinx Pose)
Sphinx pose is used to stretch your shoulders and strengthen your spine, and this can help alleviate your neck pain.
For this posture, you will lie down on your stomach with your elbows under your shoulders as you press into your forearms and palms. You will tighten your thighs, buttocks, and lower back as you lift your head and upper torso.
Look ahead and lengthen your spine, and hold sphinx pose for two minutes.
Final Thoughts on Yoga for Neck Pain
Neck pain is all too common in todayâs society. However, practicing yoga for neck pain can help relieve pain and tension in your neck, shoulders, spine, and back. Iyengar yoga, and yin, hatha, and restorative yoga practices are among the most beneficial for alleviating your neck pain.
In this article, we explained 13 specific yoga postures for neck pain, including standing forward bend, warrior II pose, extended triangle pose, cat cow pose, thread the needle pose, cow face pose, half lord of the fishes pose, extended puppy pose, childâs pose, sphinx pose, standing mountain pose, legs-up-the-wall pose, and corpse pose.
Although these postures can help alleviate neck pain, it may be helpful for some people to add yoga classes to their routine. If you are new to yoga, take some classes at a local studio or do guided classes online. Unless you are experienced at yoga, it is best not to rush your practice.
Article Sources (+)
Cramer, H., et al., âEffects of yoga on chronic neck pain: a systematic review and meta-analysis,â Clinical Rehabilitation, March 2017; 31(11); doi: 10.1177/0269215517698735.
âIyengar Yoag,â Yoga Journal; https://www.yogajournal.com/yoga-101/types-of-yoga/iyengar, last accessed August 21, 2018.
Cramer, H., et al., âYoga for Chronic Neck Pain: A 12-Month Follow-Up,â Pain Medicine, April 2013; 14(4): 541-548, doi: 10.1111/pme.12053.
â6 Simple Yoga Poses to Neck Pain,â The Art of Living; https://www.artofliving.org/in-en/yoga/health-and-wellness/yoga-for-neck-pain, last accessed August 21, 2018.