Article originally appeared in the Winnipeg Free Press (co-authored by Helen Maupin, Candace Propp, Stacy Schroder)
Most of us take our necks for granted, even though every bite and breath we take and sound we make activates impulses through this relatively narrow passage.
The neck’s muscles and ligaments surround its cervical vertebra, which are the smallest and most fragile spinal bones and yet responsible for protecting a major artery en route to the brain. Additionally, the neck supports and connects the head to the shoulders and arms, requiring it to turn effortlessly and quickly. Without this suppleness, mobility and overall wellness are compromised significantly. Unfortunately, sedentary computerized lifestyles detract from good neck health.
Did you know that most people across the course of their lifetime suffer from neck pain?
Although sports injuries and automobile accidents are responsible for a portion of this pain, the main culprit is muscular stress from poor posture. In yoga, we identify people with disabling neck habits as “tuckers” or “thrusters.”
Tuckers pull their head back, tucking the chin toward the front of the neck while the back of their neck over stretches and loses its natural S-curve. Feel the back of your neck while standing and seated. If it feels hard and straight, you are likely a tucker.
Thrusters, on the other hand, push their head forward of the shoulders causing the upper back to round. In order to counterbalance the out-of-balanced head, the neck and front body muscles shorten and tighten while the upper back and back shoulders become overstretched and weaken. To test if you are a thruster, stand with your back against a wall. If the back of your head does not touch the wall, you are likely a thruster.
By improving the suppleness of the neck, shoulders and back muscles, we increase flexibility of the joints and facilitate relaxation in these areas. Use the following action to find the balance between strength, flexibility and relaxing ease.
Action: Starting at the sternal notch (base of throat), broaden along both collar bones into the outer shoulders. In the back body, broaden across the tops of the shoulder blades (from the edges of the spine into the outer shoulders) forming a rectangular shape in the shoulder girdle. As you inhale, fill all four corners of the rectangle with breath. Exhale and maintain the space created. For more advanced practitioners, balance and lengthen the front and back edges of the rectangle equally.
VIRABHADRASANA II (Warrior pose II)
Start in a wide-legged Tadasana with your back grazing the wall. Rotate your left foot to face forward and your right leg externally. Inhale and bring your arms to a “T” formation. Find the action. Firm into your feet, exhale and bend your right knee into a right angle. Hold for 3 to 5 breaths and repeat on other side.
UTTHITA PARSVAKONASANA (Extended Side Angle pose)
Come into Virabhadrasana II as above. Keep the action as you fold into your left hip crease and over your left leg. Place your left hand on a block, rotate your breast bone to the ceiling and bring your right arm over your right ear. Hold for 3 to 5 breaths and repeat on other side.
PRASARITA PADOTTANASANA (Wide-legged Standing Forward Bend pose)
Take Tadasana (wide-legged stance; feet parallel). Place your hands on your hips and find the action. Inhale and lift the breast bone toward your chin. On the exhale, fold forward resting your head onto support (block or chair). Hold for 3 to 5 breaths.
For more information, refer to Creating Space: Yoga Actions for Pelvis & Psoas.