Yoga poses for the neck and shoulders are very important nowadays. That’s because modern life is terribly stressful on the neck and upper back.
Many of us spend hours in a slouched position as we work, read, drive, text, watch TV, and play videos games.
Our posture understandably suffers as we become engrossed in these activities.
What is your posture like right now as you read this?
Even though most people wouldn’t describe this position as stressful, it can be detrimental over time.
The effects are not immediate like when we’re in an accident or suffer a sports injury. The fallout occurs slowly, building over months and years, and quietly sneaks up on us.
Effects Of Poor Posture Over Time
How does the body adapt to our constant slouching? By tightening muscles in the upper neck, upper back, and shoulders to keep us from falling forward.
Eventually, the tightness becomes “normal,” we begin to lose our range of motion, and our posture changes permanently.
Common symptoms of this process are tension headaches, a stiff neck and shoulders, neck pain, and loss of cervical (neck) curvature.
If sitting is a normal part of your life, yoga poses for the neck and shoulders are imperative because they move the spine in a healthy way.
They are wonderful for students, people who work at a computer all day, or those who spend a lot of time on their cellphone.
5 Yoga Poses For The Neck And Shoulders To Improve Mobility
*Always consult a licensed health care professional before beginning any new activity or changing any part of your health regimen.
**Never push through pain during these movements! If it hurts, stop.
Regarding the safety ratings below, poses with the higher ratings are safer and less likely to exacerbate pain. You need to be more careful as the rating get lower, especially if you have cervical disc problems or recurring pain.
Safety Level: 10
Time: 1-3 Minutes
The cat/cow will gently flex and extend the spine which can restore proper movement of the vertebrae and decrease spinal stress.
These are great poses for the spine in general but especially for the neck and low back.
See our previous article: 5 yoga poses for the lumbar spine.
Start on your hands and knees. As you inhale, lift your eyes, chest, and tailbone while lowering your belly button toward the floor in a “u” shaped arch. This is the “cow” pose (above).
As you exhale, lower your head and arch your back upward as though you’re trying to touch the ceiling with the center of your back. This is the “cat” pose (above).
Gently transition between these two positions, following the tempo of your breathing.
2. Seated Shoulder Pull
*Anyone with shoulder problems might wish to skip this pose or perform it very slowly and gently. Stop if you feel pain.
Safety Level: 9
Time: 15 Seconds Each Repetition
Hey look! It’s me…
Sit in a chair or on the ground with your spine straight. Bring your arms behind you and grasp your left wrist with your right hand.
Gently pull your left arm while bending your head to the right. Hold for a few breaths (15 seconds) and switch sides. Repeat 3 times.
3. Clasp Hands Behind Back
Safety Level: 10
Time: 15 Seconds Per Repetition
From a sitting or standing position, bring your arms behind your back and clasp your hands together. If you are unable to clasp your hands, hold onto a towel and gradually move your hands closer together.
Keeping your neck long, draw your shoulder blades together, straighten your elbows, and lift your arms. If you’re inflexible, stop here. However, if you’re able, slowly reach your hands away from your back.
4. Neck Bends
Safety Level: 8
Time: 5 Seconds Each Position
These movements can be performed while sitting or standing, any time you feel tension in the neck or shoulders. Go slowly, and don’t force your neck to move past its natural end-point.
1. From a forward and neutral position, drop your chin to your chest and let gravity slowly pull your head down. Hold for 5 seconds and then look upward, bending as far back as is comfortable.
I had no idea it would be so difficult to find plain images of people bending their necks to illustrate these moves, so I took them myself. Please imagine them as though I’m not taking a selfie. 😃
2. From a forward and neutral position, and without raising your shoulder, lower your right ear to your right shoulder. Hold for 5 seconds, then repeat on the opposite side.
3. From a forward and neutral position, and without rotating your shoulders, turn your head to the right. Try to center your nose over your shoulder. Hold 5 seconds, then repeat on the left.
I often recommend these neck bends be repeated daily as many times as you are old. For example, if you’re 50, repeat each bend 50 times. They do not have to be done all at once.
5. Neck Rolls
Safety Level: 6
Time: 10-15 Seconds, Each Roll
*This is one movement that especially needs clearance from your doctor before performing. Skip it if you are aware of any issues with your cervical arteries.
From a seated or standing position, lower your chin to your chest and let your neck relax.
Slowly roll your head to the right until your right ear is over your right shoulder. Continue rolling until you’re looking up at the ceiling.
Maintain the movement as your left ear passes over your left shoulder and then stop as you return to the original chin-down position.
This should be done in one slow, continual movement. If at any time you feel that your neck is getting “caught,” it’s okay to back up an inch and try again. Eventually you’ll be able to roll smoothly passed the sticking point.
Repeat in the opposite direction. Continue based on your comfort level.
Yoga Poses For The Neck And Shoulders: A Final Word
Tight spinal muscles are often protective. Therefore, you should not try to force them to release with manual therapies or stretching.
Doing so can have the opposite effect and cause muscles to spasm more strongly later.
The purpose of these poses is to increase mobility and flexibility of spinal joints, not necessarily to stretch tight muscles.
The spine needs proper movement to stay healthy, so improving mobility can allow the protective muscle tightness to release naturally.
To put it simply: Don’t force it. Gentle and regular practice of these poses, even when pain is absent, will go a long way to maintaining spinal health and preventing pain flair-ups.