In the “common aches and pains” race, all varieties of neck discomfort are “neck in neck” with back and shoulder pain, according to my students.
Contextualize Your Neck
The neck doesn’t necessarily have a life of its own. It is connected to our head, shoulders, and spine. The entire spinal column includes the neck. How we sit, read, walk; all movement will reverberate throughout the spine from head to hips and from hips to head from hips to knees to feet…
Here is a fun mnemonic device for you from my yoga anatomy training:
Cervical Vertebrae 7 -Breakfast at 7 Neck
Thoracic Vertebrae 12 Lunch at 12 Mid Back
Lumbar Vertebrae 5 Dinner at 5 Lower Back
Sacrum 5 fused vertaebrae Hips
The body part called “head” connected directly above your neck, variously weighs 10-12 pounds. By now we are aware that habitual and common head forward posture that technology draws us into can cause strain throughout our physical body. For example“tech neck” position can destabilize neck ligaments over time from over-stretching them. Our upper back is pulled forward by the head, possibly contributing to disk degeneration. Here’s a three minute demo for you to try now, while you’re reading this.
Oh and then you have rounding or hunching of shoulders which will also impact the neck.
However: “Knowing” better doesn’t always mean we do better.
For most practical purposes, overall postural integrity throughout our day is key to addressing imbalances or pain in our bodies.
Note to pregnant and new moms: Do you have sleepless nights, changing body weight, long bouts of feedings? These moves may bring you wonderful relief!
The yogis believe that the health of the spine and on a metaphysical level the alignment of the chakras, reflects the physical, spiritual and mental health and balance of the person.
Sleep Posture and the Spine
Maybe not 10,000 years in one position like our friend the Genie, but numerous hours of poor sleep support or position will impact our spinal health. My husband Norm would wake with a “stiff neck” until he changed pillows.
So although the focus of this post is exercise and posture while awake, sleep posture can’t be ignored.
Here’s simple advice for sleep and neck pain from WebMd.
“To prevent neck pain use a pillow that keeps your neck straight, neither too high nor too flat. Use a pillow that doesn’t force your head forward when you lie on your back and that allows you to align your nose with the center of your body when you lie on your side.”
According to Dr. Mary Pullig Schatz M.D, neck exercises can be beneficial if performed mindfully. However, if you experience pain, back off. By the way, Dr. Schatz’ book Back Care Basics is my go-to reference about yoga practice for back and neck pain.
Cautions and disclaimers:If you have had whiplash from an accident, herniated cervical disk, osteoporosis or numbness down your arm, check with your health care provider before you begin specific neck exercises.
Some short and wonderful neck stretches and images to visualize and honor your neck muscles:
Fabulous book I show above is Trail Guide to the Body by Andrew Biel.
Exercises from my teacher Jill Miller. I love this stretch Jill demos below, since the trapezius encompasses such a large swath of the back body, including the back of our neck:
Don’t forget the great spinal traction that downward facing dog provides us. If you are pregnant or unable to come to the floor for various reasons, many ways to practice this pose!
Come to class for many more yoga practices to relieve tension and stress. Full teaching schedule here.