Neck pain, soreness, or tension in the neck is a problem that is likely to have affected you at one point or another, especially if your job requires you to stare into a computer screen for a long duration, drive all day, or work at a construction site.
According to the American Osteopathic Association, 1 in 4 Americans reports neck pain, caused by wrong posture while working or sleeping, injury, inflammation, or more serious issues like cervical spondylosis.1
One of the least invasive and harmless treatment you could opt for is yoga. It is effective in treating muscle and bone disorders, including chronic neck pain, as researchers are now finding out. A study found that attending a yoga course for 9 weeks reduced the pain and disability and improved quality of life more than exercising at home did.2 However, practitioners suggest that you keep up any medication you’re on alongside yoga or consult with your doctor before you discontinue any.
Popular neck exercises that can build strength and flexibility, improve range of motion, ease pain, and restore function of your neck muscles include tadasana, bhujangasana, naukasana, balasana, and savasana.3
You can do the yoga poses with an instructor if you’re new to yoga and then practice them on your own at home. An expert yoga practitioner can also be consulted to tailor a routine for you. Most poses can be done for about 2 minutes each, with a 30-minute daily regimen in all. This combination proved beneficial for one group of patients with cervical spondylosis and could help you with a sore neck, tight neck, neck tension, or neck pain.4
By mixing different yoga poses or asanas, practicing variations, and pairing them with some relaxation techniques, you can treat your neck pain on multiple fronts.
1. Tadasana Or Standing Mountain Pose
Begin by learning this basic pose which will be used in many other yoga exercises for neck pain.
- Stand with your feet hip width apart, ensuring you are firmly rooted.
- Gently release the tension in your tailbone, drawing your stomach in as you do so. Your rib cage too must rise up and out of your pelvis.
- Now move your shoulders back and away from the ears, relaxing them as you do so.
- Let your head reach up toward the ceiling of the room, stretching and elongating your spine as if you were being pulled upward.
- Your breathing should be slow and deep and your throat and face relaxed. Keep your chin parallel to the floor throughout.
- Stay in the pose for 1 minute.
How it helps: This asana can help improve your posture and teach your body how to stand upright for the other standing asanas too. It stretches your muscles and relaxes the body as you align your head and neck in the correct position.
2. Modified Tadasana Or Seated Mountain Pose
For a variant on tadasana, you could do a modified seated version.
- Sit on a comfortable chair with feet hip distance apart and palms on thighs.
- Press the bones you sit on into the chair and begin to raise your head to the ceiling while you keep your gaze straight ahead. Shoulder must be relaxed and back.
- Imagine your spine lengthening as your ribcage expands and rises up.
- Hold for 30 to 60 seconds.
How it helps: It works the same way as tadasana, but is beneficial for those who may have trouble standing or anyone who is differently abled.
3. Shoulder Shrugs
This pose is not too complicated. Just remember to focus on your breathing and accuracy of movement and not rush it.
- First, get into the mountain pose – you can stand or do this seated.
- Bring your shoulders up toward your ears. Keep your head erect but soft and inhale during this movement.
- Rotate your shoulders and push out of your chest.
- Next, squeeze those shoulder blades together in a rotation to finish a full circle.
- Return to mountain pose.
How it helps: The pose helps improve the range of movement of the shoulders and can help with the neck pain for some. However, for some people it may be painful to perform if the healing is at an early stage or injury is severe – so always check with your doctor or physiotherapist first.
4. Bhujangasana Or Cobra Pose
- Lie flat on your belly, keeping your feet together and hands palm side down just below but close to your shoulders.
- Your forehead should lie gently resting on the floor. Now begin lifting your head up off the ground, inhaling as you do. First feel your nose graze the floor, followed by your chin.
- Now lift your chest up off the ground as high as you can. You should be supported by your palms but use the strength in your back muscles. Inhale deeply and hold the position for a few breaths.
- Slowly return to the original pose while exhaling. Your chin must be raised till you return to position.
- Next, rise up as you inhale this time, taking the entire length of your trunk up so you feel a bend at the mid-section of the spine. Inhale deeply and hold the position for a few breaths.
- Slowly return to original pose, exhaling as you do.
- The third phase of the asana needs you to lift your trunk so that the back feels a stretch from your neck all the way down to the end. Inhale deeply and hold the position for a few breaths before returning to the original position.
How it helps: This pose helps strengthen the back muscles and improve flexibility of the spine, allowing you to get stronger and ease the neck pain.5 The cobra pose also helps those with cervical spondylosis reduce the severity of the pain they experience as a result of their condition.6
5. Bidalasana Or Cat Pose
- Get down on all fours, placing your palms flat on the floor and your arms extended out below the shoulders.
- Your knees should line up below the hips. Let your back be perfectly flat, with the spine completely extended.
- Inhale drawing your abdominal muscles back to your spine, your tailbone tucked under, the muscles of your buttocks contracted.
- Press into the floor with your hands, keeping your body lifted out of your shoulders. Your spine should be rounded, forming an arch at the middle.
- Curl your head, keeping your gaze to a spot between your knees. Hold this position for a few seconds before returning to the table position.
How it helps: This asana stretches the back and neck, gently massaging your spine. You can also manage your neck pain better thanks to the focus needed to coordinate both your movement and your breathing in this asana.7
6. Angel Wings
Stand or sit in mountain pose for this one.8
- Extend your arms, bending them at the elbows.
- Bring your fingertips to your shoulder bone.
- Next, open out your elbows so the shoulder blades feel squeezed.
- Bring your elbows to the front, allowing the shoulder blades to gently slide apart.
How it helps: This movement improves circulation in your neck and shoulders and frees up muscles that connect your spine and neck.
7. Modified Uttanasana Or Modified Standing Forward Bend Pose
Another yoga exercise good for the neck is a variation of the popular uttanasana.9
- Stand up and let your knees bend a little as you flex from the hips.
- Start to feel your spine lengthen as you bend down. Keep moving down until your stomach touches your thighs. Allow your head to hang free.
- Take deep breaths and use your fingertips to massage the muscles of your ears and neck.
- As you come up out of the pose, bend your knees deeply. Rise up, leading with the breastbone. Keep the spine neutral and hands on the thighs.
How it helps: This pose relieves tension in the neck.
8. Naukasana Or Boat Pose
- Sit on the ground with your legs straight out ahead of you. Put your hand behind the hips and press them flat on the floor so your fingers point at your feet. Keep arms strong.
- Lean back a bit and lift the top of your sternum, taking care not to round your back. The front torso should lengthen. Balance your body on your tailbone and the two seating bones.
- Bend your knees, lifting your feet off the ground with the thighs at a 45-degree angle to the floor, exhaling as you do. Feel your tailbone lengthening as you lift the pubis up to the navel.
- Begin to straighten the knees. Raise the tips of the toes so they are a little above eye level. If you find this tough, keep knees bent and just lift your shins up so they stay parallel to the ground.
- Now straighten your arms so they are along your legs and parallel to the ground. Ensure your shoulder blades are spread out. Reach out strongly through your fingers. For a less challenging alternative, your floors can remain near your hips on the ground.
- The lower part of your stomach needs to be as flat as possible and held firm though not tight and hard. Anchor your pose by lifting the top sternum and pressing the top of the thigh bones into the ground. Remember to breathe comfortably.
- Start by holding the pose for 10 seconds at a time, then slowly build your way up to 20 seconds, and finally to 1 minute at a time.
- To exit the pose, exhale as you release your legs. You should inhale as you move into the upright seated pose.
How it helps: This exercise strengthens the front of your neck and extends the back. If your neck pain is linked to cervical spondylosis, you may benefit from doing the naukasana.10
9. Balasana Or Child Pose
This pose is designed to let your body relax between asanas that you may find more of a challenge.11
- Kneel down on the floor sitting on your heels, big toes touching, and knees hip width apart.
- Bring your torso down between the thighs, narrowing your hip points to the navel and lengthening your tailbone away from your rear pelvis. The base of your skull must be lifted away from the back of the neck.
- Place your hands on the ground on both sides of the torso, with your palms facing up. Release your shoulders to the floor feeling the front of them pull the shoulder blades wide on your back.
- Hold for at least 30 seconds, but you can relax for even a few minutes in this asana.
- To rise out of this, begin by lengthening your front torso. Next, inhale as you rise up from your tailbone, feeling it press into the pelvis.
How it helps: Balasana is designed to help you relax and calm the brain, easing fatigue and stress linked to or causing your neck pain.
10. Savasana Or Corpse Pose
The corpse pose is another relaxation pose but may be trickier than it seems. A folded blanket can be used to support the neck and head if needed.12
- Sit down with your knees bent and feet on the floor and lean back on your forearms.
- Slightly lift your pelvis off the ground and use your hands to push down into the tailbone before returning the pelvis to the floor.
- Extend one leg at a time slowly. Release your legs and allow the groin to soften. Your feet must be turned out the same amount and your legs angled the same way to your torso. But in opposite directions.
- Let your pelvis narrow and soften the lower back without flattening it.
- Use your hands to lift the base of your skull away from your neck as you release the back of your neck itself down to your tailbone. Your ears should be the same distance away from your shoulders.
- Now reach your arms upward at a 90-degree angle to your body, your body rocking gently from one side to the other as your shoulder blades and the back of the ribs broaden away from the spine.
- Release your arms so they come back down at similar angles relative to your torso.
- Turn your arms outward, stretching them away from the gap between the shoulder blades. The back of your hands should now rest on the floor as should your shoulder blades.
- Visualize the root of your tongue softening, as also your forehead skin, inner ear channels, winds of your nose. The forehead near the eyebrows and bridge of the nose must be softened. Feel your eyes sink back into your head and then look downward to your heart. Imagine your brain dropping back in your head.
- Hold for 5 minutes after half an hour of exercise.
- To get out of the pose, roll to one side exhaling – the right is suggested. Breathe twice or thrice before pressing hands against the floor, exhaling as you raise your torso up first followed by the head.
How it helps: This pose gives your body the much-needed relaxation it requires, helping to ease stress and tension of the mind and body. This in turn helps with the pain you experience in the neck.
When you do yoga for neck pain relief or practice yoga for a sore neck, you actually work on helping your body on multiple fronts.
1. Yoga Offers Neck Pain Relief
In one study, patients with chronic pain of the neck, as well as back and shoulder, and headaches undertook a relaxation and stress reduction program of Hatha Yoga. In just 10 weeks, half of those enrolled saw pain score reductions of 50% or more.13
2. Yoga Improves Functional Ability Of Neck Muscles
Yoga asanas or exercises for the neck help you improve the functional ability of your neck muscles. As a result, various physiological measures of neck pain, including range of motion and intensity of pain, improve.14
3. Yoga Restores Posture And Improve Flexibility And Strength Of Neck
Yoga asanas for neck pain focus on maintaining poses in a very particular manner. This helps with postural restoration besides improving the flexibility and strength of your neck. All of this can ease soreness and tension and relieve neck pain.15
4. Yoga Alleviates Stress, Tension, And Anxiety
If you experience anxiety, stress, or tension as a result of constantly dealing with the pain and soreness in your neck, yoga can help. As researchers explain, meditation as well as the yoga breathing technique of pranayama can help you relax – a key step to easing tension in your neck muscles.16
|↑1||Chronic Neck Pain. American Osteopathic Association.|
|↑2, ↑14||Cramer, Holger, Romy Lauche, Claudia Hohmann, Rainer Lüdtke, Heidemarie Haller, Andreas Michalsen, Jost Langhorst, and Gustav Dobos. “Randomized-controlled trial comparing yoga and home-based exercise for chronic neck pain.” The Clinical journal of pain 29, no. 3 (2013): 216-223.|
|↑3, ↑8, ↑9||Yoga for Neck and Shoulder Pain. American Council on Exercise.|
|↑4, ↑6, ↑10||Satyanand, Vungarala, T. Gopalakrishnaiah, Elakkiya Panneerselvam, Shaik Mahaboobvali, Shaik Ahammad Basha, and Vanka Sarala. “Effects of yogasanas on cervical spondylosis.” (2015).|
|↑5, ↑7||Rakhshaee, Zahra. “Effect of three yoga poses (cobra, cat and fish poses) in women with primary dysmenorrhea: a randomized clinical trial.” Journal of pediatric and adolescent gynecology 24, no. 4 (2011):192-196.|
|↑11, ↑12||Yoga for Neck Pain. Yoga Journal.|
|↑13||Kabat-Zinn, Jon. “An outpatient program in behavioral medicine for chronic pain patients based on the practice of mindfulness meditation: Theoretical considerations and preliminary results.” General hospital psychiatry 4, no. 1 (1982): 33-47.|
|↑15, ↑16||Plastaras, Christopher T., Seth Schran, Natasha Kim, Susan Sorosky, Deborah Darr, Mary Susan Chen, and Rebecca Lansky. “Complementary and alternative treatment for neck pain: chiropractic, acupuncture, TENS, massage, yoga, Tai Chi, and Feldenkrais.” Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Clinics of North America 22, no. 3 (2011): 521-537.|