Neck and shoulder tension and pain are an all-too common result of sitting at a desk all day or working a strenuous manual labor job. Prolonged sitting with slouching shoulders and back typically results in tension and tightness in the neck and shoulder region. Repetitive physical activity that engages the neck and shoulders can easily cause stiff and sore muscles.
Previous injuries to the neck and shoulders can also cause problems as well as poor sleeping postures.
Injury not withstanding, neck and shoulder issues typically do not happen all at once, but most often creep up on you over time. Fortunately, one of the best remedies for neck and shoulder problems does not require drugs or surgery.
At it most basic, yoga is an exercise discipline designed to relax and realign the muscles and joints while relieving stress and is a highly effective way of addressing neck and shoulder pain. As it is easy to cause a misalignment the cervical vertebra, be sure you always perform a few gentle neck rotations to loosen up your neck before beginning each exercise.
Eight Yoga Poses to Help Alleviate Neck and Shoulder Pain
Pose One: The Cross-Body Shoulder Stretch
This pose stretches the deltoids in the shoulders and triceps at the back of the arms. This stretch is a great warm up and cool down exercise and as such can be done at the beginning and/or end of the workout. Perform light stretches as a warm up and deeper stretches at the end of the workout, after your muscles have been thoroughly warmed up.
1) Begin by assuming a comfortable upright seated position on your yoga mat.
2) Sit up straight, concentrating on keeping your spine completely erect and elongated.
3) Extend both of your arms forward and completely straight out so they are shoulder high, just above your chest.
4) Wrap your right forearm across the front of your chest and around the back of your left elbow.
5) Bring both of your arms to the right, across your body, while keeping your arms raised to shoulder height.
6) Gently pull on your left arm with your right arm, pulling your left arm across the front of your body, until you feel a gentle stretch.
7) Hold the position for 12 to 15 seconds.
8) Release and return your arms to the center position.
9) Switch arms and repeat the exercise on the opposite side of your body.
Pose Two: Upper Trapezius Stretch
If you sit a lot, your neck can retains a lot of tension from your shoulders being continually hunched. This pose gently and effectively releases the tension by stretching the entire neck region.
1) Begin by assuming a comfortable seated position.
2) Concentrate on sitting up straight with your spine completely erect and elongated.
3) Perform three complete neck rotations by rotating your head clockwise and than return your head to the center position.
4) Perform three complete neck rotations in the other direction by rotating your head counterclockwise and returning your head to the center position.
5) Grasp the right side of your head, near your right ear, with your left hand.
6) Gently pull your head toward you with your left hand until you feel a gentle stretch.
7) Hold the position for 10 to 12 seconds.
8) Release and return to the starting position.
9) Repeat the stretch on the opposite side of your body.
Pose Three: The Warrior II Pose
The Warrior II relaxes and strengthens your chest and shoulder muscles and increases support for your neck by targeting the latissimus dorsi, upper trapezius, deltoids, pectorals and lower back muscles.
1) Assume an upright standing position.
2) Bring your right foot backwards with your toes angling out to the right side of your body.
3) With your weight shifted on to your right leg, bring your left foot forward until the inside of your right foot is in line with the instep of your left foot.
4) Raise both of your arms up until they are shoulder high and parallel to the floor.
5) Turn your hands over with palms facing down to the floor.
6) Bend the knee on your left leg, keeping your knee in line with your ankle. It is important not to extend your knee further forward than your ankle as this can place unnatural pressure on your spine.
7) Focus on pressing your weight down through both legs while simultaneously extending your spine upward.
8) Look forward past your outstretched fingers and hold the pose for 30 seconds.
9) Relax and return to the starting position.
10) Repeat the pose on the opposite side of your body.
Pose Four: The Half Lord of the Fishes Pose
This Half Lord of the Fishes pose is designed to strengthen the shoulder muscles as well as realign the spine and hips. This pose targets the latissimus dorsi, upper trapezius, deltoids and lower back muscles. Because the hips support the spine, this is an especially effective exercise for those who sit behind a desk all day as the hips can become misaligned from sitting for long periods of time.
1) Assume an upright seated position on the mat.
2) Slide your left foot across the floor in front of you until it is just outside of your right hip.
3) Bend your right leg at the knee and bring it across the front of your left leg until your right foot is firmly anchored into the floor on the outside of your left foot.
4) Elongate your spine and then twist your torso to your right side until you feel a gentle stretch.
5) Position your right hand on the floor in back of your buttocks.
6) Move your left arm across the front of your body until it is positioned outside of your right leg.
7) Turn your head and look back over your right shoulder.
8) Perform several gentle neck rotations for 60 seconds.
9) Return to the starting position.
10) Relax and repeat the movement to the opposite side of your body.
Pose Five: The Cat-Cow Pose
The cat-cow pose is actually a pair of poses performed in sequence that are highly effective at stretching and relaxing the neck and shoulders. They are designed to release tension from your back and upper and lower neck regions by targeting the latissimus dorsi, upper trapezius, deltoids and lower back. Moving between the two poses will often times allow you to notice any tightness in areas you may not have even been aware of.
1) Begin in the cow pose by assuming a tabletop position with your hands placed on the floor beneath your shoulders as if you are doing a push up.
2) Move your legs apart until your knees are spaced evenly with your hips. Your toes may be in either a tucked or untucked position.
3) Take a deep breath while arching your back upward.
4) Drop your stomach down and raise your head upward while looking directly forward.
5) To go into the cat pose portion of the exercise, exhale completely while you round your spine and flatten out your stomach as much as possible.
6) Push up off the floor with your hands while curling your head down inwards towards your body.
7) Continue to repeat a series of these poses for 30 seconds.
Pose Six: The Rag Doll Pose
The rag doll is a great pose for providing a gentle, but effective, stretch throughout the upper body. It is one of the most effective exercises for relieving tension in the neck, spine and shoulders by working the upper trapezius, rhomboids, deltoids, lower back and hamstring muscles all at once.
1) Begin in the mountain pose. This is an upright standing position with your arms to the sides and your hands in the neutral position.
2) Position your hands on the sides of your hips. Alternatively, you can raise your arms above your head and swan dive down as you slowly bend over at your hips.
3) While bent over at the waist, reach across the front of your body with each hand and grasp the back of the opposite arms at the elbows.
4) Bend your knees slightly, at about a 30 degree angle, and gently rock your upper body from side to side.
5) Hold the pose for 30 seconds and slowly return to the starting position.
Pose Seven: The Cactus Arms Pose
This pose is a great gentle stretch and does wonders for restoring the range of motion to tight shoulders as it works the latissimus dorsi, upper trapezius, lower back and pectoral muscles in unison. While this pose may seem like it is a simple enough movement, you may find it somewhat challenging to get your hands onto the floor if you are dealing with extremely tight shoulders.
1) Begin by laying flat down on your back on the mat.
2) Bend your knees to about 45 degrees and position your feet flat on the floor.
3) Space your legs and knees so your knees are about three to four inches apart.
4) Rise your arms upward, over your head, and bend your elbows to a 90 degree angle.
5) Lower your elbows as far as possible towards the floor while keeping your arms bent. This will result in your arms forming a goal post when done correctly.
6) Push your arms down to the mat as far as possible without over exerting. Ideally your shoulders will be resting completely flat on the mat.
7) Gently arch your back upward while pushing through your chest.
8) Hold for 15 seconds and release.
Pose Eight: Seated Shoulder Pull Stretch
The seated pull stretch targets both your neck as well as the upper part of your shoulders, engaging all the latissimus dorsi, upper trapezius, deltoids, pectorals and lower back muscles.
1) Begin by assuming a comfortable upright seated position.
2) Concentrate on completely elongating your spine.
3) Place both of your hands behind your back.
4) Raise your hands and grasp your left wrist with your right hand behind your back. If you cannot reach your wrist, it is okay to just clasp your hands behind your back.
5) Lower your shoulders and raise your chest.
6) Gently pull your left arm with your right arm towards your right side just until you feel a good stretch in your back and shoulders.
7) Tilt your head to the right just until you feel a gentle stretch in your neck. You can increase the depth of the stretch, if you choose, by releasing the tension on your neck for 10 seconds and then tilting your head to the side again.
8) Hold the position for 15 seconds and return to the starting position.
9) Repeat on the exercise opposite side of your body.
All forms of pain and discomfort in the body are the result of some form of pressure being placed on a nerve, technically referred to as nerve impingement. This is commonly a result of either remaining immobile for prolonged periods or some type of injury, including simple over exertion of the muscles. In either case the muscles can become inflamed and joints may shift out of their natural position, placing pressure on the nerves. Yoga is an effective way of releasing the tension on the muscles and realigning the joints to their proper positions. If you are suffering from stiffness or soreness in the neck and shoulders, these eight yoga poses can do wonders to help alleviate neck and shoulder pain.
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