At the start of each class, I often ask my students if they have any aches or pains they’d love to alleviate – 9 / 10 a student’s hands will shoot to their neck and shoulders, to the murmuring agreement of the majority of the class. Feeling stress in our upper back and neck is becoming increasingly more common, so if you’re suffering from neck/ shoulder pain then have faith that you’re not alone!
There are some wonderful ways to stretch, strengthen and re-align, but before we look to “cure” the pain, we must first figure out and understand the habits that create it. Once we have an understanding of how we inadvertently shift our bodies into misalignment, and the effect this has on us, we can more easily create habits to bring us back into balance.
Join me LIVE in my special Yoga Therapeutics: Neck & Shoulders workshop on Sunday 19th March at 4pm GMT.
What are the causes of shoulder pain?
One of the most common causes of neck and shoulder pain actually originates from a misaligned pelvis. Many of us spend a huge proportion of our day ‘hunched over’, whether it’s because we are it typing at a desk, talking to small children, subconsciously trying to make ourselves physically smaller (this can be true in for taller people) or even energetically smaller. The latter can manifest through our body language, for example when we are feeling unconfident, sad, or overly tired, as we subconsciously round the shoulders and close up to protect the heart space.
When it comes to shoulder and neck pain, many of us will try to target the pain where it has manifest – it feels amazing (albeit sometimes painful!) to massage these areas, or find a great stretch to release the muscles. But unless we explore the root of the problem, the pain will come back sooner rather than later. The problem is, 90% of the time, where we actually feel the pain is not where our body is misaligned.
Our bodies are a lot like a ‘Jenga’ puzzle – if a brick located at the bottom or middle of the stack is unstable, the top of the tower can easily become unstable and topple over. So, let’s work from the bottom up.
How yoga can help shoulder pain
When sitting at your desk, notice if your tailbone is curled under. We should have a natural ‘S’ shape through our spine – when the tailbone curves under, it starts to create a “C” shape instead. This will make you collapse through the mid-section of the spine, ripple up to hunched shoulders and make you protrude your skull. As the shoulders draw forward, the pectoral muscles (at the front of shoulders) will contract. This will cause tension through the back of the body and up into the neck. As the head shifts forward, the neck will become tenser as the muscles strain to keep your head in a protruded position.
To alleviate the pain, we must first bring the natural curve back to our lower back by tilting the pelvis forward, release the front of the chest to allow the shoulder blades to move more freely to the back of the body, and gently encourage our skull to move backwards to align the vertebrae of the neck.
There are many other physical and emotional habits (texting / typing/ handbags / posture/ the cold to name but a few!) that cause stress on the neck and shoulders, but once we take the time to understand what the cause is, we can more easily find solutions to relieve the effects.
3 YOGA POSES FOR NECK AND SHOULDER PAIN
1. Neck Stretch in Sukasana
- Sit in sukasana (easy pose/ cross-legged) if you feel our tailbone curling under, then sit up on a brick or pillow and allow your pelvis to tilt forward.
- (Inhale) Extend your spine (exhale) relax your shoulders, keeping the sides of your torso lifted and spacious. Let your right ear relax towards your right shoulder. Reach your left arm out towards the floor stretching away from your left hip.
- (Inhale) Extend your right arm to the sky and wrap the arm over your head, placing your hand on your right jaw line.
- (Exhale) Relax your right arm, letting the weight of it draw your ear towards your shoulder. Make sure not to ‘pull’ or ‘yank’ at your neck – just use the weight of your arm to gently release the left side of your neck. Keep reaching away with your left arm, and your spine aligned to the midline.
2. Thread-the Needle (Cat / Cow variation)
- Kneeling in a tabletop position, bring your wrists under shoulders and knees under hips. (Inhale) Roll shoulders back, drop belly, tilt pelvis.
- (Exhale) tuck tailbone, lift spine to the sky, push the floor away and feel wrapping around the shoulders while drawing chin to chest.
- Repeat this x 8-10 times
- Bring your right hand under your nose.
- (Inhale) Lift left arm to the sky, twist through the thoracic spine to the left, roll shoulders back and open chest to the sky.
- (Exhale) draw left arm through the space between right thigh and right arm, letting your left shoulder graze the floor.
- Repeat x 5 times
- On your 5th exhale, keep left shoulder and cheek/ ear resting on the floor. Extend right arm to the top of your mat.
- Move onto the pads of the right fingertips, feel the armpit and elbow lift.
- Slightly bend your right elbow and shrug right shoulder back.
- Gently walk right hand to the left corner of your mat, opening your chest to the sky. Draw right hip back.
- Slowly release and take child’s pose.
Repeat on the opposite side.
3. Eagle Arms
- Sitting in a comfortable position, pelvis tilting forward slightly, reach arms in front of you.
- Finding an ‘X’ shape draw right arms on top of left.
- Bend both elbows, keeping the right elbow tucked into the nook of the left. Either keep forearms pressing against each other or if available touch palm to palm.
- Inhale; push both forearms forward and lift fingertips to sky
- Exhale; draw spine back (curl top of spine) and release forehead to biceps (relax head).
- Let your shoulders soften, and hold for 10 breaths
Repeat with the left arm on top.
Join me LIVE in my special Yoga Therapeutics: Neck & Shoulders workshop on Sunday 19th March at 4pm GMT. This workshop aims to relax and release tense muscles and return our upper body to its optimal alignment. So take the weight off those tired shoulders and be lead through 60mins to leave you feeling balanced, open and amazing.
Photo credit: Simon Clarke via lululemon
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