This weekend I spent some time trying to figure out what yoga topic to write about this week. I never really settled on one thing, but tossed around a few ideas. As usual, my topic seemed to find me….
The baby had a rough night on Friday night and the only way she seemed to sleep well was on me. Once we found the right position for her, she slept well. Needless to say, I did not. I woke up on Saturday morning with a pretty stiff neck. I don’t know about you, but when I get a stiff neck I tend to want to baby it, keep it still. It dawned on me that lengthening and loosening those muscles might actually be the quickest path to finding comfort again. My yoga practice for that day was shaping itself. I knew I needed to work in a few poses to loosen the neck, the shoulders, the chest, and the upper back. It’s never just the neck. It’s all connected in there. After my practice, I was definitely feeling much better. Here are some of the poses I used:
1. Neck Stretch
Elongates muscles on the side of the neck.
Sit in a comfortable seated position. Take the right ear to the right shoulder. Inhale the right arm up overhead and wrap it around the left ear. If that is enough of a stretch for you, stay there. If you want a little extra stretch extend the left fingertips out to the left side. Stay there through 5 slow, deep breaths. Repeat on the other side.
2.Thread the Needle
Stretches the arms, shoulders, upper back and neck.
Come onto all fours into table pose. Wrists underneath the shoulders, knees underneath the hips. On the inhale, reach the left arm upward toward the sky. Stay there and breathe for a moment. On the next exhale, bring that left arm down to the ground, sliding it between the right arm and your body. Left shoulder and arm should come down to rest on the ground. Left palm faces upward. When you are ready, inhale the right arm up to the sky. To come out of the pose, drop the right arm down. Bring the right hand to rest in front of the face and press into it, gently lifting and twisting the body back onto all fours. Repeat on the other side.
3. Cow Face Pose
Stretches arms, shoulders, armpits, and chest as well as the hips and thighs.
Sit cross-legged with both sitz bones on the floor. Pick up the left leg and place it on top of the right. Get as close as you can to placing the left knee on top of the right knee and each foot as close as possible to the opposite hip. Each person wants to take into account his/her own flexibility…some may have the feet by the hips and some in line with the knees…making sure to keep the sitz bones on the floor. Raise the left arm in front of you until the elbow is by your ear and bend the elbow so that the hand is touching the shoulder blade (if possible). Raise the right arm to shoulder height, swivel it around behind you, bend the elbow downwards, and then slide the right hand up the middle of the back to meet the left hand(again, if possible.) If the hands touch, you can clasp the fingertips together. If they don’t touch, you can grasp a belt or something similar behind the back. Unwind the pose and repeat on the other side with the right leg on top and right arm overhead.
4. Eagle Pose
Stretches the shoulders and opens the scapula. Stiffness in the neck often extends down into the scapula.
Shift all of your body weight to the right leg. Lift the left leg and cross it over the right. If it is hard to balance, first rest the toes of the left foot on the floor. Then, as balance improves, lift the toes off the floor until eventually the left foot could wrap around behind the right calf. Raise the arms. Cross the right arm over the left, elbows bent, and wrap them around each other until (if flexible enough) the hands touch. Bend your crossed legs as if to sit in a chair and at the same time, raise your intertwined arms up to shoulder height. Breathe and Balance. Slowly unwind the arms and the legs and then repeat the whole thing on the other side.
*For our purposes of loosening the neck, the eagle arms are the important thing. You can also do eagle arms in a lunge, in hero pose, or with cow face legs….so many options.
5. Forward Fold
Elongates the spine and relieves pressure on the neck.
Inhale the arms overhead. Exhale arms out in front of the body, all the way to the floor or until your body reaches its natural stopping point. Hang here, surrender to the pose. Shake the head yes and no, bringing mobility to the neck. You can really do what you like with your arms. You can let them hang, you can grab opposite elbows with opposite hands, or you can bring them to rest on your legs. Whatever is most comfortable for you. Whatever allows you to surrender and use gravity to create space between the vertebrae in your neck. Stay here for a few breaths.
6. Standing Yoga Mudra
Opens the shoulders and stretches the upper back.
From forward fold inhale the arms up the back of the legs until you reach your lower back. If that is enough of a stretch for you, stay there. If you need more, clasp your hands together behind your back and extend your clasped hands towards your head. Breathe here. To come out of the pose, on the exhale slowly drop the arms to the lower back, unclasp the hands, and slide the hands back down the legs until you are back in a forward fold. The full expression of the pose includes coming all the way up to standing. On the inhale bring the arms out in front of you and hinge from the hips until you reach standing. Arms still extended, move into a slight back bend. Breathe. Release hands down to heart center.
*The benefits of these poses extend beyond the ones I have mentioned here for our purpose of loosening the neck. Each pose has many benefits…physical, mental, and spiritual. Please only go as far as your body will allow you. Don’t force anything. If you have a major neck injury, please consult a doctor.