If you ever find yourself rubbing your neck, trying to ease neck tension, or wincing from a tension headache, you’re far from alone. Approximately 70 percent of people will suffer from a stiff neck at some point in their lives, according to the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health.
“The vast majority of us are in a shoulders-hunched, neck-craned-forward posture regularly throughout our day because of our desk-bound jobs, working on our computers, and overusing our smartphones,” says Kathy Salvo, a yoga instructor and group fitness director at Chelsea Piers Athletic Club in Stamford, Connecticut. As we stare at various tech devices, our shoulders are rounded. The upper-arm bones rotate and cause a feeling of tightness, Salvo explains. To make it worse, the chest muscles draw your arms and shoulders forward and together. This pulls at the back and sides of your neck.
The resulting stiffness is a problem you don’t want to ignore. “The simultaneous over- and underworking of muscle groups leads to imbalances that affect the shoulder girdle,” Salvo says. “Over time, chronic slumping can cause neck pain, tension headaches, and also rotator cuff problems.”
But there’s good news. Your day-to-day schedule doesn’t have to be a pain in the neck. Doing a few easy stretches or yoga poses can ease neck tension quickly. Be careful to stretch your neck gently and gradually, never aggressively, Salvo warns. “You want to think about creating more space and working on righting the imbalances rather than stretching.” If you have a known injury, consult your doctor before starting any new stretches. Here are five stretches and restorative yoga poses to help you loosen up and ease neck tension.
Start on all fours, with knees directly below hips and wrists directly below shoulders. Center your head in a neutral position. As you exhale, round your spine toward the ceiling. Release your head toward the floor, but don’t force your chin to your chest. As you inhale, arch your back, lifting your head and chest toward the ceiling and allowing your belly to drop toward the floor. Continue by slowly alternating between the two poses.
Standing Forward Bend Pose
Stand with feet hip-width apart. Interlace your fingers behind your back, pressing palms together and straightening arms. (If your shoulders are very tight, your palms may not touch.) Inhale and look up, bending backward slightly. Exhale and fold forward from the hips. Let your hands fall forward, keeping arms straight. Breathe deeply, and try to keep your palms together but let your hands fall forward a bit more with each exhale. Hold for five to ten breaths. Slowly roll back up to standing.
Standing or sitting, place your left hand on the top of your head and slowly tilt your head to the left. Press your head to the left gently with your hand to increase the stretch on the right side of your neck. Hold for ten counts, and then release and repeat on the opposite side.
Table Top Pose
Sit on the floor with knees bent, feet flat on the floor, and palms by your sides with fingers facing forward. Pressing through your heels, inhale and lift your hips until your spine is perpendicular with the floor, and let your head fall back. Hold for three to five deep breaths. Repeat two to three times.
Lie face up with knees bent, feet flat on the floor, and arms by your sides. Walk your feet close to your glutes. Pressing through your heels, inhale and lift your hips. Wiggle your shoulder blades underneath you and interlace your fingers, extending your arms underneath you. The higher you lift your hips, the more you’ll feel the neck stretch. Hold for three to four deep breaths. Tuck your chin, and slowly lower your hips. Repeat two to five times.