Whenever I ask my yoga students what they’d like to work on during the practice or what they are struggling with the most, usually neck and shoulders will be the first to be mentioned.
And it’s really no surprise that so many of us are suffering from tension around this area. Pretty much most of what we do during the day, sitting at our desk at work, driving, cooking, reading, carrying around children etc etc is done with the head tilted forwards and the shoulders rounded. Lots of new mums are suffering from neck and shoulder tension – carrying a baby all day long, breastfeeding and generally not paying attention to good posture as you’re busy caring for a little person!
Neck and shoulder tension is probably what brought me to yoga in the first place. I was in my early twenties, working 9 hours a day sitting at a desk. Combined with my scoliosis and generally bad posture it was only a matter of time until things got worse and they did! I went from one chiropractor to the next. Tried osteopathy, acupuncture and physiotherapy which all helped temporarily but I knew that in order to make a change I would have to take action.
How Yoga can help to relieve neck and shoulder tension
- Taking responsibility
One of the main things that yoga has taught me is body awareness. It has also taught me to accept my body’s limitations, respect it and take responsibility for my own health and well-being. Nobody knows your body as well as you do. Always remember that. You can learn so much from health practitioners but keep in mind that every body is still different and unique. Taking responsibility is key if you really want to make a lasting change. Your yoga teacher can guide you and give you advice but ultimately your own body will teach you what is right and what is not!
- Becoming aware of the causes
Is it postural? Maybe it’s actually more due to stress, anxiety or emotional problems? Through your yoga practice you will learn what it is that triggers the aches and pains and most importantly you will learn what relieves it. If you’ve had an injury then your health practitioner will have given you advice on what to do and what to avoid of course. I found that being curious, asking lots of questions and trying different styles of yoga and different approaches really helped me to discover what is working and what is not working.
Getting to the bottom of neck and shoulder tension is really important if we’re trying to deal with it. 1 hour of yoga a week or two will be great of course but is probably not enough to reverse the effects of whatever caused it in the first place.
- Learning how to release muscle tension
Yoga is great for learning how to release muscle tension. For most people it’s not as easy as simply saying “relax your muscles”. It just doesn’t work that way, especially if the tension has been accumulated over the last ten, twenty or even thirty years! Breathing exercises, grounding and guided relaxations can really help to slowly learn how to relax those poor muscles which have been gripping and holding on for tension that was probably not necessary. This brings us to the next point…
- Re-training the “right” muscles
In order to be able to relax the muscles around the neck and shoulders we have to make sure that the right muscles in the back (typically the trapezius muscle) are working correctly. Neck and shoulder probably usually start in the lower body, could be as low as the feet (flat feet?), past injuries in the lower back, weak core muscles, weak back muscles etc etc. In yoga we are effectively re-training the body to use the right muscles and help the muscles that don’t need to be working to relax.
Video: Yoga for neck and shoulder tension
I’ve put together this 40min practice which is suitable for beginners and will help you to release some of that tension. Please check with your health practitioner first if you are ok to practice yoga, especially if you are suffering from an injury.
And as always I would love to hear from you if you found it useful and what else you’d like to see – it helps me to create content that is actually useful and not just contributing to information overload and stress 😉