In class, we learned this week that neck tension can result from shoulder joint rigidity, any area of tightness in the upper back, spinal misalignments or even issues with the hands and wrists. Due to the neck’s ability to move more freely than the rest of the spine, special attention must be given to maintain the alignment of the cervical complex.
At all costs, only move the neck to the extent that you feel comfortable. If a teacher asks you to lift your head in a pose, only do so if your neck permits the action and it feels pleasant. Think in terms of lifting your chin rather than releasing your head back. This will help maintain the integrity of your cervical curve.
Depending on your particular cervical structure, you may need to protect your neck in certain yoga postures. Headstand and Shoulderstand in particular come to mind. Although these are known as the father and mother of yoga asanas respectively, if they are not practiced with awareness and adequate preparation, they can do more harm than good. Having appropriate shoulder strength and knowing the angle of your neck’s curve are important precursors to practicing these poses.
Performing posture variations will help you to judge whether a pose is suited to your body type and can help you gain the strength to go further when (and if) you are ready to proceed.
In lieu of Headstand, try working in Forearm Downward Dog. This will tune up your shoulders and upper back to facilitate the strength and endurance for future headstands. Walking your feet in toward your head will keep you challenged and on the path. Forearm Plank is another good variation. From both of these preparatory postures, you can easily rest on your knees when you need to take a break.
To move toward Shoulderstand, Bridge pose is the ideal forerunner. Again, you can build this up slowly by increasing the lift of the hips over time. To get even more height, place your feet on a folding chair to form a Half Shoulderstand. When moving more weight toward your neck and shoulders, use caution. Avoid moving your head from side to side and do not elevate it with a blanket.
The Energetic Neck
The neck is a direct channel from the heart to the head and, subtly, energies flow from one region to the other. So, keeping this pathway tension free is paramount to preserving the health of the energetic body.
In the words of Nischala Joy Devi:
“The neck is a super highway passing messages from the head to the heart and the heart to the head. When the head and the heart agree, the neck is like an open freeway moving energy along at 60 mph. If the head and the heart are at odds, the freeway gets jammed and the neck stars to ache. Ideally, our heart and minds should have equal input so we can make balanced decisions – allowing the neck to be free from tension.”