Relieve Neck Tension With This Short Therapeutic Practice


Editor's note: The below are intended to be general recommendations for yoga practitioners and teachers. They are not a replacement for the personal advice of a health professional. Yoga teachers should remain within their : This means not attempting to diagnose, treat, or offer medical advice to students.

When I finished writing my first book a couple of years ago, I noticed that the long hours spent at the computer had taken their toll in the form of radiating pain and tingling down my arms. My rheumatologist prescribed a set of strengthening exercises for my “tech neck.” Because I am a yoga therapist, they were already part of my movement vocabulary, but I wasn’t practicing them frequently enough to address my issues. He stressed the need to perform them in a particular sequence, to activate the muscles in a specific order, and to do them up to 10 times a day. I put my trust in him, as he was adamant, and I not only saw very good results in two weeks but have been doing them less frequently for several months with no recurring discomfort.

Neck pain can be caused or exacerbated by muscular weakness or repetitive muscular strain (as I experienced after spending several hours at my desk writing each day), but it can also be the result of many other factors, including diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, meningitis, and cancer, as well as injuries, worn joints, spinal disc issues, and more. 

Regardless of what causes our neck discomfort, though, strengthening our neck muscles can help us keep our head on its axis, in its central alignment, and thus avoid—or even reduce—neck pain.

The Sequence

I’m going to describe the exercises I was given with breath cues for added guidance so you can easily incorporate them into a yoga practice. If you’re experiencing neck discomfort, or other related effects of spending long periods of time working with your neck in the same position, try doing them regularly, in the order described, and see if it makes a difference. (As always, if you’re experiencing any sort of pain or discomfort, talk to your doctor before embarking on a new exercise routine.)

You’ll begin in an upright seated position in a chair or with your hips supported on the floor.

1. The first movement is a “yes” bowing and lifting of your head. From a neutral head position, inhale to start, then drop your chin to a comfortable level on your exhalation. On your next inhale, lift both the front and back of your neck (as if you were a giraffe reaching to nibble leaves high up on a tree) so that there is no compression in your cervical spine. Do 10 repetitions total.

2. Next, your head will move in an aristocratic “no.” Keeping your head on axis, inhale, and then on an exhalation turn your head to the right and inhale back to center. On your next exhale, turn to your left, then back to center on your inhale. That’s one round. Make sure that your head doesn’t jut forward, if that’s your habit. Do 10 rounds total.

3. The next exercise is an ear-to-shoulder movement. Inhale from a neutral head position, and on an exhale drop your right ear toward your right shoulder. Come back to center on your next inhale, then drop your left ear to the left on your next exhale, returning to center on an inhale. That’s one round. Make sure to keep your gaze forward, and draw your occiput (the base of your skull) slightly up and back, chin tucked a bit. Do 10 rounds total.

4. I call this one “turtle head to double chin.” From a tucked-chin position, inhale, and on an exhale reach your head forward like a turtle and draw it back on an inhale, retucking your chin. Some people like to add a tongue extension and an exhale through the mouth as their head pokes forward (especially children!). Do 10 repetitions total.

5. To bring your head back to center in a strengthening way, interlace your hands behind your head, elbows wide, and on an inhale turn your head to the right. Press your head into your hands on an exhalation. Inhale to come back to center. Take an exhale here, and then on an inhale repeat to the left. After you come back to center, take a full breath cycle as you lift and press your head into your hands. One round is enough for this exercise!

I’ve worked with so many people with neck pain and even cervical fusions who have benefited from this series of exercises. If, like me, you too are dealing with neck tension thanks to spending too much time sitting at a desk and/or staring at a computer screen, give these exercises a try, and keep me posted on how it goes for you!

Photography: Andrea Killam

About the Teacher

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Beth Spindler
Beth has over four decades experience in utilizing yoga as a healing modality, plus the highest certification... Read more