I had a couple of “neck” clients in my office today. One came in for his arthritis. He said that he has always had pain in his neck around C7 (base of the neck). The other client has had constant pain in his neck near the occiput (base of the skull). And last week I had a client who was having trouble turning her head without pain. Obviously this neck thing is an issue.
Even though each person had a different story and complaint, they shared one thing: their posture was quite similar. Forward head – rounded shoulders. This is what is commonly referred to as upper cross syndrome. (See illustration)
We have all seen this in people. It is so incredibly common that it seems almost normal really. Computers, driving, etc… can easily leave us with this posture.
When all three of of my client’s postures were corrected, their symptoms diminished or vanished. Most interesting to me is the client with arthritis. He had seen a medical doctor and a physical therapist and was convinced that he was doomed because of his diagnosis. It literally took 2 minutes to correct his posture and get him completely out of pain. Read more about the differences between physical and yoga therapy here.
For all of them, we needed to counter upper cross. This requires strengthening the muscles between the scapula (think cobra pose but we do this while tucking the chin). This strengthens the cervical flexors and releases the suboccipitals. There are many ways to strengthen those muscles in the back of the body and release the pectorals. The most important point is to focus on strengthening muscles that keep proper alignment without forcing the body into alignment it isn’t ready for.
My general approach looks something like this: moving and breathing then strengthening then stretching. Here is a very simple sequence using this method, keeping in mind that there are a dozen other sequences to achieve the same goal.
As you can see, several rounds of moving and breathing prepare the joints for the static cobra (strengthening). We then spend 16 breaths stretching the pecs so that they get the message to lengthen. And that’s it. Keep it simple, clear and concise.
When we are using asana to help with physical problems, my opinion is not to get fancy. Better to be economical and clear. As yoga therapists, we work with our clients to empower them to fix their issue. I’ve seen this type of approach help hundreds of people suffering with neck issues. Yoga asana is really helpful and elegant if we let it be. If you are trying to help others or yourself, go for the most obvious remedy no matter how simple it might seem, and work from that place.
If that doesn’t work, call a Breathing Deeply Yoga Therapist and we will take it from there. 🙂 Yoga therapy can help with several physical conditions including rotator cuff tears, muscular dystrophy, back pain, and sciatica.
May we all find balance in ourselves,
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