According to physical therapist and yoga instructor Julie Gudmestad, chronic neck pain is a "modern American epidemic" and tight shoulder muscles are a common problem among her yoga clients. Fortunately, yoga poses can help relieve tension in both these areas while also teaching better posture and improving long-term mobility.
Bharadvaja's twist is a stress relieving pose that stretches out the shoulders, spine and hips and can help to alleviate neck pain. Start by sitting on the floor and leaning slightly onto your right buttock. Bend both of your knees to bring your feet round to your left so that your left ankle rests comfortably on your right foot and they are both slightly out from your left thigh. Breath in deeply and sit up straight, then slowly twist your upper body to the right as you exhale. Place your left hand on your right knee and your right hand on the floor behind your right buttock to help you twist further and turn your head to look at your feet to the left to stretch your neck. Breath slowly in and out for 45 seconds, concentrating on pulling your shoulder blades down towards your tailbone and feeling the gentle stretch in your neck, then exhale and return to the start position. Repeat the move on the left-hand side.
Beginner's Fish Pose (Matsyendrasana)
This pose can help to alleviate backache, neck ache and fatigue and can help to improve posture. You will experience a thorough stretch of the upper body during this exercise. Start by lying flat on the floor on your back with your buttocks resting on the backs of your hands and your elbows tucked in to your sides. Press your forearms firmly into the floor and inhale as you slowly raise your upper body and head off the floor. Gently lower the back of your head onto the floor to create an arch in your back and raise your chest up. Avoid putting too much weight on your head as this can strain your neck, instead keep your buttocks, legs and forearms pressing actively into the floor. Hold the pose for 15 seconds then exhale and slowly lower your back to the floor.
Half Lord of the Fishes Pose (Ardha Matsyendrasana)
This twisting pose stretches the shoulders, neck and hips and helps to stimulate the body. Start out sitting on a small cushion on the floor with your knees bent in front of you and your feet flat. Carefully slide your left foot under your right leg to your right hip, then lift your right foot over your left leg and place it flat on the floor next to your left hip with your right knee pointing straight up. Twist your torso gently to your right as you exhale. Place your right hand on the floor next to your right buttock and your left hand on the floor next to your left foot with the upper arm resting on the outside of your right thigh. Pull your inner right thigh into your torso, push the inside of your right foot into the floor and turn your head to look over your left shoulder at your right foot. Breath in and out deeply as you concentrate on lengthening your spine up towards the ceiling whilst pulling your shoulder blades back and down. Hold the pose for 45 seconds before exhaling and releasing, then repeating on the other side.
The dolphin pose is a standing pose said to relieve stress and release tension in the upper back. Start by kneeling on the floor and resting your forearms on the ground so that your wrists are aligned with your shoulders. Bring your palms together, press your forearms into the floor and crouch onto your toes. Slowly raise your buttocks into the air and straighten your knees until they are only slightly bent. Hold your head between your upper arms without letting it hang and continue to press your forearms and toes into the floor. Concentrate on keeping your spine straight, your tailbone pulled up to the ceiling and your shoulder blades pulled out and down your back as you breathe deeply for 45 seconds. Exhale and slowly bend your knees back to the floor.
Bow Pose (Dhanurasana)
The Bow Pose is an effective way of stretching almost the entire body. It is particularly good for relieving backache and improving posture through strengthening the back and neck muscles. Begin this pose by lying on your front with a cushion under your pelvis and your arms straight down by your sides, palms up. Exhale and bring your feet towards your buttocks with your knees hip width apart. Grasp your ankles, then inhale and pull your ankles and thighs firmly up and away from the floor. With this action your body should form a bow shape with your arms straight back like the bowstring. Hold this position for 20 seconds. You should focus on pressing your pelvis and tailbone towards the floor and keeping your back muscles relaxed. Try to pull your shoulder blades out and down and keep your shoulders relaxed and away from your ears. Exhale and release your ankles to return to the starting position.
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