On-the-spot yoga fixes that ease tension fast.
It’s happened to all of us: a bad night’s sleep, hours behind the wheel, deadline pressure at work—and then a stiff neck or shoulder pain that won’t go away! To the rescue: Yoga! Just check with your doctor before trying them, especially if you have a neck or shoulder injury.
Carol Krucoff, 59, knows firsthand how healing yoga can be. As a young journalist at the Washington Post, she developed chronic neck pain and headaches from working long hours at a computer. Coincidentally, she began taking yoga once a week to counter job stress and the inflexibility that came with running.
“I had been taking yoga for four to six months when I noticed it had relieved my neck pain, and I was no longer getting headaches,” says Carol, now a yoga therapist who designs programs for folks with health challenges at Duke Integrative Medicine, Duke University Health System in Durham, NC. She began straightening her posture at her computer and wearing a headset, despite teasing from colleagues. “Yoga taught me that it wasn’t just what I did on the mat but what I took into daily life that was powerful.”
Her students have learned yoga’s power as well. Susana Biswas, 72, who was in Carol’s first class at Duke, suffered chronic neck and shoulder pain, the result of heavy lifting she did as a nurse. “Her yoga class helped immediately, and the pain gradually disappeared,” says Susana.
Starting here, Carol shares four yoga moves to relieve everyday causes of neck and shoulder pain—right on the spot!
Stuck at the computer?
Try this: Seated backbend
Sitting tall, bring your hands to your thighs, elbows tucked. Inhale, lift your chest, squeeze your shoulder blades together and tilt your head up a few inches (don’t drop your head far back), keeping your neck long. Take a few easy breaths, then release.
Why it works: “A seated backbend reverses the tendency to round forward at your desk by taking your spine in the opposite direction,” notes Carol. “When you hold your head—which weighs about as much as a bowling ball!—forward all day, your neck and shoulders get tired.”
Wake up with a neck kink?
Try this: Easy head rocking
Lie on your back, head on the mattress, knees bent, arms by your sides. Rock your head slowly to your right shoulder and back to center, then to your left shoulder and back to center. Keep lips together but teeth apart, taking relaxed breaths. Repeat several times.
Why it works: This restores normal movement by safely releasing muscle tension, says Carol.
Stiff from gardening or housework?
Try this: Supported backbend
Put soft music on, if you like. Get a rolled-up blanket, sofa cushion or exercise ball. Lie back with your sacrum, or base of your spine, against the cushion bottom. Ease yourself back, feet on the floor, knees up, arms by your sides. Relax for five minutes.
Why it works: “You are taking muscles that are used to going one way—forward—and asking them to go another way,” says Carol. This relieves tightness due to overuse.
Try this: Shoulder shrugs
These are great to do at stoplights. Inhale and bring your shoulders up to your ears. Exhale with a loud “hah,” dropping your shoulders. Do three to five times, moving with your breath.
Why it works:“This engages the muscles of the shoulders and then releases them, teaching you to let go of excess tension,” Carol says.
Carol’s tips for a happy neck and shoulders
Straighten up. “Avoid having your head forward,” says Carol. “If someone is looking at you from the side, your ear should be over your shoulder, your shoulder over your hip. That lets your skeleton do the work instead of the neck muscles.”
Lips together, teeth apart. “We tend to walk around with our teeth clenched, which leads to neck pain,” she notes. “So, practice this reminder mantra: lips together, teeth apart.”
Keep moving. “You need to have a strong overall body to support your head.” She suggests walking when you’re on the phone, taking desk breaks at least hourly and always climbing
Position your sleep. “Sleep on your back or side,” recommends Carol. “Sleeping on your stomach throws your neck and back out of alignment. Use a down pillow, which conforms to your shape.”