Having been in a horrible car accident that resulted in a straightened cervical spine, several disc herniations, and a few other lovely injuries, I can say that yoga has been instrumental for easing my pain.
As a result of this accident, I have spent nearly a decade with chiropractors, acupuncturists, orthopedists, osteopaths, and spinal specialists trying to find ways to alleviate the pain stemming from injuries in my cervical spine. Here are just a few tips and tricks that I have learned along the way.
Let’s start with some yoga poses that can help relieve some pain and tension surrounding your cervical spine and neck. At the very least, these eight poses can help you feel more open and less tense.
8-Point Shoulder Opener
- Start lying on the ground on your back, reach your right arm out at a 90 degree angle from your body, palm facing up.
- If you feel like you have even more space, allow your left hand to meet the right in a clasp and breathe there for as long as feels good.
- Warning: this is a deep one, so come out of the pose as slowly and mindfully as you can!
Shoulder Opener On Blocks
- Start kneeling. Place two blocks in front of you and place your elbows on the blocks.
- Press your hands together in a prayer position, then release your head in between the blocks and reverse the prayer down your back.
- Stay here for at least 10 deep breaths.
Cow Face Arms
- While kneeling, reach your right arm to the ceiling; bend your right elbow, and allow your right hand to fall between your shoulder blades.
- Take your left hand to your right elbow and allow the weight of the hand to deepen the shoulder opening (no pushing!).
- You can stay here for five deep breaths, leaning back slightly, or, if the clasp is easy for you, take your left arm down, bend the elbow, and reach your left hand up the center of your back, taking hold of the right hand.
- Stay here for five deep breaths, leaning back slightly into your arms and taking care that the right arm isn't putting any pressure on your neck.
Standing Forward Fold With Shoulder Opener
- From standing, clasp your hands behind your sacrum, soften through your knees and forward fold allowing the hands to reach forward.
- Breathe here for five to ten deep breaths.
Shoulder Opener At Wall
- Place your forearms on the wall parallel to one another below shoulder height, keeping your elbows shoulder-distance apart.
- Take a few steps back from the wall and allow your head to relax down between your arms.
- Breathe here for five deep breaths.
Supported Fish Pose
- While sitting, place a medium-height block behind you vertically beneath where your shoulder blades will lay and place another block behind that one vertically to use as a pillow for your head. (Use lower blocks if this height doesn't feel great on your back.)
- Allow your body to gently rest on the blocks, adjusting their placement until you are comfortable, with arms resting on either side.
- Stay here for at least five deep breaths.
Thread The Needle
- From all fours, reach your right arm underneath your body, allowing your right shoulder and temple to release to the ground. Your left hand can stay where it is, or crawl a bit to the right over your head.
- Breathe here for ten deep breaths, and then repeat on the other side.
Seated Spinal Twist
- Sit with legs long in front of you. Bend right knee and place right foot outside of left knee. (You can keep your left leg long or fold it in like a half-cross-legged seat.)
- Wrap your left arm around your right leg and place the right hand on the ground behind the sacrum.
- Breathe here for 5 deep breaths, then repeat on the other side.
Some final tips and tricks.
First, try to stop looking down at your phone while you walk! This action can cause your neck to overstretch in a position that is not natural and can lead to pain and dysfunction.
Also, think about rolling your shoulders down and together on your back any time you can. Good posture allows the neck to be in its ideal, least stressed position.
Finally, think about tucking your chin closer to your neck. Many of us jut our chin forward causing a forward head posture. We are constantly looking forward and down: another unnatural position for the neck that can cause strain.
Walk tall, do yoga, and take care of your cervical spine!
Creator and producer of Microsoft Bing Fitness Yoga, Creator of CrossFlowX, creator and star of Revive Yoga with Heidi Kristoffer, as well as yoga and vegan expert for SHAPE.com, Heidi is a yoga instructor who leads workshops and retreats across the globe and at The Movement in NYC. Known for her happy, light-hearted approach, Heidi’s goal is to make yoga and deliciously healthy eating accessible to everyone. A former award winning actress of stage, film and television, Heidi makes it her mission to bring happiness to everyone through every medium.
Rated one of the: Hottest Trainers in America 2014 by Shape Magazine, most inspiring yoga teachers in the world by DoYouYoga, and most popular instructors in NYC by RateYourBurn, Heidi has been featured on Veria Living Live TV, interviewed by and featured in SHAPE, Harper's Bazaar, Cosmopolitan Germany, and many other publications.