By Dr. Paul Jerard, E-RYT 500
Neck and shoulder pain seem to be a universal problem in the world today – thanks to the time spent hunched in front of a computer and behind the wheel in lengthy commutes. Many people tighten their neck muscles when they experience stress or when they concentrate, exacerbating the problem. How can the neck and shoulders be relaxed? How can Yoga help maintain health in the upper body?
The Forward Head Posture (FHP) Condition
First, the damage done must be acknowledged. Those, who are new to Yoga training, after years of shoulder tension, have short, tight muscles in the backs of their necks. Forcing these tight muscles to flex, beyond their capacity, can cause even more pain. Fortunately, some poses stretch the neck: Fish pose (Matsyasana) draws the head back, but a practitioner should be very careful to avoid forcing this movement. Setu Bandha Sarvangasana, or Bridge pose, supported on bolsters if necessary, stretches the neck muscles in a forward position, and can help prepare for deeper stretches like shoulder stand.
Those with neck pain may also suffer from a forward head posture (FHP) condition. This condition results, when the head is pushed forward and the upper back rounds to compensate for the imbalance. Additionally FHP can cause headaches. To self-test for this condition, stand with the back and heels against a wall. If the back of the head does not easily touch the wall, the head may be misaligned.
To help combat forward head posture, Tadasana or Mountain pose, and Bhujangasana or Cobra pose, are suggested. In Tadasana, pay special attention to keeping the ear directly over the shoulder. It may feel unnatural, if the head is used to jutting forward. In Bhujangasana, remember not to force the body higher than feels comfortable.
Ego-Driven Shoulder Problems in Yoga Practice
Vasisthasana, or Side Plank pose, can be helpful for strengthening shoulders – if approached carefully and cautiously. Holding the pose, too long, is the most common problem, because as the stabilizing muscles fatigue, more force falls on the shoulder and can aggravate any soreness or injury. Therefore, bringing one knee down to the floor is a modification and a logical solution to avoiding an ego-driven injury.
Repeating Chaturangasana Dandasana, or the Four-limb Staff transition, in and out of Adho Mukha Svanasana or Downward Facing Dog in Sun Salutations, or flows, can cause the shoulder joint to slip mildly out of its socket, called ‘subluxation.’ If this happens, the knees should be brought to the floor during the asana, and care should be taken to keep the weight on the palms far back in the hand, towards the wrists, rather than in the front of the hand.
In some cases, the above-mentioned movement may have to be discontinued while the shoulder joint recovers. Joints can take months, or years, to heal; and sometimes, require surgical intervention. Therefore, we should be mindful of our practice and avoid listening to one’s ego during asana practice.
In general, if a practitioner experiences neck and shoulder pain off the mat, extra care should be taken during practice. Start slowly, and test positions that extend the neck and shoulders. If a position with less engagement feels comfortable for 10 breaths, gradually try moving into one with more engagement, if it does not cause pain. A lifetime of carrying heavy backpacks, and sitting at desks, cannot be undone in one hour a week.
© Copyright – Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division
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