Yoga for Neck Pain: Why It’s Good & a 15-Min Flow for Instant Relief

October 20, 2023

Last updated : February 6, 2024

Whether you spend hours hunched over a computer or are a multitasker juggling the many stresses of life, neck pain is a modern-day struggle most of us battle with. While some might find momentary relief in a neck stretch or the occasional crack, there's an ancient practice offering a more lasting remedy: yoga for neck pain.

If you're searching for an alternative therapy for an achy neck, keep reading to find out how neck yoga helps and which styles you should embrace (and avoid). I’ll also share how you can find relief in just 15 minutes with a gentle, at-home sequence designed to rectify poor posture habit and melt away tension in your neck and shoulders.

Is It Good to Practice Yoga for Neck Pain?

Yoga practitioners practice Yoga for Neck Pain at Arhanta Yoga Ashrams

Yes, yoga has proven to be an effective treatment for all kinds of body pain, from lower back pain and runner’s knee to more severe conditions like sciatica and arthritis. When it comes to the benefits of yoga for neck pain, studies have found similar results, with yoga intervention reducing neck pain intensity and pain-related functional disability while also improving cervical range of motion and overall mood.

That said, it’s important to note that yoga cannot and should not replace conventional medical treatment, especially in severe cases. A carefully adapted yoga practice and understanding of anatomy in yoga can help you target the right muscles, providing neck pain relief and reducing recurring aches and spasms in the area; but it's not a complete cure.

How Does Yoga Alleviate Pain in the Neck?

Gentle yoga poses for neck pain like Cat-Cow and Child’s Pose, effectively stretch and strengthen the muscles that support the neck. This movement alleviates tension that naturally builds up throughout the day while also correcting postural misalignments and reducing muscle imbalances that may lead to severe pain.

You might have also heard about the parasympathetic nervous system in yoga physiology; a powerful network of nerves responsible for our rest and digest response. Yoga’s emphasis on muscle-relaxing poses, meditation, and calming breathing exercises help activate this system and drift the mind and body into a state of calm. This can significantly reduce stress levels, which is often a hidden culprit behind muscle tension in the neck area.

Lastly, yoga neck stretches help stimulate blood flow throughout the body, boosting the circulation of nutrients and removing unwanted toxins. As a result, we naturally rejuvenate the neck muscles and soft tissues when we flow through neck yoga poses and stretches.

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Which Style of Yoga Should You Embrace (& Avoid) for Neck Pain?

Generally, gentle yoga styles like Restorative Yoga, Hatha Yoga, and Yin Yoga offer therapeutic benefits for muscle pain in sensitive areas like the neck and back. These styles have a slower pace and often make use of props like yoga blocks and bolsters, providing added support in your session and reducing further strain and injury to the area. However, not all yoga is good for neck pain.

Fast-paced, high-intensity styles like Ashtanga, Bikram, and even Vinyasa Flow involve rigorous movements and quick transitions that can do more harm to your neck than good. When practicing yoga for neck pain, remember, the most important thing is to listen to your body. What works for one person might not work for another. Always consult with a yoga instructor and healthcare professional about your specific condition and needs before jumping into a new practice.

Also Read - Yin Yoga versus Restorative Yoga

Yoga for Neck Pain: 15-Min Flow for Instant Neck & Shoulder Relief

  • Sequence: This is an easy and accessible neck yoga flow for any moment of the day to ease tightness in the neck and shoulder area, improve posture, and promote muscle relaxation.
  • Level: Beginner to advanced
  • Duration: ± 15 Minutes
  • Equipment: Yoga mat/towel and a cushion/yoga block

Extended Child’s Pose Flow (2 min)

  1. Start this gentle yoga for neck pain flow on your knees. Your buttocks should be resting gently on your legs and feet. Feel some discomfort? Use your cushion to shift weight off of your legs.
  2. From here, reach the tips of your fingers forward and come into Child’s Pose, feeling your back release and lengthen.
  3. Inch a little bit further with each breath, pushing your hips back for a squared pelvis.
  4. Breathe in, round your back and shift your weight onto your hands so that you are on all fours.
  5. Exhale, center your gaze forward and arch your back. Pull back, returning your buttocks to the cushion and forehead to the mat.
  6. Repeat this fluid movement 3-5 times, noticing the muscles in your back, shoulders, and neck begin to relax and release. 

Shoulder & Neck Rolls (1 min 30 sec)

  1. Return to a neutral seated position, keeping your spine long and gaze centered.
  2. Roll your shoulders back for six counts, and then forward for another six counts.
  3. Feel your chest and shoulder blades open, and tension begin to melt away.
  4. Repeat the same rolling movement with the neck, starting from the right shoulder and rolling your head slowly to the left.
  5. Return to center and repeat, starting from the left this time.
  6. Continue at your own pace for about 1 minute, or until your neck is completely relaxed.

Chest Opener (1 min)

  1. In the same seated position, clasp your hands behind your back and push them out, creating a deep opening in your shoulders and chest.
  2. Gaze up, and if it feels right, gently drop your chin to your chest.
  3. Return to the center, release your arms, and shake them out.

Seated Side Body Stretch (1 min)

  1. Still resting your knees, grab ahold of your right hand behind your back and pull it to meet the left hip.
  2. Drop your right ear to your right shoulder, staying here for several breaths, or as long as is comfortable.
  3. Return your gaze to the center and repeat on the other side.

Thread the Needle (1 min 30 sec)

  1. Lower down again into Child’s Pose for Thread the Needle.
  2. With your left arm long, slowly thread your right arm under your left until your shoulder meets the ground or as far as is comfortable for you.
  3. Relax your head and shoulders. If you’d like to take this neck yoga pose further, try tilting your gaze upward, toward the sky.
  4. Stay here for a few breaths.
  5. Return to Child’s Pose and repeat on the left side.

Prone Cactus Shoulder Stretch (1 min 30 sec)

  1. Come down onto your belly, resting your head to the left and arms in a T-shape, like a still cactus in the desert.
  2. Pushing your left foot into the ground, open your side body until your hip bone points upward.
  3. Return to the center, angle your head to the right with cactus arms, and repeat on the other side. 

Standing Forward Bend (1 min 30 sec)

  1. With your belly on the mat and arms tucked in next to your sides, push yourself up off the ground and begin to walk your feet to the top of your mat into Standing Forward Bend position.
  2. Knees should be slightly bent with chest resting on your thighs and arms folded overhead. If you feel off-balance, place your yoga bolster or block under your arms for support.
  3. Relax into this position, feeling the weight of the head and neck sink to the floor and tight muscles ease and release. 
  4. Stay here for just over a minute, or as long as you can.

Supported Fish Pose (1 min)

  1. From Standing Forward Fold, return to the mat and make your way onto your back.
  2. Place your yoga bolster or block in line with your shoulder blades, and slowly lower yourself to the ground one vertebrae at a time.
  3. Find a comfortable position, opening your shoulders and chest and allowing the top of your head to gently rest on the ground. 
  4. Release into the pose, keeping your arms next to your sides and feet relaxed. To reduce the intensity of the stretch, lower your support or swap it out for something smaller in size.
  5. To come out of the pose, grab hold of your head with your fingertips and slowly lift it off the ground, rolling to one side.

Final Relaxation (3-5 min)

  1. Place your yoga bolster/block to the side and lie back down in Shavasana (Corpse Pose) for final relaxation.
  2. Back of the neck should be long, palms facing up, and feet mat-width apart.
  3. Breathe into the belly and with each exhale, feel all your tension and stress leave the body.
  4. Relax here for 3-5 minutes.

Final Thought

It's not always about the big life adjustments or extreme medical treatments; sometimes, it's the small steps we take daily that can make a lasting difference on our health and well-being. Dedicating just 15 minutes a day to these yoga poses for neck pain not only provide relief but also protect your body against more serious health issues down the line. So, as you gear up for another stressful week, remember to be mindful of your movements and take the time to care for your body. After all, health is wealth.

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About the author

Kalyani Hauswirth Jain

Kalyani Hauswirth-Jain is the Creative Director and a senior teacher at the Arhanta Yoga Ashrams. Prior to joining Arhanta Yoga Ashrams in 2011, Kalyani studied Modern Dance in the Netherlands where she discovered her passion for the body-mind connection and personal leadership. In 2007, Kalyani began teaching yoga professionally, and four years later, she was training yoga teachers at our ashrams.

Now with over 11000 hours of teaching experience, Kalyani is a lead teacher for the 200- and 300-hour Yoga Teacher Trainings, as well as a number of 50-hour courses at the Arhanta Yoga Ashrams. When she’s not adjusting postures in class, Kalyani is writing informative blogs and guides for fellow yogis, and co-authored the critically acclaimed book, 'Hatha Yoga for Teachers & Practitioners.'

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