The origin of your neck pain can be difficult to pinpoint: Is that persistent kink due to your texting habit, or last night’s weird sleep position? Complicating the matter is the fact that neck tension can derive from elsewhere in your body, too. “Our neck muscles are woven down into our shoulders, so the muscles in our shoulder girdle also affect the mobility or even stiffness of our neck,” says Sarah Girard, NYC-based yoga teacher and national director of meditation and beginner’s yoga for Bootcamp Republic. (You can also try these 2 exercises that ease shoulder tension, from Prevention Premium.)
Release tension with this seated sequence that targets both neck and shoulder muscles. Move through these postures slowly, so that you can feel the subtleties of each movement. Hold each pose for at least 3-5 breaths, but feel free to linger a little longer.
Use this move to assess your neck’s mobility, says Girard. Draw your chin into your chest, and take your right ear over to your right shoulder. As you lift your head, gaze straight up at the ceiling to gently tilt your head back. Soften your jaw, bring your left ear over your shoulder, and then draw your chin to your chest. Repeat these circles twice, and then reverse directions. During this move, be careful not to drop your head all the way back, which could cause compression in the spine, says Girard.
Girard recommends this stretch to release your trapezius muscles at the base of the neck. With your right hand at your side, bend your elbow—keeping it close to your waist—and then rotate your arm away from your center. Keep your arm in this position, and tilt your left ear over your left shoulder. Hold for 3-5 breaths. Repeat on the other side.
Seated chest opener
“Sitting for long periods of time can cause the shoulders and chest to slump. This stretch helps to counteract that rounding, so the neck can elongate,” says Girard. Here’s how to do it: Shift your butt forward to the front of your chair. Slide your hands down to the back edge of the chair, and get a firm grasp of the seat behind you—keeping your hands at least shoulder-width apart. Draw your shoulder blades toward one another to broaden through your collarbones. Hold for 3-5 breaths.
Seated spinal twist
Twisting helps strengthen and mobilize the muscles we use to turn our head and spine. Sit on the right side of the chair, and reach around to your right to hold onto the seat back. Bring your feet together and use your arms to turn your torso toward the chair, keeping your legs together as you rotate. To complete the spiral of the spine, turn your head over your right shoulder. Hold for 3-5 breaths. Unwind and repeat on the other side.
Hanging forward like this can help decompress the cervical vertebrae, says Girard. Shift your seat forward to the front of your chair. Separate your feet, bringing them wider than your hips. Fold your torso over your legs. Let your head and arms dangle. Hold for 3-5 breaths. To exit the pose, walk your hands onto your legs, and use your arms to press yourself back up to sit. Skip this forward fold if you have high blood pressure, cataracts, ocular trauma, disk herniation in the lumbar spine, or osteoporosis with advanced bone loss.