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One of the most important lessons I learned in yoga teacher training is that everything in the body is connected. Therefore, when my neck hurts, it's usually not something in my neck, but rather something in my shoulders or upper back that's triggering it. Keeping this in mind, I've put together eight yoga poses for the neck and shoulders for those times when something in the upper body just feels off.
Pose 1: For this pose you'll need some yoga blocks. Place one horizontally on the ground so the back of your head can rest on it. Place the second one vertically under the middle of the thoracic spine. Bring your feet half-way back to the pelvis and let yourself totally relax here.
Pose 2: Using the yoga blocks once again, place them vertically on the mat, shoulder distance apart. Bring the elbows to the blocks and gently lower yourself down. This feels stretches the armpits and shoulders.
Pose 3: Here we've got a gentle, restorative twist that's good for the upper body, especially the shoulders and arms. Place one yoga block horizontally on the mat under your face and rest your cheek. Slide the right arm under your body and out to the left. Extend the left arm forward, resting it on a block placed vertically. Breathe 5-7 breaths and then do it on the other side.
Pose 4: You can place the blocks under your knees for added support as shown. Then, tilt your pelvis forward for a long spine and draw the shoulder blades toward each other. Keeping the spine long, take your left hand and gently pull your head down to the left shoulder. It shouldn't hurt at all - be very gentle! Breathe 5-7 breaths and then go to the other side.
Pose 6: Keep your spine very long and intend not to round the upper back as you gentle pull your chin toward your chest. Breathe slowly 5 - 7 breaths.
Pose 7: Interlace your fingers under your chin and sit tall, elbows together in front of the chest. As you inhale, lift the elbows as high as you can while keeping the chin parallel to the ground. Reach really high and you'll feel this stretch in your shoulders and side body.
Pose 8: This is part two of pose seven. As you exhale, bring the elbows out in front, head gently goes back and look up as you squeeze the elbows together.
Please let me know if you have any questions about any of these poses!