Sitting, texting, driving, binge-watching Netflix — life shoehorns us into static positions for long periods. “We do everything too much and our necks pay the price,” says Wisconsin-based yoga teacher Andrea Gerasimo, who focuses on mobility.
The neck contains your seven smallest vertebrae, all of which respond to subtle movement in the structures below, whether it’s initiated in your feet or rib cage. If you experience neck pain or stiffness, explains Gerasimo, it’s just as likely to be due to a problem in your hips, lower back, or shoulders as it is in the neck itself.
That’s why these moves focus not just on your neck, shoulders, and upper back but on whole-body alignment and mobility. All are designed to give your neck a break.
Try as many as you like, as often as you like — aim for every 30 minutes when you’re doing something sedentary, like working at a desk or watching TV. Your neck will thank you.
Standing Overhead Reach
- Stand with feet at hip width and parallel.
- Feel the entire foot — ball, heel, and outside edge — rooted firmly into the floor.
- Drawing your shoulder blades down and together, reach both hands to the ceiling to form a Y shape.
- Hold while taking five deep breaths.
- Relax your arms, then repeat eight to 10 times, breathing deeply.
Standing Hip Pump
- Stand with your feet at hip width and parallel. Place your fists at the top of your glute muscles.
- Exhale as you slowly push your hips forward, squeezing the glutes.
- Reverse the movement, inhaling as you relax the glutes and shift the pelvis backward.
- Repeat eight to 10 times, breathing deeply.
- Sitting in a chair with your hands on your knees, gently round your back, exhaling as you lower chin to chest.
- Slowly reverse the move, inhaling as you lift your chest. Pull your shoulder blades together, and gently lift your head upward.
- Slowly cycle through these positions five or six times, breathing deeply.
- Cup the back of your head, with your thumbs on the rope-like muscles at the base of your skull.
- While slowly tilting your head side to side and slightly back into your hands, press your thumbs into the muscles and circle them gently below and above the bony ridge where the skull meets the neck.
- Breathe deeply four or five times, softening and relaxing your neck muscles as much as possible.
Standing Shoulder-Blade Sandwich
- Standing with your feet hip width and parallel, interlace your hands behind your back and press down toward the floor. Try to straighten the arms. (Note: If you’re not able to straighten your arms, find a belt or shirt sleeve to clasp with hands about 6 inches apart.)
- With arms extended and shoulder blades rotated down and back, lift your chest.
- Breathe deeply for four to five breaths, relaxing your neck as much as possible.
- Keeping the arms straight, pump the hands gently up and down behind you for four to five seconds.
Block-Squeeze Bridge Stretch
- Lie on your back with a yoga block or small pillow between your knees.
- Bend your knees and place your feet flat on the floor 5 to 6 inches apart so you are centered over your feet and your shinbones are parallel.
- Firmly squeezing the block between your knees, lift your pelvis off the floor until your body forms a straight line from your knees to your chest.
- Hold the position for four or five deep breaths.
Seated Rag Doll
- Sit toward the front edge of a chair with your knees wide.
- Slowly roll forward, allowing your head to hang toward the floor.
- Breathe deeply for four or five breaths, relaxing your upper body — rag-doll style — as fully as possible.
- Sit with your head aligned over your spine and draw a long inhale through your nose.
- While exhaling, open your jaw as wide as possible — think angry lion!
- While inhaling through your nose, close your jaw.
- Repeat slowly four to five times.
Frontal-Plane Neck Stretch
- From a sitting or standing position, place the heel of your right hand on your head just above your right ear.
- Without moving your head or hand, press your head into your right hand and hold for a three-count.
- Relax your neck and lower your hand.
- Slowly tilt your head to the left, lowering your left ear toward your left shoulder.
- Hold for four or five breaths, then repeat on the other side.
Sagittal Neck Stretch
- From sitting or standing, place one palm flat on your upper chest, with thumb and fingertips near your collarbones.
- Inhaling, gently draw the flesh of your upper chest downward toward your belly button. Simultaneously reach your chin up to create a stretch in the front of your neck.
- Exhaling, return to a neutral position.
- Repeat the move four to five times, breathing deeply throughout.
The Quick Fix
Short on time? Try this simple technique: Whatever static position you’ve been in, do a gentle stretch in the opposite direction, advises yoga teacher Andrea Gerasimo. For desk workers, that usually means standing, squeezing glutes forward, reaching overhead, and looking upward.
“The body is so resilient that it will better allow us to go back to the other shape if we go into the opposite periodically,” she explains.
This originally appeared as “Save Your Neck” in the April 2019 print issue of Experience Life.