Healing Journey Monday: yoga and protecting your neck

When I learned poses like plow, bridge and shoulder stand, my teacher, Bill Hunt, emphasized the need for caution in those poses. A lot of weight can wind up pressing on the cervical spine and it’s not good for your neck to bear that kind of weight. So he taught us a number of precautions and a prop for doing those poses while protecting the cervical spine.

It took me a long time but after I did the poses according to his instructions long enough I became able to do them without a prop and knowing exactly what it feels like to have my shoulders and neck in the proper position. Over the years I’ve been a little shocked that I never see recordings or books about yoga that offer those suggestions for entering poses like plow with maximum safety to the cervical spine.

If you’re new to those poses or you have tight shoulders, it’s best to use a blanket for the pose. With a thick blanket, just fold it into a square; for my classes I have some thin throws and I fold two for each student and pile them directly on top of one another. The trick is getting into position on the blanket. You want to have your back on the blanket with the top edge of your shoulders about one inch inside the top edge of the blanket (or consider it that between the top edge of the blanket and the top of your shoulders there’s an inch of blanket).  In that position your neck will be at the edge of the blanket and hanging into the space between the blanket and the floor. I think every beginner should use the blanket. If you have really tight shoulders you should keep using the blanket.

The next steps I do whether I do or don’t use a blanket. Lift your hips a little and clasp your hands underneath you. Shift as needed to bring your shoulders blades in as close to one another as you can. If you’re on a blanket make sure that you’re keeping your position with your neck just above the edge of the blanket, maintaining that space. If your shoulders are really tight it may be hard to feel whether you’ve moved the blades but do the best you can. When they move in toward one another you create a space along the upper spine so that you’re not going to put weight on it.

After bringing the shoulder blades toward one another pull your clasped hands toward your feet so that you come up higher on your shoulders. Make sure that you keep your shoulder blades pressed as close as you can. If you’re up on your shoulders and you’ve created that hollow space then the weight of your body will be on your shoulders instead of your neck.

Move your hands back out and lower your hips while keeping the position of your shoulders and shoulder blades and then move into whichever posture you wish to do. If you take these precautions you should be able to practice these poses for years without having problems with your neck.

16 thoughts on “Healing Journey Monday: yoga and protecting your neck

  1. Always good advice. I’m always surprised when people don’t listen to their bodies enough to know/remember to protect them as they explore asanas.

    The learning to listen to discomfort you need to work through versus pain telling you change your practice style/approach is one of the most important long term lessons.


    • I’ve gotten pretty used to students who are out of touch with their own bodies so it doesn’t really surprise me any more. I think the problem with these poses is that a lot of times there isn’t pain while you’re doing it but over time you’re doing damage to your neck that shows up later. But I’ve had quite a few students who weren’t aware even when something did hurt at the time. So yes, I tell them that perhaps the most important thing to learn in my classes is to know their own bodies. Thanks for such an insightful comment.

  2. I haven’t done yoga for a long time but no one ever emphasized correct positions like this. It is very helpful and should be appreciated! {:-Deb

    • Yes, I’m kind of big on people knowing form so they stretch what’s meant to be stretched and don’t injure something else… I hear that’s not the norm…

    • The nice thing about yoga is that you can start where you are so you don’t have to be flexible to begin. Although non-flexibility is why I started teaching my triggers of release combined with yoga classes… Moves it along a little faster.

  3. You are so knowledgable about so many things.

    I can see that some of those poses might be able to cause harm.

    Hopefully most instructors protect their students!

    Thanks for sharing another thoughtful link this week.


    • Sometimes I feel more like I know a little about a lot of things but I appreciate the perception that I have knowledge. In yoga, I guess 26 years of it has sunk in pretty deep… Thank you!

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