Top 5 Neck Stretching Exercises!

Many people suffer from pain or stiffness in their necks. This is especially true if you find yourself sitting for long periods of time at a desk in a relatively sedentary job – even every day stress can be ‘a pain in neck’ quite literally! A popular request at yoga classes is to work on the neck or shoulders so we thought you might like to know a few good neck stretches. These stretches should alleviate the stiffness, tension or pain you may be experiencing and further, improve the flexibility and strength of these muscles. Read on for our Top 5 Neck Stretching Exercises! a mix of stretches, for both beginners and those with an intermediate level of flexibility.

To begin with, see this short video on stretching, which can be done at your workstation or desk.

1. Ear-to-Shoulder pose

Level: Beginners, simple yoga exercise

Benefits: This posture stretches the muscles that are involved in rotating and tilting your head

Muscles worked: Tilting head down (Longus Colli, Longus Capitis, and Infrahyoids). Tilting head left and right (Scalenes)

How to:

Sit or stand in a relaxed position
Lower your chin to your chest while keeping your shoulders nice and straight
Hold the stretch for 15 to 30 seconds

Relax and slowly lift your chin to the starting position
Tilt your head, moving your ear toward your shoulder

Hold the stretch for 15 to 30 seconds
Tilt your head to the other side and repeat the stretch
To deepen the stretch, place your right hand on the left side of your head as it drops over towards the right shoulder. Don’t pull on your head; just allow the weight of your hand to guide it down.

2. Bharadvaja’s Twist (Looking over the left/right shoulder)

Level: Beginners, simple yoga exercise

Benefits: This manoeuvre stretches and extends the neck, and increases neck flexibility

Muscles worked: Levator Scapulae and the Suboccipitals, which are the deep neck muscles

How to:

Sit on the floor, legs straight out in front of you, or legs in a comfortable position
Tuck your left hand under your right knee and bring your right hand to the floor just beside your right buttock
Pull your left shoulder back slightly and twist the chest to the right
Turn your head to the right to perform the neck stretch

3. Halasana (Plow pose)

Level: More advanced, challenging posture

Benefits: This strengthens, lengthens and opens-up the back of the neck

Muscles worked: The main muscles involved in this movement are the longus colli, longus capitis, and infrahyoids

How to:

Plow pose is often entered from a Shoulder stand, which is also beneficial for stretching the neck; you may find this is a more suitable pose for you
Lie on your back on a mat. Lift both legs up to the ceiling to form a 90-degree angle. Place your hands behind your lower back and lift your hips and legs higher toward the ceiling. You are now balancing on your shoulders and back of the neck, in a shoulder stand.

From here, you can choose to progress into the Plow pose
Lower your legs behind your head to the floor, additionally you can allow your hands to release from your lower back and clasp them together on the mat under your back.

4. Matsyasana (Fish pose)

Level: More advanced, challenging posture

Benefits: This is a counter pose to the Plow pose and relieves tension in your neck. It stretches and tones the front of your neck and strengthens the back of your neck

Muscles worked: Longus colli, longus capitis, and infrahyoids, including the sternocleidomastoid muscle

How to:

Lying on your back with arms by your sides and legs together, slide your palms down under the tops of your thighs, just below the buttocks. Have the elbows slightly bent, next to the sides of your torso.

Pressing on the elbows, use the arms to lift the chest up, arching the spine and roll onto the crown of your head. Do not use the head or neck to support the posture; little or no weight should be on the head.

5. Balasana (Child’s pose)

Level: Beginners, simple yoga exercise

Benefits: This relieves neck strain, tension and pain by lengthening, stretching and relaxing the neck muscles.

Muscles worked: All-round restorative neck pose

How to:

Start in an all-fours position, sit your hips back toward your heels and reach your arms out along the floor in front of you
Stretch out your arms and extend into your shoulders as you bring your forehead to the floor between your hands
You may choose to stack your hands to rest your head on
Relax completely and allow any tightness in your neck to release itself

Yoga and stretch movements such as these, improve health and wellbeing, through correct posture, movement, and relaxation. Working these neck muscles will maximise muscle growth whilst minimising muscle injury. There are many thorough videos explaining how to do each of these movements online, with visuals to guide you step by step. Try one or two of these beginner-level stretches, assess how you feel and see if you can try the more advanced stretches. Comment below or @ keepfitkingdom if you have a favourite neck stretch that has helped you!

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