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Gary Kraftsow’s Viniyoga therapy helps you relieve stress and tension in the neck, shoulders and back and shows you how to adapt poses for healing.
Modern technology offers countless benefits—it’s an ever-growing source of information and inspiration; it keeps us easily connected to our loved ones. But the fact remains, many of us spend hours sitting in front of our computers and hunched over our mobile phones and tablets, and the repetitive movement patterns these digital devices demand can cause neck and shoulder strain. Learning to move in ways that realign our posture helps release that tension and promotes more functional movement patterns. The following sequence will help you ease your neck and shoulder pain.
1. Coordinate your breath to the movement. The breath should be a medium to help you create and feel the movement in your spine. This aids neuromuscular reeducation, which enables you to transform dysfunctional movement patterns.
2. Be sure the postures serve you, the practitioner. Rather than master these postures, your goal is to use them as a tool to gain a deeper understanding of what is going on in your body, and then adapt them to create functional change for the better. These poses have value only if they serve you as you’re practicing.
Sit comfortably with your spine extended, progressively deepening your inhale and lengthening your exhale. On the inhale, feel your chest expand; on the exhale, feel your navel draw in toward your spine. Take 12 breaths here.
Thunderbolt Pose, asymmetrical variation
Stand on your knees with your left arm overhead and the back of your right hand resting on your sacrum. On an exhale, bend forward, sweeping your left arm behind your back and turning your head right; rest the left side of your face or head on your mat, as available. Your buttocks should be higher than your hips, and most of your body weight should be resting on your legs. On an inhale, sweep your right arm wide and turn your head to the center as you return to standing on your knees. Repeat on other side. Do 4 rounds total, remembering to alternate sides.
See also 16 Poses to Ease Back Pain
Cobra Pose, variation
Lie on your belly, turn your head to the left, and cross your hands over your sacrum, palms facing up. On an inhale, use your upper back muscles to lift your chest while simultaneously sweeping your left arm wide and forward, bending your elbow and placing the edge of your left hand against your forehead (as if to salute), head facing center. On an exhale, lower your chest while sweeping your left arm wide, returning your hand to your sacrum and turning your head to the right.
Do 4 rounds total, remembering to alternate sides.
Ruddy Goose Pose
Start on your hands and knees with your shoulders above your wrists, and your hips above your knees. On an inhale, lift your chest away from your belly, flattening your upper back while drawing your shoulder blades toward each other. On an exhale, gently contract your belly and round your low back without collapsing your chest over your belly. Bring your hips back and toward your heels as you bend your elbows and lower your chest toward your thighs, and your forehead toward the floor. Tip: Let your chest lower toward your thighs before your hips move toward your heels. Repeat 6 to 8 times.
Standing Forward Bend
Stand with your feet hip-width apart and your hands on your buttocks. On an exhale, bend forward, sliding your hands down the backs of your legs, bringing your chest toward your thighs and tucking your chin. On an inhale, lead with the chest as you lift it away from the belly and slightly lift your chin. Bring your torso halfway up and your hands alongside your knees, and squeeze your shoulder blades together. On an exhale, bend for- ward, sliding your hands back toward your heels and relaxing your shoul- der blades while tucking your chin. Repeat 4 times. Inhale back to standing.
Extended Triangle Pose, variation
Stand with your feet spread wider than your shoulders, left foot turned out
at a 90-degree angle. On an inhale, extend your arms so they are parallel to the floor. On an exhale, bend laterally toward the left, keeping your shoulders in the same plane as your hips. Place your left hand below your left knee as you turn your head toward your left foot. Keep your arms aligned, left arm pointing down toward the left foot and right arm pointing skyward. On an inhale, sweep your right arm over and forward toward your right ear, turning your head toward the right palm. On an exhale, sweep your right arm to the previous position (aligned with the left arm) while turning your head to look at your left foot. Repeat this arm movement 4 times total, alternately turning your head up to look toward your right hand on each inhale and down to look at your left foot on each exhale. Inhale to stand, then repeat on the other side.
Come to kneeling with both arms overhead. On an exhale, tighten your belly and round your low back as you bend forward, sweeping your arms down and behind your back, resting your hands on your sacrum, palms up. Bring your chest toward your thighs, and forehead toward the floor. On an inhale, lead with your chest and sweep your arms wide, flattening the upper back to return to the starting position. Repeat 6 to 8 times.
Practice tip: As you fold forward, bring your chest toward your thighs before your buttocks reach your heels.
Easy Seated Twist
Sit with your legs crossed and spine erect. Place your left hand on your right knee, and your right hand on the ground behind you, right arm externally rotated and fingers pointing away from your sacrum. On an exhale, twist your torso to the right while turning your head in the same direction. Stay here and inhale. On the next exhale, keep turning your shoulders right while you turn your head left. On an inhale, extend your spine vertically, very slightly untwist- ing. With each subsequent exhale, gently lean your head toward the left shoulder, further stretching the right side of the neck. Continue for 8 breaths total, then repeat on the other side.
Seated Forward Bend
Sit with your legs forward, back straight, and hands on your thighs (A). On an exhale, bend your knees slightly as you fold forward, sliding your hands down your legs toward your feet and bringing your chest toward your thighs while tucking your chin at a 45-degree angle (B). On an inhale, keep your shoulders relaxed and scapulae pulled toward each other as you lift your chest, chin lifting slightly (C). On an exhale, lower your torso toward your legs, chin tucking (B). Repeat 4 times, returning to the starting position (A) on an inhale.
See also Meditation for Body Aches and Pains
Lie on your back with your arms extended along the floor at your sides, palms down. Bend your knees and place your feet flat on the floor, hip-width apart and comfortably close to your sitting bones. On an inhale, press down through your feet; keeping your chin tucked, elevate your pelvis until your neck flattens gently on the floor. On an exhale, unwind your spine, vertebra by vertebra, slowly lowering your pelvis to the starting position. Repeat 6 times.
See also Yoga Sequence for Neck Tension
Lie on your back with both knees bent toward your chest, feet off the floor. Place a hand on each knee. On an exhale, pull your thighs gently but pro- gressively toward your chest, pressing your low back down into the mat. Keep your shoulders relaxed and your chin slightly tucked. On an inhale, straighten your arms and return to the starting position. Repeat 8 times.
Lie flat on your back with your arms resting comfortably at your sides, palms up, and legs slightly apart. Close your eyes and allow your body to relax fully. Keep your mind relaxed and alert to sensations in your body. Rest here for a minimum of 3 to 5 minutes.
About Our Pros
Gary Kraftsow, the founder and director of the American Viniyoga Institute (AVI), has been a pioneer in the field of yoga for more than 40 years. He has written two books, Yoga for Wellness and Yoga for Transformation, and has produced four Viniyoga Therapy DVDs. Through the AVI, Kraftsow offers workshops and training courses for yoga teachers and yoga therapists, as well as for those who want to deepen their personal practice. Learn more at viniyoga.com.
Model Evan Soroka is an E-RYT 500 Viniyoga teacher and yoga therapist in Aspen, Colorado.
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