In our high-stress, hurried world—filled with financial pressures, information overload and “terror alerts”—many people feel the weight of the world on their shoulders. Add to this emotional tension the physical stress of sedentary lifestyles with long hours spent hunched over computers and, all too often, the result is a serious pain in the neck. Chronic neck pain is linked to a host of related disorders, including headache, jaw soreness, and pain radiating into the shoulders, upper back and arms.
The good news is that yoga can help prevent and relieve this pain. Carol Krucoff, E-RYT, yoga therapist at Duke Integrative Medicine in Durham, North Carolina, author of Healing Yoga for Neck and Shoulder Pain and creator of the home practice CD, Healing Moves Yoga, explains how.
Physically, yoga postures help stretch tight muscles, strengthen weak ones and teach proper alignment, which relieves strain on the neck and shoulders. Psychologically, yoga is a potent stress reliever that also encourages awareness—a process that sheds light on habitual stress patterns and emotional reactions and can help us move with diligence and compassion in the direction of health. Energetically, yoga breathing enhances vital energy and recharges the entire system.
A simple, effective stress buster is yoga breathing. Many people breathe shallowly, from the chest. But a proper deep breath, also called deep diaphragmatic breathing or yoga belly breathing, is the body’s own built-in relaxation mechanism. When we bring air down into the lower portion of the lungs, it triggers a cascade of calming physiological changes: the heart rate slows, blood pressure decreases, muscles relax, anxiety eases and the mind quiets down (Krucoff 2000).