Neck and shoulder pain can be the effect of stress and anxiety, caused by too much work, not enough counter-pose of daily activities, carrying your burdens around with you by not releasing your old pain and fears, not speaking our truth…
In turn, we may have headaches, chronic pain and tension. We may never feel that deep release in our upper bodies.
A frequent, relaxing yoga for the neck and shoulders practice is incredibly beneficial for you.
The 4th and 5th Chakras
What lives in this area of the body? As you know from this post and this post, in yoga there are energy centers called chakras. These centers move energy through our body and are psychologically tied into our emotions, memories and beliefs. The neck and shoulders house our 4th and 5th chakras, also known in common language as the heart and throat centers of the body.
In the heart, we manifest the ability to love and nurture ourselves and others, forgive, have compassion and acceptance, and move past our old wounds when this space is open. When this space is clouded or blocked, we tend to manifest grief, jealousy, hurt, and the inability to forgive ourselves and others. When this area is blocked we can have common aches and pains from neglect to take care of ourselves or more serious conditions like breast cancer, lung cancer, asthma symptoms or chronic respiratory issues.
In the throat, we manifest the ability to speak clearly, concisely, and feel we have permission to be heard. We are good listeners and have a strong will. When blocked, this space will be constricted, and tight, or for some, the incessant need to talk and never really listen. There will be a tendency to lie for various reasons, even just to get people to see our point of view, and a fear of surrounding ourselves to something above. Health conditions can rise in the form of chronic neck pain, scoliosis, bronchitis, laryngitis tooth and mouth disorders, and so on.
Yoga to release the tension in your neck and shoulders
This short 15 minute yoga practice (in 2 parts – don’t worry, part 1 will automatically flow into part 2!) is just what you need to release, stretch and move tightness in the upper back, shoulders, and neck.
Autumn Equinox marks one of my favorite times of year. The weather is still warmish, and the air is changing. Pumpkins, apples, hay rides, fall activities are all on their way. I find it all so inspiring and exciting to head into the change of any season, but Fall is by far my favorite.
In my home we celebrate nature’s bounty. I can bulk food with friends. This year, pears, tomatoes, sauce, salsa are gracing my pantry shelves. It is a reminder of all the abundance that is around us that we can use and preserve.
As far as my yoga practice, asana becomes highly important. As Fall arrives, our bones get cold and our muscles feel stiffer and tighter with the changing weather. We feel the need to get warm to the soul. I choose asanas that are warming: Warriors, Surya Namaskara series, core awakening practices, inversions to clear my lungs and my head, and breathing practices that warm my body and clear my mind.
Behind all of this, though, is always the power of intention and sankalpa. Equinox is a great time of transition with BALANCE (try my balance yoga class, below!).
Every equinox I like to celebrate it as a practice of Thanksgiving. I cook a big vegetarian meal and invite over some friends. Everyone shares in lighting a candle and talks about what they are grateful for and what they are harvesting in their lives from their garden of the heart.
In personal celebrations, I might just take a nice bath by candlelight, then journal some personal statements of gratitude such as, “I am abundant with life…love…family…friends…power“, or, “I am filled with gratitude for…”
I always have a harvest-style home altar to share in the essence of the season. Mums, pumpkins, apples, spicy candles, and a rich bottle of red wine to celebrate the season.
Then of course a nice meditation focusing on transition always helps me put this transitional time into perspective. I just sit, maybe with a steaming cup of tea next to me, close my eyes, explore my yogic breath for a few mins and see what comes in and out of the mind. What can I do away with? What thoughts are not serving me? What am I manifesting or what do I need? These patterns start to take over until a deep state of peace comes over me. By the time I am ready to open my eyes, my tea has cooled and I can stretch and enjoy the moment.
What are you grateful for? What can you celebrate in your life that you have in abundance? What can you give away in turn for all that you have and to help you release your attachments?
Enjoy the practices above or try this Autumn balance asana practice below.
Autumnal Equinox Practice
This practice celebrates balance, but it also honors those with little time.
I would like to note… as I was trying to take the pictures for this practice, I was not listening to balance (as my little one would not take her nap). I was really pushing to find the time to do this while the weather was nice. I changed rooms, outfits and was very grumpy when setting up for this little project.
Finally I gave in, got my little one and brought her outside with me where she was happy and I could just breathe.
I should have just honored that she needed me and saved myself the aggravation of not having all the space I needed to get things done.
Even just doing this little photo shoot, and not really doing the “practice”, felt good. So if you can find 15 minutes to yourself, I hope you enjoy this. Whether or not the setting is perfect!
Click each image to get a closer look
Find a nice place outside to practice. Get your feet on the earth, no mat and no shoes if you can! Otherwise, just find any quiet place to practice.
1. Start with a few warm-ups:
Stand in Tadasana, or Mountain Pose, for at least 10 breaths or more. Ground your feet down into the earth, breathe a few refreshing breaths in through the nose and out the mouth.
Now stand in Ardha Chandrasana, or Half Moon Side Bends. Keep your base long and grounded, belly in, inhale and stretch your arms up overhead clasping your fingers. Exhale and side bend. Repeat on each side 3-5 times.
Stand with the legs part and arms wide to prepare for Trikonasana. Root into the feet and feel as if you are drawing energy up the outer pants seam sides of your legs. Inhale and lengthen your torso up to the crown of your head. Trikonasana is a great way to practice balance between heaven and earth.
Turn a set of toes out and the other toes in slightly. Inhale, lengthen your arms apart, keep your whole body facing wide except your front knee. Keep that front knee in the direction of your front toes, exhale and tip your body down so your hand can rest on your thigh, shin, or the earth. As long as you are not feeling like you are going to overstretch or fall over, enjoy a few breaths here. Come up and stand for a moment, then do the other side. Feel free to repeat a few times if you like, and work on steadiness (sthira) and ease (sukha).
Come back to center in Tadasana for a few breaths.
From Tadasana, bring your hands down to the ground and step a foot back into a lunge. From here, make sure your knee is not over the ankle, but try for a nice amount of bend. Engage your core and your legs, keep your back heel up and practice lifting your arms up with your inhalation.
You can try some twisting variations with the arms to challenge your balance! Remember to breath, and try for 3-5 breaths! Bring the arms down to the earth and repeat on the other side.
Come back to Tadasana, take a few breaths.
4. Vrksasana or Tree Pose
Shift the weight of your body from one foot then the other and start on the side you feel works best for you. Bring your balance to one foot and gently place the sole of your foot below or above the knee. It is helpful to not squish the toes, but do engage the legs and core. Now lift the arms up overhead! Play with the arms here or practice twisting the upper body if you like!
Lower the leg and arms down, and switch sides after a brief pause.
5. Little Prayer & Half Handstand
Find a tree, and stand with your back to it. Squat down and bring your hands in prayer pose to your heart’s center. Now place your hands on the earth a few feet in front of the tree and walk your feet up the tree to hip height. Engage your core, arms and shoulders down the back. Practice caution, this should not be done for those with untreated HBP, shoulder issues or low back issues.
Now, hug your baby, relax in savasana, or go for a Fall walk. Whatever you do, don’t fight with yourself. Find peace somehow and breathe!
There isn’t a whole lot of time for me nowadays, with two little ones at home, so my home yoga practice has to be amazingly effective and balancing to myself, my nervous system, and my healing body.
I have a simple practice of Surya Namaskara, or Sun Salutation, standing poses, and whatever I might need that takes about 15-30 minutes to get me warmed up and feeling good to start my day. I prefer to rise with the sun, or around 5 am, so I get a couple of hours of quiet time to myself. I love to walk when it is quiet outside – it is so refreshing for my mind and body.
This year though, I found that I needed my practice to deepen. I needed to take some risks in my practice and do some things to get my head clear, and quickly. Lack of sleep, stress, and being in demand all the time was wearing on me fast and I was losing a bit of my usual Joie de vivre. So, I decided to approach myself the way I teach my classes. To get myself out of my comfort zone, as I tell my students all the time, and challenge myself to try something that was uncomfortable and not perfected in my practice.
“Nothing to fear” I told myself.
It is just something new. The thing is, as children we are natural gymnasts and yogis and risk takers, but I will be honest – I never was. A true Virgo for sure, especially in my earliest years. The minute something happened that I was not comfortable with, I hid in my closet with a book, or under the covers….
I knew I needed something that would refresh me and uplift me quickly, and give me confidence and inner strength. There could only be one thing. I am able to teach it with confidence, but could never really adopt it into my personal practice. I even had private sessions with amazing instructors on it. I would try to have grace when getting up into it, but never really managed to release my fear behind it, or get away from the wall.
Recently, I decided to just do it.
I didn’t even really think about it, just got in my personal practice space at home and knew that it would make my body and mind feel so balanced to just be upside down. So using all the techniques I know and teach, I placed my head on a folded blanket and up I went just like that, without question, worry or doubt. Took ten solid breaths, never touched the wall, and slowly came down. Since then, it is my daily practice. Ten sweet breaths for now, until the next door opens.
I think what happened is that I gave myself permission to practice this asana (pose). This asana brought up my biggest fear in me; unworthiness. I always felt an unworthiness in this industry because I do not look the exact part of it (now, this is myself and my own inner demon) and a few egocentric instructors I have crossed paths with have dropped some hints to me. But I am grateful for them, because they helped me see what I truly am, even if they couldn’t see it themselves. I have the knowledge and skill, the heart and the mind, but the bodily confidence was always a battle. Until just recently when I decided to give it all up. To surrender myself to…well, to myself. I have nothing to fear here.
I would always stop myself short of asanas I wanted to do, thinking I would not be able to do them.
The asana practice has made my body strong, flexible, and filled with endurance over the years.
It has helped focus and ground me, and has filled me with potential to achieve certain goals.
It has given me health and radiance.
I love that part of the practice, and although most of my yoga practice is more devotional, I realize that the balance, or in yoga what we call the HA (solar) and THA (lunar) practices, of yoga are a key part of my health and living yoga. I know when I need to energize my daily needs or when I need to turn it down a bit.
With this practice of headstand, I am now realizing more than ever my need to turn within, and ground my head to the earth. It is the King of all asanas for the health benefits and spiritual connection that it offers by stimulating your crown chakra with the pressure of your head to the earth. When I leave this asana now, I feel relaxed but energized, calm, centered, balanced, refreshed, tuned-in, and tingly all over – like I just awoke a part of me that has been sleeping.
Please practice headstand under the guidance of a qualified teacher if you are just beginning to implement it into your practice. Feel free to contact myself for private sessions, or for recommendations for someone to work with in your area. For headstand tips see below.
How to get into a Headstand
You may set yourself up near a wall with a mat or thinly folded blanket for support.
Start on hands and knees facing the wall, and interlace your hands with the pinky fingers resting inside one another and rest your hands and forearms on the ground firmly, elbows in line with the shoulders.
Press your forearms into the ground like fence posts and place the crown of your head on the ground.
Come to a downward dog on your head.
Take a breath and if you feel strong enough, start to tip toe the feet towards you bringing your knees close to your body.
You may bring your backside to the wall by pulling your knees into your abdomen or make an egg and hover on your head.
Then if you can lift the knees up and place the feet on the wall or balance here with knees bent, feet in line with the knees, pressing into the balls of the feet helps activate the legs.
Final step: With one leg or both at the same time, straighten completely overhead or slide up the wall.
Be careful to keep your core engaged, keep pressing the earth away from you in your arms, and if you feel any discomfort in the neck, mindfully come down and reset yourself.
Don’t banana back, use your core and strength in your head and your arms. It is different for everyone for which you will use more of.
Do not rush this pose. Get comfortable with these steps and do not repeatedly come up and down. Practice a few times and rest if you need to come down. If the breath is very jagged, come down and rest. The breath will cue you in if you are ready for this asana.
Practice counterpose with shoulderstand or halasana variations.
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