By Dr. Paul Jerard, E-RYT 500, YACEP
Is there a connection between healing methods in Yoga and neck problems? Maybe you or a friend has chronic neck problems and you have heard Yoga is a big help for pain, but you are still concerned. You have every right to be concerned, so let’s go through a safe, step-by-step, procedure before, during, and after, your first Yoga class. Firstly, a Yoga student, who has such a serious ailment, should get their doctor’s, or chiropractor’s, permission before starting to practice Yoga with a teacher. If possible, get a doctor’s referral to a particular certified Yoga teacher, who is more knowledgeable in this area. Many doctors often network with local Yoga teachers, studios, and ashrams, for the benefit of their patients.
Chair Yoga sessions or classes may be advisable in some instances. Yoga postures practiced during Chair Yoga classes will not put pressure on the neck. Contrary to popular belief Chair Yoga is not for seniors only. It is also wise to find a Yoga teacher who has been thoroughly trained in the use of props, modifications, and completely understands your ailment. Find a certified Yoga teacher who is empathic, understanding, gentle, and knowledgeable. At that point, set up an interview with your prospective teacher, and explain your ailment in detail. The methods, personalities, knowledge, and patience, of instructors who are teaching, will vary. A subject of therapeutic Yoga and neck problems is not common for the average fitness-based instructor. The right teacher will likely have experience and a track record in working with Yoga and neck problems.
Some of the Yoga poses that I would not recommend would be: Sirsasana (Headstand); Sarvangasana (Shoulder Stand); Halasana (Plow Posture); or any other posture that could cause severe compression on the cervical vertebrae (neck). Also, your doctor should be made aware of any risky movements and positions performed in a Yoga class, such as, chin locks, neck rolls, and fingers clasped behind the neck. To be honest, neck rolls with the head tilted back and clasped fingers behind the neck are not advisable, even if you have a healthy neck.
You will find it is important not to do any Yoga exercises or postures that hurt, even a little bit. Pain is your body’s way of telling you, “not to do that and stop now.” The exercises, that will help you the most, are those where you will feel a smooth and gentle stretch. If you don’t feel a gentle stretch, I suspect those Yoga poses are not doing you much good. If any exercises hurt at all, stop doing them immediately. I have yet to see a student, patient, or client, benefit from doing any Yoga pose that caused pain. To continue further on this point: Any treatment, of any kind, (Chiropractic, massage, physical therapy, or Yoga), should be with the goal of less pain. Why do it, at all, if you are going to be in more pain?
Risks to Beginners
It’s worth mentioning, one more time, that everyone with pre-existing neck pain should consult a physician before practicing Yoga. Learning Yogic methods for a serious condition, such as a chronic neck ailment, should be practiced under maximum supervision with a competent Yoga teacher. I would suggest at least one private lesson before trying a group class. A Yoga teacher may suggest, at least, a few private Yoga sessions, so that the student understands all the safety guidelines. Lastly, ie would be wise to use videos only if you are very familiar with the particular technique demonstrated in the video. As educational as videos are, they pale in comparison to the in-person or virtual guidance of a competent Yoga instructor. Many of the videos available today are great learning tools for teachers and experienced students, but without guidance, beginners are taking risks. Healing methods in Yoga and neck problems have a successful connection, but it is worth a student’s time to consult, research, and learn the method before practicing at home.
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