Creating A Healthy, Stress-Free Neck
In 2004 I was diagnosed with a slipped disc in my neck. Though there was an acute incident — I was hit in the head with a surfboard — I was prone to the injury. Ex-rays revealed my neck had a reversed cervical curve!
The Spinal Column
The spine, when viewed from the side, has an S-shaped curve. These curves protect the discs that sit between the vertebrae.
The cervical (neck) area, dips forward, and if we lose this curve, the discs between the bones are apt to slip and/or put pressure on the nerve roots that feed the arms. (Same is true for the lumbar, also.)
Counter to doctor’s suggestions, I denied surgery, which would have replaced my disc with a cadaver bone and fused upper and lower vertebra together in my neck.
Instead, I chose a long, slow process of healing; it took about nine months. Today, I have no pain, and my vertebrae are not fused together. The numbness in my arm and hand is completely gone, and, I have all my original parts.
Doing The Healing Work
There were a combination of things I did to heal my slipped disc, and get out of pain. Some were emotional (releasing long-held protective patterns in the chest, neck and shoulders), others anti-inflammatory (acupuncture and massage).
But the majority of what I focused on was restoring the cervical curve in my neck. For most of us, the front of the neck is too short while the back of the neck is overstretched (because we look down so much), and I was no exception.
To rebuild the curve, first I used a washcloth, rolled up under my neck, and did a painfully slow side-to-side head rotation to take my cervical curve from reversed to flat. Over time, I increased the size of the roll, eventually using a hand towel.
I also used a yoga belt attached to a door knob to traction my neck and relieve pressure on my discs and nerves. To read more about that and how to do it, go here.
Then, I applied a strengthening technique to engage the muscles around the back of the neck and to stretch open the front.
The best pose for me at the time, is still post one I do regularly to maintain my cervical curve and keep a healthy, stress-free neck. It’s a variation of Bridge pose and it opens the chest and the front of the throat, presses the shoulders back and strengthens the posterior neck and shoulder area. Here it is!
- Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the ground.
- Bend your elbows to roughly ninety degrees with your fingertips pointed towards the sky.
- Lift your chin a minuscule amount, just enough to open your throat and airway.
- Now, press your head, shoulders and elbows down firmly into the ground, until you feel your upper back and the back of your neck engage.
- Maintain that engagement and free one hand to feel the back of your neck.
- Feel for a “trench,” along the center, with the muscles of your neck engaged and popping outline cords on either side of that trench.
- Note: If you don’t feel a trench, you’re not creating a cervical curve, so stop. You’re probably tucking your chin too much and flattening your neck.
- Work, using your hand as a guide to learn how to engage in a way that creates a cervical curve, or go back to the rolled hand towel until your cervical curve is increased.
- Once you’ve ensured you have the “trench” press harder with the back of your head and elbows until your chest rises and upper back leaves the floor.
- Curl more towards the top of your head, but not all the way there as in Fish pose.
- Continue to press your shoulders back, as if to put them back on the ground, even though they’ll be hovering.
- Hold this postition for thirty seconds to a minute.
- Keep your neck and chest well open as you come back to the ground and rest for a few breaths with your arms relaxed.
- Repeat the practice 2 or 3 times, resting in between, stopping immediately if you have any pain.
The Shoulder Connection
In my process of healing my neck, I re-learned how to re-position and use my shoulders (one huge hint —do not pull them down). Working with your shoulders and head alignment greatly informs, relieves and helps the neck. Healing my neck and shoulders was such a life-changing experience that I wrote a book about it!
The image below is the cover of the book, click on it to read a sample.