Last weekend's Unlock Your Neck and Shoulders Workshop was enjoyable to teach because my upper body felt great as a result of my pre workshop prep work and the workshop itself. I'm also grateful that I was able to learn based on the comments made and questions asked, real concerns about our neck and shoulders while practicing yoga.
Here are a couple of neck and shoulder yoga tips and questions answered that will keep you safe and feeling spacious in your upper body.
When it comes to gazing upwards it is best on your neck and shoulders to not have deep wrinkling on the back of your neck. A good way to train yourself to do this is to interlace your hands as shown here and pull the base of your skull up like you're pulling your hair up. Then fall your head into the hammock of your hands.
When you back bend which involves plenty of neck and shoulder opening it is important to note where you're bending. You don't want to neck bend and pull your chin far away from your chest. Instead think hammock of the hands like above. This will encourage safety and length in the back of your neck. While back bending you also don't want to stick your tail out, shorten your lower back and feel the pinch. Instead find space in your lower back by exhaling your tailbone down. When you back bend focus on drawing your shoulder blades together. Finding interlaced hands like shown here in yoga mudra will help you feel a back bend in the right place.
How do I lengthen my arms into wheel pose? Urvdha danurasana, wheel pose is an extreme back bend and not easy for everyone to find. To practice lengthening your arms in this pose I suggest resting your back on a big exercise ball and lengthening your arms overhead. You can also practice close to a wall and reach your hands towards it with your fingers pointing down. Rest here and draw your attention to your breathe. Eventually you can try walking your hands down the wall. With practice your chest, neck and shoulders will open and your arms will lengthen. One day you just might be able to remove the ball and lengthen your arms in wheel pose.
How do I get my upper body strong? Practice caturanga dandasana and arm balances like crow, bakasana shown here. Even if your feet, knees or one foot and a knee is on the floor, practice. The key for finding space in your neck and shoulders and strength in your upper body here like in caturanga dandasana is to have your wrists directly under your bent elbows. Focus on your breathe as you gaze forward and down from your hands. This will help you to balance and keep the back of your neck long.