Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Protecting your neck in back bends

In back bends where we start from a prone position, yogis can be so keen to move into the back bend that they lift their heads up first which has the potential to jam the neck vertebrae.  To avoid this in Sphinx pose start by lying on your tummy and stretch your arms forward.  Breathe in and start to lift your chest as you tuck your chin and draw your elbows back under your shoulders - only when you are fully in the back bend, lift your chin level with the floor to gaze straight ahead.  This method of tucking your chin until you are in the back bend can also be used in Cobra pose and Upward Facing Dog.  In Locust pose and Bow pose keep the back of your neck long by keeping your gaze down on the mat. In Pigeon pose, as you walk your hands back, tuck your chin and lift your chest. Then when you are in position lift your chin level with the floor.

Camel pose is an advanced back bend and you should not attempt to drop your head back for the full pose until you have considerable openness in your shoulders and in your thoracic spine. It is not a pose for you if you have any neck issues at all. The thoracic spine can be quite difficult to open.  Looking at it from the side the thoracic spine has a natural convex curve.  At best this can only 'bend' to straight.  If you attempt to drop the head back before you have the openness in the thoracic spine and the lift of the ribcage, your neck will compensate and this is made worse by the not inconsiderable weight of the head.  The result is a painful trapped nerve (here speaks the voice of experience!!!) or worse.  To avoid this until you have the necessary openness, keep your chin tucked and look down your body in Camel pose.   The following variation of Shoulder Bridge will help you create openness in the thoracic spine.
Lie on your mat with your knees bent.  Inhale lift your hips and take hold of the edges of your mat.  Pull on the mat to help you create more lift in the thoracic spine.  

You can also practice modification of Camel pose.

To practice a modified version of Camel pose, come into a kneeling position, knees hip width and take your hands into the small of your back, fingers pointing down.  Inhale, lift your chest and press your thighs forward.  Have your chin tucked and look down your body. When you are ready to come out of the pose straighten your spine then fold down into a Child's pose.  

You could also try kneeling in front of a chair so that your lower legs are under the chair seat.  Take your hands back to hold either side of the seat and lift your chest, tucking your chin as you do so.  Hold for a few breaths and then fold into a Child's pose.

When you feel comfortable with this modification try a slightly more advanced modification using two blocks placed either side of your feet.  Inhale stretch your right arm up then circle it back, bringing your right hand to the block by your right foot (remember 3 levels).  Repeat with the left hand.  Lift your rib cage, press your thighs forward and keep your chin tucked. 

To come out of the pose, take your right hand to your left thigh as you start to straighten your spine then take your left hand to your right thigh and fold into a Child's pose. 

Eventually you will be able to take your hands to your heels with your toes tucked at first, then with the top of your feet flat to the mat but do not take your head back unless you are really confident that you have the openness to do so.  Remember yoga is not about being able to achieve challenging poses but about discovering more about yourself. 


Please see also, 
'Protecting your neck in seated twists'-

'Protecting your neck in standing poses'-

Stay safe

Janet x


  1. I don't think Ive met anyone who knows as much about this subject as you do. You are truly well informed and very intelligent. You wrote something that people could understand and made the subject intriguing for everyone. Really, great blog you have got here.Como hacer backflip

  2. Thank you for your comment.
    Janet x