DIAGNOSIS: Firstly, This blog is not about the neck that has symptoms neurological or otherwise. The instructors at YM are Yoga instructors and are not qualified to assess pain. If you have pain and it keeps you from daily activities or does not go away after a few days it is a good idea to visit your health professional/specialist to have it evaluated. Like all YM blogs this one is NOT set out as being all encompassing or complete; no part of your body works in ‘isolation’ of the other parts and the variables affecting each part are too many to expound but every now and then we like to attempt to isolate parts for the longer term Yoga student (stripping things back; here is my attempt with ‘The Neck’ .

YOUR NECK IS designed to allow a large range of motion for your head but it is not designed to bear much weight beyond the weight of your head itself.  The price the neck pays for its wonderful range of movement is lack of stability so it is our view at YM that the Yoga poses that put weight on the neck are a trade off we don’t want to make i.e. we feel they are ‘high risk’ low reward postures; and THAT is why we choose NOT to teach weight bearing inversions at YM. Just because we acquired practice, techniques and qualifications to teach them doesn’t mean we are comfortable with the risks involved for teaching the multitude of ‘others’ unique bodies/neck spines/minds/approaches to life.  YES we prefer our safer alternatives when it comes to teaching you how to decompress your neck.  The benefits of those higher risk postures can still be gained in variations and ‘less fancy’ posing and AS YOU ALL KNOW we are in this for the benefits of posturing and not the glory of the pose 🙂

THIS IS WHY we have chosen to teach the Bikram Beginning Yoga Method.  Just because it is a ‘Beginning Yoga’ practice does not mean it is not Challenging! But it is SAFE for beginners and adepts alike. In Bikram method we work on Stillness and Stability A LOT! We are not jumping around, there is no excuse to get yourself into an out of control situation especially with your neck spine. There is ALWAYS opportunity for you to pause and FIND YOUR NEUTRAL before you initiate movement in a different direction. There is loads of time to work on each setup and posture and check in with your body to decide if it is up to it today. Instructor instructs, you hear the cue, you decide if/how you want to make the movement; ALL VERY CONTROLLED.

IN OUR SEQUENCE the ONLY time we place any load on the head and hold posture is in ‘Sasangasana’ (*Rabbit/flexion); and we counter that weight immediately by creating other action to reduce the potential risk of that load at the same time. Our method has many distinguishing features one of which is the ‘wrap a towel over the heels in Rabbit’ grip cue. This ‘not optional’ but ‘compulsory towel grip’ (remember this is a 50+ yr old method and is talking about ‘towelling’ towel (not recent invention ‘yoga grip towel’ 🙂 which, quite frankly, are an ‘uncomfortable’ grip in Rabbit)) A towelling grip will provide more traction, less chance of sweaty hands, skin on skin slippage when there is weight on the head. The strong pulling action hands/towel/heels will take pressure ‘off the head’ so there is maximum 20% weight on head 80% in the hand/towel/grip pull. We remain committed to this Health & Safety technique even when it is, on rare occasion, met with resistance {in this case we urge all to remember they signed a confirmation that they “will follow the instructions given to me by my instructor and will discuss any deviation and/or modification of the asanas with the instructor prior to class” “will communicate and engage with my instructor at all times as necessary” }

UNLESS YOU ARE working with a neck injury/trauma/limiting condition e.g. whiplash, arthritis, bone spurs, lightheadedness, dizziness, nausea: IT IS NOT NECESSARY to deliberately ‘stiffen’ your neck in our backbending postures. They are not weight bearing, other than carrying the weight of the head itself, and they provide a beautiful natural extension of the neck:

  • For some Asanas you will be asked to ‘extend your neck’ working with/in the direction of gravity e.g. ‘pranayama’, first ‘standing backward bend’ and floor sequence ‘camel’.
  • In our anti-gravity postures also (or if you prefer 🙂 ‘Fab Four’ or ‘Spine Strengthening Sequence’ ) you are asked to extend neck against gravity.
  • For others we will ask you to flex/compress your neck e.g. Standing Separate Leg Head to Knee and *Rabbit.

EVERYBODY’S ABILITY/RANGE of movement in Extension and Flexion will be personal to them. Yes we can talk ‘broadly’, ‘generically’, ‘averages’ and say things like ‘most people’, but the instructors at YM also know we are working with unique bodies, minds, histories and necks! It is hard to formulate a general pattern of cervical movement; each vertebrae has its own value/range and coupled movements add to complexity of range and movement for the individual.

WHAT CAN LIMIT HOW FAR THE NECK SPINE WILL EXTEND? bone meeting bone, tension at the front of the body/throat region, over tight neck muscles, stress, problems with shoulders/joints so many variables; we know this, we see this. We can also see when people are deliberately ‘tensing’ their neck region rather than allowing their neck to extend and gently drop back.  Unless you are working with a neck problem (in which case modifications absolutely apply; speak with us) we want you to lose the fear of using your natural Range of Neck Spine Movement.

WHY DO SOME STUDENTS HAVE FEAR/DELIBERATELY TENSE THEIR NECK REGION? For some it will be a ‘self ‘protection’ mechanism; backward bending generally exposes the ‘soft underbelly’, it can ‘feel risky’ your heart centre and all your major organs being exposed like that. It takes longer for some students to Surrender and Trust the process in Yoga.  How else does this fear emotion manifest? Besides ‘stiffening’ we can sometimes see a student attempting a backward bend whilst ‘looking forward/ down their nose’ (think about this) trying to move your body one way but moving your eyes another, a conflict if you like, a clear emotional involvement with the action. That is why you often here us say use your ‘eye gaze’: ‘lean back, way back, LOOK back, go back’.


  • LET GO of fear; fear brings along its companions tension and restriction
  • Always start posturing from NEUTRAL neck spine
  • PROPRIOCEPTION will improve in time/you will get well acquainted with what YOUR neutral neck spine is
  • Always MOVE SLOWLY, mindfully, ALWAYS in control
  • LIFT your chest, sternum, let your shoulders drop back
  • DO NOT ROTATE your head when you are fully flexed or fully extended (similarly if you are in a neck rotation posture do not extend or flex at that time)
  • Consciously get acquainted with YOUR PERSONAL LIMITATIONS (is it compression at a site at the back of the neck when you are working on extension (bone meeting bone)? That’s it, that is your limit. OR are you feeling sensation/tight at the front of your throat? If it is tension here you may be able to increase range of movement over time)
  • GAZE; always look for the next place ‘backwards’, if you see the ceiling try to see the wall… and allow your gaze to ‘settle’
  • BREATHE; whilst you are doing all this breath as deeply as the position will allow

General Tips for NECK SAFETY in your Yoga practice OUTSIDE of your usual Bikram postures

ALL THINGS BEING EQUAL and as well as the Bikram practice tips above:

  • If you are trying to enhance your neck joint range of movement do not try that when bearing a load
  • Make sure you are nicely warmed up/soft
  • Refine your technique (Headstand, Shoulderstand etc)
  • Don’t practice inversions when you are tired
  • Limit the number of ‘tries’ you have on your inversions per practice to 4-5.

Back and neck pain is very life limiting… So is fear. It is better to LOOK AFTER YOUR SPINE, prevention being better than cure, show it some Love and Kindness; you are going to need it for a very long time to come. Bikram Yoga is a terrific, fun, SAFE way to do this!  ENJOY your backward bending journey.

Om Om Om NeckBackWardBends 4Ever!


You might also like further reading Never Be Afraid of the BackwardBends !




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