Neck flexion, drawing the chin to the chest, is an action we repeat all to often during the daily activities of life. I am of the belief that time on our mat should be spend letting go of these holding patterns and moving in the opposite directions. There are some yoga poses that seem to perpetuate repetitive unhealthy postures and and aggravate instead of heal.
Plow pose and shoulder stand are two asanas that I do not include in my practice. To understand why, we must first introduce you to the Nuchal ligament. Its main job is to keep the neck from falling into flexion and maintaining the natural lordodic curve of the spine.
I recently read in the book, Born to Run, that it is the reason we have the ability to run (along with the glute max and the achilles tendon)
Muscles that put a strain on the Nuchal ligament and its surrounding support are muscles that todays athlete are most prone to strengthen and less prone to lengthen. Muscles that support the nuchal ligament and its surrounding support need to be not only lengthened but more importantly strengthened.
How many times in a yoga class do we find we are flexing the cervical spine as opposed to extending it? Why do we need to continue to increase the length of the muscles in the back of then neck, when todays athlete needs to focus on strengthening them and lengthening the muscles who function is to draw the chin to the chest.
The over all tendency in todays athlete is to be short thru the front of the body. Even in golf with out the correct nutation in the lower back and neck when addressing the ball, the rounding action shortens the line of energy all down the front of the body and decrease the power behind the ball. Not to mention increasing stress and stain and loss of ball control.
In football the ability to lift the head in extension is important from a 4 point stance when rushing the line in an effort to protect the neck. I can remember my husband telling my son how important it was to keep his head up when he went in to defend the ball on the tackle. Most Football players know this, but it becomes difficult for them to maintain the spine in extension, maintaining the natural lordodic curve in the lumbar as well as the cervical spine if the natural tendency is to round the back. This also comes from Quad dominance and over worked chest.
These two poses in my opinion are not in the best interest of todays athlete. There is a huge risk to over stretch the nuchal ligament and because it is putting the neck in flexion, can exacerbate a disc bulge. I am a huge fan of inversions, but this is one I do not include in my practice as I feel there are so many more effective ways to strengthen the upper back and neck.
The risk of injury to C 7 of the cervical spine are great because of the length of the spinous process combined with the weight of the body and the lack of give into the floor.
It is my humble and strong belief that because we spend so much of our life in a forward flexion, with little to know movement in extension, that to practice spinal flexion in our yoga practice is unnecessary and can create further damage and harm. The risk of disc bulge by exaggerating the flexion of the neck far out way any benefits that these poses can provide.
Todays athlete is in need of extension of the front side of the body and strengthening of the back side of the upper body. There are more effective and safer ways to strengthen the muscles of the neck and upper back in connection with a length in the hamstring and protecting the neck. This is one way
Due to the extreme nature and weight of the weight of the head, the loss of the natural curve in the cervical spine creates added stress on already stressed out shoulders. Just because they present as being tight don’t assume that stretching is what they need. More then likely they need to be strengthened and are overpowered by a stronger counter part. The pain you are feeling may be more likely due to tension from fatigue and muscle weakness then from tension do to shortening in the muscle fibers.
It has also come to my attention that tight hamstrings creates a pull and increase in the cervical lordosis when knees are brought to chest in todays athlete who presents with weak neck extensors. They lift their shoulders and creating an exaggeration in the flexion of the neck. It is my observation that these muscles are not strong enough to maintain a contracted length and the head tilts back.
It is thru these observations that I move away from the idea and the need to lengthen these muscle and focus on more effective ways to strengthen them. If these poses are being taught I encourage you to look at the intension and the necessity before putting yourself at risk of injury just for the sake of doing a pose.
see You, on the mat!