Sturdy neck muscles will help you keep your head up and prevent spinal problems. Exercise this area slowly and with awareness, using lighter weight and as always, supporting with your muscles rather than your joints. For more movements from the Element Training program, click on the figure at left.
Exercises for Strength
Lay on your back on a bed, with your head and neck over the edge. Lean your head back until you can see the wall. Now lift your head all the way up, until you can see the other wall. Hold a cushioned plate on your forehead for more intensity, but keep safety in mind.
Turn over to lay on your stomach, with your head and neck still over the edge. Let your head come down and then lift it up 'til you can see the wall. Add intensity with a cushioned plate or clasped hands behind your head. You can also turn this into a Locust Pose with a focus on the upper back.
Stretches for Flexibility
Linear & Circular Neck Stretches
Begin with your back straight. Linear neck stretches can be done in any direction, moving straight into the stretch and then back to center. Use an assisting hand to deepen the stretch if you like. For a nice extra stretch at the back of the neck, touch your chin to your chest and clasp your hands behind your head, then push your head against your hands to move the stretch up your spine. With circular neck stretches the head is rolled in a circle, with one exception. When you stretch the front of your neck, your upper spine will be compressed and rolling over it can be harmful. Therefore roll the stretch to approach the front of your neck without reaching it, then reverse direction and circle the other way.
Begin this inversion by laying on your back and lifting your legs up to vertical. Place your elbows against your sides and push your hips farther upward, using your hands to hold your ribs for support as you reach your legs towards the ceiling. In the final pose only your shoulders and the back of your head will be on the floor, and you will gradually develop the ability to align your body straight upward. You can come into plow pose by lowering your feet to touch the floor above your head, but be sure that your lower back remains straight to do it properly, landing your feet on an elevated surface if necessary. To finish, return to the shoulderstand and slowly roll one vertebra at a time onto the floor, finally lowering your legs and relaxing until your blood flow returns to normal.
Static Holds for Endurance
This excellent inversion should be learned with supervision after the shoulderstand is mastered, and performed before the shoulderstand in a given training session. Because of the need for supervision, you'll find no instructions here; consult a good yoga teacher to discover this very healthy pose.
Here are some ideas for those who are already proficient with the headstand. Bend your knees behind you to stretch your hip flexors; move your straight legs to opposite sides or to front and back; lower your knees to your chest in an inverted child's pose; or lower your feet to the floor in front of you for a head-standing plow pose. To take inversions to the next level, lower your head to the floor in front of a balancing yoga squat and raise your body into a three-point headstand; or bend your knees during a regular headstand, separate your hands and point your forearms forward, and lift your head and arch your upper back to come into the inverted forearm balance, a.k.a. Scorpion Pose.
As in bridge pose, lay on your back, bend your knees and plant your feet closer to the buttocks. Raise your torso one vertebra at a time, continuing until your shoulders are off the floor and only the upper back of your head remains there. For a challenge or two, hold your torso up and straighten your legs away from it, or try some leg circles.