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Health Risk Yoga Teachers Need To Know

Tuesday, January 27th, 2015

The New Health Risk All Yoga Teachers Need to Know About

If you haven’t heard of ‘text neck’ and you’re a yoga teacher, read this article. The term ‘text neck’ is sweeping the media on medical websites, major newspapers, and blogs everywhere.

In Lindsey Bever’s Washington Post article, she states, “the human head weighs about a dozen pounds. But as the neck bends forward and down, the weight on the cervical spine begins to increase. At a 15-degree angle, this weight is about 27 pounds, at 30 degrees it’s 40 pounds, at 45 degrees it’s 49 pounds, and at 60 degrees it’s 60 pounds.”

Who knew that looking at a smart phone could put 60 lbs of pressure on your neck?

Yoga teachers are no stranger to the problems that are associated with poor posture, such as pressure on the spine, degenerative disks and pinched nerves. And you’ve likely witnessed more and more students with ‘technology influenced’ posture by now.

There’s no question that people with smartphones, yogis too, spend several hours a day hunched over in this position texting, emailing and playing on social media. This epidemic is even worse in young people who spend even more time on their smartphones.

Bever states, “medical experts have been warning people for years. Some say for every inch the head tilts forward, the pressure on the spine doubles.”

As yoga teachers, we are uniquely positioned to craft a solution to this epidemic in our students. Yoga teachings might be ancient, but yoga teachers must respond to current world problems when they arise, and this is a big one!

You can make a huge impact by creating yoga classes and private sessions that are geared toward countering text neck.

I designed a practice of 5 poses and exercises that will help fend off text neck. The theory behind this practice is that text neck causes the part of the spine just below the neck (your upper thoracic spine) to round and for the neck to jut forward. This “loads” the lower cervical vertebrae, where disc issues can start.

The following five poses and exercises can help you and your students to position the spine in the opposite way to counteract text neck!

These exercises done three times a day will yield great results!

1. Standing Head Rest
Stand with your feet hip width apart, feet parallel and knees slightly bent. Put some weight into your heels and stick your butt out. Interlace your hands behind the back of your head and squeeze your shoulder blades toward each other as you press your head straight back into your hands. As you do this, concentrate on moving the part of your spine just below your neck forward as the head and top of the throat moves back.

2. Cobra Pose
Lay on your tummy with your hands placed shoulder width apart next to your chest, and your forehead on the floor. Spread your fingers and press the hands evenly into the ground. Energetically drag your hands backwards to help fire the forearms and elongate your rib cage forward away from your pelvis. Pull the shoulder heads up away from the floor and as you lift your head and chest up, breathe. Push the upper thoracic spine forward as the shoulder heads, neck and head move backwards in opposition.

3. Front Chest Opener
Place your right elbow and forearm against the wall slightly higher than shoulder height and face the wall close enough that you could give the wall a kiss. Take a breath in and lift your armpits and rib cage up toward your ears so the sides of your body get long. As you pull your shoulder heads, head and neck back, curl the upper thoracic spine in and up. Keep your chin open. Maintaining this alignment, exhale and turn your feet to the left, increasing the stretch to the chest. Repeat to the left side.

4. Blanket Chest Opener
Fold a blanket into a thin strip shape and then roll into into a chunk. Lie back on the roll and aim for the chunk to sit directly beneath the upper spine with your neck off the edge and your knees bent with feet planted. Immediately support your neck by cradling the back of your head in your hands. The chunk will help move your upper thoracic spine inward as your neck moves backward with gravity. To increase the weight of your spine into the chunk, press into your feet and lift the buttocks off the floor. Stay here and breathe, experimenting with how far you allow your head to move toward the floor.

5. Head hammock
Make a loop out of a yoga strap or a belt and place the loop behind the base of your skull (at the occiput), above the ears and thread the ball of your foot (either foot is fine) through the other end of the loop until your head feels supported as if in a hammock. Gently and slowly press your head against the strap and then release, repeating this back and forward motion a number of times to help fire the intrinsic, subtle muscles of the neck that help keep the neck properly aligned vs. the gross neck muscles which tend to overwork when we use technology like smart phones and laptops!

In addition to more mat time doing yoga, here are some other tips you and your students can use to fend off text neck:

• Look down at your device with your eyes instead of bending your neck.
• Hold your phone at eye level as much as possible.
• When you are stuck at your computer exercise your neck by moving it from left to right several times (just maintain good posture while doing so).
• Use a voice-texting assistant.
• Stay hydrated believe it or not!
• Take a break from your phone.
• Pay attention to your posture even when you are off the mat.
• Roll your shoulders and neck or go for a short walk to improve blood flow.
• When driving, press the back of your head into the head rest instead of leaning or keeping your head forward.
• Pick up the phone and call people instead of texting or emailing!

Text neck is pervasive and most people don’t even realize that they have it. As yoga teachers, spreading the word as well as offering helpful tools to combat text neck will make an impact on our communities. So let’s put down those phones, give our necks a break and encourage our students and those around us to do the same!

Images via Rob Jackson 

~ Amy Ippoliti, prAna Ambassador & E-RYT 500

Amy is known for bringing yoga to modern-day life in a genuine way through her clear instruction, intelligent sequencing, and engaging sense of humor. Amy shares her passion for health, earth conservation, and yoga with her writings for Yoga Journal, Yoga International, Mantra Magazine, Mind Body Green, prAna Life, and Elephant Journal. She has appeared on the covers of Yoga Journal and Fit Yoga Magazine and has been featured in Self Magazine, New York Magazine, Allure (Korea) and Newsweek. Her underwater yoga images with marine animals have been featured on the front page of Yahoo.com and GrindTv.com. She is a pioneer of advanced yoga education, cofounding 90 Monkeys, an online and in person school that has enhanced the skills of yoga teachers and studios in 44 countries. Since the age of 14 she has been a passionate champion of earth, ocean, and animal conservation. Learn more at amyippoliti.com.