Excerpted from Sit with Less Pain: Gentle Yoga for Meditators and Everyone Else by Jean Erlbaum
Holding the head erect during sitting can be a challenge, especially if we are tired or have chronically tight neck muscles or any misalignment of the neck or spine. Releasing the neck muscles as part of a yoga practice or on an as-needed basis may be essential. Along with the physical relief, there can be an easier flow of energy between the brain and the body. This often results in a slowing of thoughts, a deepening of breath, and a dropping into awareness of physical sensation.
Neck Stretches, Forward And Back: Sitting tall, lift your shoulders up to your ears, slowly press them back to the wall behind you, and then drop them toward your waist.
Maintaining the length of your spine and the width of your chest, drop your chin to your chest, lengthening the back of your neck.
Hold this stretch and breathe along the muscles at the back of the neck. Imagine puffing up the spaces between the cervical vertebrae with each in breath. Let your head drop forward just a bit more on each out breath.
On an inhalation, lift your chin to the ceiling, stretching the front of your neck.
Continue for five rounds with the exhalations dropping your chin forward and the inhalations lifting it up.
Pause at a neutral head position with a long spine and an open chest. Breathe into the length of your neck, front and back.
Neck Stretches, Side To Side: Imagine a string that is being pulled taut from the base of your spine, up and out through the top of your head. Imagine someone near the ceiling gently pulling that string up higher. Maintaining the resulting length in your spine, turn your head as far to the right, then as far to the left as possible, moving easily side to side, keeping your chin parallel to the floor.
Neck Stretches, Ear To Shoulder: Beginning with your head in a neutral, centered position, lift your shoulders up, press them back, and then drop them down, maintaining a long spine. Drop your right ear to your right shoulder. Make sure to bring your ear to your shoulder, not your shoulder to your ear.
At the same time bring your right hand to the left side of your head, inviting your head further to the right. Bring the fingertips of your left hand to the floor or left side of your chair, next to or just behind your left hip. Roll your left shoulder up, back and down.
Breathe into the resulting length on the left side of your neck. Imagine that the breath can make the left side of your neck longer.
Release your head and neck back to neutral and breathe slowly, sensing any difference right to left.
When you are ready, do the same movement to the other side. When you feel finished, release back to neutral and breathe into the results, through your neck and through your whole body.