There are at least two instances when we raise the gaze during a typical sun salute: (1) we look up at the hands as we lift them overhead, and (2) we look up again during the back-bending part of the sequence, whether we take cobra or upward facing dog. While there’s something lovely about raising our sights, and looking up optimistically, we can be tempted, in a moment of inattention, to also toss the head back with reckless abandon.
Now, you don’t need me to tell you that tossing the head around with reckless abandon is a bad idea. If you haven’t been following the debate sparked by the “How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body” article published in January of this year, all you need to do is Google “neck + hyperextension” to understand the contours of the issue. The delicate structures of the neck demand respect. Enough said.
So how to respect the neck while saluting the sun? Here are some tips for keeping the head and neck integrated and aligned with the rest of the spine:
Avoid the kinky stuff. Imagine the neck originates down low around the heart region; as you look up, create a graceful arc from heart to crown of head so the neck doesn’t kink.
Make space. Imagine you have an eye at the base of your skull; when you look up, keep that eye open by lifting the base of the skull away from the top of the neck.
Look down your nose at neck pain. If all else fails, try shifting your gaze down the nose towards the ground as you lift into cobra and upward facing dog. Once you establish a new normal in the body, you can lift the eyes again.
Additionally, try the YTU Quick Fix for Neck videos to reestablish balance and stability to this important set of structures.
This article originally appeared on the Yoga Tune-Up Blog.