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.

Discover the YTU neck pain relief solutions

Watch the QuickFix Online Neck Video

Learn about the YTU Pose of the Week



YuMee Chung

YuMee is a former securities lawyer who left behind a busy practice to engage more deeply with life. Since taking her leap of faith, she opened and operated a yoga studio, toured internationally, and launched the Passport to Prana, a multi-studio yoga pass that operates in more than 20 North American cities. Today, she is a yoga teacher, entrepreneur, writer and spiritual seeker. Her work and teaching take her around the globe, but she is happiest at home on the shores of Lake Simcoe with her musician husband. YuMee teaches heartful, flowing classes infused with a generous dose of yoga philosophy and the precision of Yoga Tune Up®.

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Pascale hazledine

I love the cue about the eye at the base of the skull .ialso tend to throw my head back,it is a habit and to change it I must be conscious of it.

Tim Godwin

Thanks YuMee,
I have been modifying my cobra to take the gaze away from the wall in front of me to a place just a few inches in front of my mat. Not only does this make my pose feel better, it helps to remind me to keep the neck long and create the “space” you mentioned in the article.

Bonnie Chiong

It’s so easy to succumb to the many blind spots in the neck and just throw the head back! The neck is so delicate and yet so strong, but easily overlooked. Thank you for the cues and imagery to help me re-pattern habitual movements in my neck.

Chloe Whitfield

I had to read part 2 after reading part 1; I had to find out how I could further adjust my sun salutations. When I do novenas, I like to imagine that there’s a string attached to the front of my chest and that it’s pulling it forward in order to maintain a straight spine. Now, I’ll be thinking about the heart again as I gently gaze up towards the sky!

Jennifer Kruidbos

Thanks YuMee!
Another useful article to keep me aligned during repetitive movements. I try to avoid looking up to keep my neck safe, but with your cue to keep an eye at the base of the skull, I will introduce gazing upwards in a safe and controlled way. Many thanks!


Thanks for posting! I frequently have students who were trained to “look up” in cobra and up dog and have so much trouble training them to think it’s ok to NOT throw their heads back! I love the suggestion to repattern while looking down, and then to lift the gaze once that becomes normal. I’ll definitely try this with some of the resisters!

Elaine Cheong

Way to go , Yumee. I will start practicing with eyes now at the back of my skull. You have a very eloquent way with cueing that my brain and body thoroughly enjoy.

Aubrey Heinemann

I love the cues. I also teach my students that the gaze is not just from the head, it originates from the chest. And if your head is to going to come up toward the sky and back in back bends then you need to bring the chest along for the ride and if it gets left behind you are doing a disservice to your neck.


Great descriptive techniques! I will use these with my participants who sometimes seem to move that head back with abandon. A “graceful arc from heart to crown” sounds far better than my usual “be mindful of your neck, extend but don’t hyperextend”. Your description of grace and poise certainly helps embody the pose better! And keeping the eye open at the base of the skull is a great visualization technique too (pardon the pun). Thanks.

Donna Clark

I love the neck starting in the heart region imagery. To do that feels so long and elegant. I have often thought of my legs starting in the heart region and again felt my body reconnect to ease. Thanks for that.


Wonderful imagery. there are many times that I don’t look up when in up dog or even in warrior 1, or head back in camel. SO many times the head is kinked verse long

Jennie Cohen

Thanks for these cueing ideas. Very often students throw the head back simply because no one’s ever told them not to. These are some helpful ways to address the issue.

Cheryl Hsu

Great tips! Good imagination and unique way to explain it. Thank you.

Celeste L.

..furthermore, looking up in the right way is crucial and enjoyable thing to do in yoga and in life. Thank you for inspiring me to ‘look-up in yoga, during my sun salutations!

Celeste L.

Beautifull cues and imagery,” imagining the neck originating at the base of your heart”, and ‘the eye at the base of the back of your neck’, it’s perfect to think of something connect about a foot away on the body as this helps us to stay in better integration more naturally and easefully. like shifting the focus to a bigger lense to allow for more of the picture to become in better focus.

Vincent Budac

Awesome article YuMee! This head fault during sun salutation issue is something that I’ve pondered many times myself. Awesome to see this coming to light and getting talked about! Thanks!


When I practice my sun saltation, I tend to extend my C1,2 and 7 area but not much in between due to stiffness of the muscle, so imagining that “I have an eye at the base of skull and keep opening during extension of neck” helps to stop happening my bad habit. I will remember at the next practice for sure.

Katie Fornika

I love the images you create with your words, especially “create a graceful arc from heart to crown of head so the neck doesn’t kink”. I often use the image of a fiddlehead fern unfolding to create a sense that we are growing upward and we extend. Or the image of patanjali with his snake hoodie of support.

Cynthia Bunt-Gardner

Imagine the neck originates down low around the heart region is an excellent cue to encourage your students to lift first their ribs then chest then gaze in a back extension. I always cue my students to keep their neck inline with their spine so if they can lift through the thoracic region then their head can lift higher without jamming their neck. In addition, shoulder blades gliding down the back will encourage them to lift with a long neck.

Kate Krumsiek

super cue to imagine the eye at the base of the skull.
this is also a wonderful awareness to carry with us off the mat as we work to counteract the head forward position many of us use as we walk around the world. the drawing back of the base of the skull keeps the waves of the spine alive and well.

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alysa farrell

SO Smart. your 2 sentences of cues; ” 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.” and: “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” . … are so descriptive and easy to visualize…Im doing it right now!

silvia marisol

Yes, YuMee, so true! I immediately lifted the base of my skull while sitting as I read your blog; and wow what a difference. I will keep this awareness in many poses, performing it gently, of course.


Helpful to remind students the goal is “to create space” in the cervical spine, not to jam the neck. Thus a slight 45 degree lift/gaze is all that’s required.


This is such an important point! Most people I see in class do hyperextend their cervical spine during sun salutations. I like to imagine the sun having “limbs” that depress the shoulders to open the heart and pull the head in extension 45 degrees towards the sun.

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Heather C

These are wonderful tips and agree hyperextension of the neck is easy to do in sun salutations if we are not aware. focusing your gaze with looking towards your nose in bujangasana and upward facing dog while heart is lifted also helps the concept of lengthening the spine and creating flexion in the thoracic spine and keeping the neck in a more anataomically correct neutral position to pervent the cervical spine from translating anteriorly when in chest opening poses such as upward dog and cobra. Thanks again!


Thank you for the reminder, I too like the idea of seeing an eye at the base of your skull, it definitely talks to me. It is so easy to get carried away and tweak your neck in yoga classes, any extra bit of caution helps!


I like the idea of imagining an eye at the base of your skull. I haven’t looked up during my practice for a long time because of what I’ve done to my neck in prior years (ummm…. by tossing it around!). After reading this article, I practiced the eye at the base of the skull idea and liked how it felt. Thank you!