Firstly, a Yoga student, who has such a serious ailment, should get their doctor's permission before starting to practice Yoga with a teacher. If possible, get a doctor's referral to a particular Yoga teacher, who is more knowledgeable in this area. Many doctors often network with local Yoga teachers, studios, and ashrams, for the benefit of their patients. Chair Yoga classes may be advisable in some instances.
Yoga postures practiced during chair Yoga classes will not put pressure on the neck. It is also wise to find a teacher who has been thoroughly trained in the use of props, modifications, and completely understands your ailment. Find a Yoga teacher who is understanding, gentle, and knowledgeable.
At that point, set up an interview with your prospective Yoga teacher, and explain your ailment in detail. The methods, personalities, knowledge, and patience, of instructors who are teaching Yoga, will vary. Some of the poses that I would not recommend would be: Sirsasana (Headstand); Sarvangasana (Shoulder Stand); Halasana (Plow Posture); or any other posture that could cause severe compression on the cervical vertebrae (neck).
Also, your doctor should be made aware of any "risky" movements and positions performed in a Yoga class, such as, chin locks, neck rolls, and fingers clasped behind the neck. You will find it is important not to do any exercises or postures that hurt, even a little bit. Pain is your body's way of telling you, "not to do that" and "stop now." The Yoga exercises, that will help you the most, are those where you will feel a smooth and gentle stretch.
If you don't feel a gentle stretch, I suspect those Yoga poses are not doing you much good. If any Yoga exercises hurt at all, stop doing them immediately. I have yet to see a student, patient, or client, benefit from doing any Yoga pose that caused pain. To continue further on this point: Any treatment, of any kind, (Chiropractic, massage, physical therapy, or Yoga), should be with the goal of less pain. Why do it, at all, if you are going to be in more pain? Learning Yoga for a serious condition, such as a neck ailment, should be practiced under maximum supervision of a competent Yoga teacher.
I would suggest at least one private lesson before trying a group Yoga class. A Yoga teacher may suggest, at least, a few private Yoga sessions, so that the student understands all the safety guidelines. As educational as Yoga videos are, they are no substitution for the guidance of a competent Yoga instructor. © Copyright 2005 - Paul Jerard / Aura Publications.
Paul Jerard is the director of Yoga teacher training at Aura in RI. He's a master instructor of martial arts and Yoga. He teaches Yoga, martial arts, and fitness. He wrote: Is Running a Yoga Business Right for You? For Yoga students wanting to be a Yoga teacher. http://www.yoga-teacher-training.org