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A Sequence for Neck and Shoulders
Ah, the holidays….. skipping asana for shopping and meditation for parties. Mantras change to “charge it, please.” Traffic makes us ill-tempered, shorter days and longer nights make us sleepy, and the colder temperatures make us stiffer. Fight back! If you honestly don’t have time for a full practice, try this set of shoulder and arm stretches to stave off tension headaches and keep you at least somewhat limber until you can return to your mat. This particular sequence can be done fully clothed; at home, at work, or at the shopping mall; and at any time of the day. It’s a quick muscle relaxer and a good way to check in during the day.
Because the neck and shoulders can be sensitive, be sure to move slowly and mindfully to avoid crunching or injury. It helps to start by comfortably seating yourself in a chair, with your feet on the floor and your back supported by the chair back. (If, like me, you are short and your feet don’t touch, rest them on a bolster, ottoman, or perhaps your purse if you are in public!) Drop your arms to the sides and take a moment to just take stock of your body. Try pulling your shoulders back and down to counteract any habitual tightness there. Then take a moment to check in with your breath. Try to even out the inhale and exhale so that each is of the same length. Maybe close your eyes to bring your focus inwards.
Tilt your head to the right, keeping the ear towards the shoulder. Hold when you feel the stretch and breathe into the area. After a moment, try rolling your head back, holding the stretch where needed, and then rolling the head forward. You can adjust the intensity of the stretch by pulling the opposite shoulder down and away from the head. Move slowly and thoughtfully. When you are ready, bring the head back to neutral before moving on to the other side. Release, and slowly shake your head ‘no’, noting the amount of movement possible on each side. Release, and slowly shake your head ‘yes’, noting again if there are any limitations. If you want more stretch to this area, try rolling your head in a circle, again remembering to move slowly and mindfully.
Bring your arms out to the sides. Then cross them and twist to catch the hands together, keeping the back straight. One elbow will be atop the other, with the shoulders pulled forward. Hold this for a moment and note how it feels on the shoulder area. Intensify the stretch by moving the arms up, down, right, or left. Stop at any tender points and hold, focusing the breath to the muscles involved. Then release and try the same stretch on the other side.
Drop the hands by the sides of the body. Roll the shoulders forward and in a circle. Move slowly enough so that you can feel where you are tight. Move through a few circuits before reversing and rolling in the other direction.
Don’t forget your hands, which serve you well during this season. Bend the palms down towards the wrist and press the back of the hands together. This is a great way to relieve pressure on the carpal tunnel. Hold for a few minutes. Then interlace the fingers and stretch the arms away from the body, twisting from side to side to work out any kinks in the back. Try lacing the fingers in the non-dominant way to see how this feels. Release, move the arms to your back, interlace the fingers, and try this again from the rear. Make sure that the back stays straight; it’s unfortunately easy here to crunch it forward while performing these moves.
Finish by dropping your hands to your knees. Turn the palms up for inspiration from above, down for grounding. Take a moment to breathe quietly before moving your palms to prayer position and thanking the universe for this short break from daily life. Namaste!
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