Friday, November 8, 2013

5 Minute Sequence To Release Neck & Shoulder Tension

I wanted to post a serious video.  A few seconds into recording my 2 year old niece walked in.  I think the video is much better with her in it.  You can watch me or you can watch her running around having fun.  She doesn't need to be told how to release her neck and shoulders as she spends her time running around and playing and we can all learn a lot from such unencumbered movement and joy.

For those of us who have become a bit gnarly with age, see if you can watch and listen to my instructions and move your shoulders and neck in freedom.

Remember, never force, tense less, stretch less, and move slowly.  If it does not feel good then it is not good.  Talk to me in class, by email, or otherwise discuss with your teacher if you need clarification.

Shoulder/Shoulder Blade Movements
This sequence gets us to move our shoulders and shoulder blades in four general directions (there are some other things going on but I won't complicate things).

High Shoulders
I ask us to move the shoulders up high.  To the ears if possible.  Some people are scared of this movement, believing their shoulders are already a bit high.  However, while most of us probably do hold our shoulders a little high and tense this is generally subconsciously.  That is, they are tensed without us realising it.  We rarely bring them up through the full range of movement.

The ability to move the shoulders up high is essential for some other yoga postures where the arms are raised overhead (e.g., warrior 1, handstand).

Being able to bring the shoulders up high also helps to traction (lengthen your spine), especially when combined with softening the sitting bones down.

Taking the shoulders high and holding for a time also gets us to move them through the full range of movement.  If you release the shoulders down after holding them high for a little time you will often find they relax down more.

Armpits down
I also ask us to move the armpits down towards the waist. Moving the armpits towards the waist firms the inner and outer armpit muscles.

It also causes the muscles on top of the shoulders to relax through a spinal reflex known as reciprocal inhibition.  This basically means that when I firm a particular set of muscles, the muscles that cause the opposite movement to occur will relax.  If you hold tension on top of your shoulders then this is a great little trick to do a few times a day.  Just don't overdo it. Do not firm to your full capacity.  Be relaxed and calm.

Shoulder blades forward
Pressing the shoulder blades forward helps strengthen muscles on the front and sides of the chest.  When held for a few breaths this can also cause relaxation of the muscles that squeeze the shoulder blades together.

Moving the shoulder blades forward also naturally causes the upper spine to bend forward.  Over the years I have found that a lot of people spend a good deal of time being too straight--with shoulders pulled back and chest puffed up.  If you ever get pain between the shoulders blades or tired between the shoulder blades after sitting for some time then moving the shoulder blades forward like this can help relieve the fatigue and/or tension.

I find that I need to be particularly mindful of head and neck position when I press my shoulder blades forward or I get a little tense around the throat.

Shoulder blades drawn back
Drawing the shoulder blades back is something most of us are familiar with.  Some people will find this really difficult if they habitually slump or have their shoulders rounded, however.

At a particular point in the sequence I bring my shoulder blades back, then I press my armpits down.  From there I interlace my hands behind my back as this is comfortable for me to do.  It might not be comfortable for you so you do not need to interlace the hands and you can just keep the shoulder blades back and down.  Remember do not force this action.  Do not force any action.

Holding the shoulder blades back together will cause the muscles that draw them forward to relax a little.

Head/Neck Movements
This sequence also has some combined head/neck movements.  Make these movements small.  So small it feels like your head is floating.  Do not move the head as much as it can move.  Be cautious and alert to any disturbing sensations.  Correct practice can help your neck problems (I have them myself--you might notice how asymmetrical my head is atop my shoulders) but incorrect practice can aggravate.

Throat lightly forward, chin lightly up
At certain points in the practice I do what looks like taking my head up or looking up.  However, this is two movements.  The first movement is me pushing my throat lightly forward.  The second movement is me taking my chin lightly up.

When performed correctly it should feel like the front of the neck is lengthening without squashing the back.

Chin to the middle of the throat
I also direct us to bring the chin to the middle of the throat.  That action is also two movements.  Here, the throat moves lightly backward and the chin moves down towards the middle of the throat.

When performed correctly it should feel like the back of the neck is lengthened without squashing the front.

Chin to the shoulder, ear tipped away
At certain times in the practice the head is facing in a different direction to the centre of the chest.  If this is the case, then I tip the chin in towards the shoulder that my head is closest to and I tip my ear away from that shoulder.  I do this in twisting and side bending.

When performed correctly it should feel like both sides of the neck is lengthened.

I pop on a good song and do this type of practice throughout the day, especially if I have been sitting down for a long time.  It helps bring circulation into the shoulders, upper back, and neck area as well as improving overall mobility.


  1. that is soo precious, the sequence as well as your niece. love it.

  2. Yes, she is so sweet. Lots to learn from her! Much metta.