Do you, or have you ever experienced pain or discomfort in your shoulders or neck? You are NOT alone! Students, friends, family, co-workers, and even strangers are constantly expressing that they are in pain, and specifically, that their neck and shoulders are so tight they hurt.
This isn’t much of a surprise to me given our culture. So many of us are constantly on our phones, the computers, and/or driving. All of these things take a toll on our bodies if we’re not aware, mindful, and understand what practices we can do to oppose these things.
First thing that comes to mind when people complain about their shoulders– or almost anything in the body– is posture. How do you sit, stand, text, type, and drive when you’re not paying attention? Just go to a coffee shop for a couple hours and people watch… what you’ll see as a trend won’t be surprising.
Most of us when we’re texting, driving and using a computer tend to round the spine and the neck, which creates a rounding in the shoulders/upper arms AND a forward head carriage, or a forward lean of the head. This isn’t just an aesthetic issue – it drastically affects our body functioning at full capacity.
All of these shifts in the body that occur when we round can affect our physical, mental and emotional body. For instance, did you know that when we lean our head forward just 2 inches from the proper alignment that we add TWENTY POUNDS to the normal weight of the head? Our body and spine specifically were not meant to function this way.
In addition, when we round our backs, we increase the probability of doing structural damage to the discs and vertebrae of our spine– most of which are not reversible. When we round our shoulders forward, we decrease the amount of air we can breathe in, create more stress on the body and our nervous system, in addition to all of the muscles we are doing a disservice to by allowing them to remain weak, tight, or both.
So, how do we combat all of this? First, we become aware of how we sit. By creating a neutral spine when we sit, we reduce the likelihood of rounding. In addition, we stretch and strengthen our bodies.
The following exercises are my favorite ways to stretch, open and create space throughout the neck, shoulder, and upper chest area. (If you’re interested in learning ways to STRENGTHEN this area, comment below and I’ll make a post about that, too!) All of these poses can either be done sitting or standing.
1. Seated Cat/Cow
Start in a comfortable seated position with your feet on the floor, your spine long, and your shoulders back and away from your ears. Take several breaths here focusing on lengthening and creating space as you breathe in, and allowing the navel to move towards the spine as you breathe in, creating support and stability. Bring one hand on each thigh with your palms facing down. As you inhale begin to slightly arch the back, lift your chest and press your shoulder blades towards each other. Look up if it feels safe for your neck. As you exhale, draw your navel towards your spine, round your back and your head down. Continue this flow several more times then pause in neutral for a few breaths.
2. Lateral Bend w/ Lateral Neck Release
As you inhale, reach both arms overhead & allow your shoulders to move away from your ears. As you exhale bend over towards the left and bring your left hand down. Take an inhale and press your hips down and reach your right hand up. Take a few breaths into the right side of your body.
On your next exhale, bring your right arm back by your side as you bring your left ear towards your left shoulder. Inhale, reach your right arm back overhead and bring your head to center. Repeat 5-8 times. On the last one, as you bring your arm to your side and your left ear to your left shoulder, pause. Flex your wrist and press your palm towards the floor to increase sensation. Stay for 5-8 breaths then repeat on the other side.
3. Cactus flow
Begin by finding a neutral spine. Inhale as you bring both arms overhead and as you exhale, bend your elbows and bring your arms into cactus/goal post arms. Keep your shoulder blades hugging towards each other and away from your ears. Take a few breaths here then we’ll add movement. When you’re ready, keep your arms in cactus/goal post and as you inhale lift your arms and touch your fingers overhead– keeping your elbows bent. As you exhale, bring your elbows down towards your torso or hips. Continue 5-8 rounds then rest in neutral.
4. Eagle Arms
Begin in cactus/goal post arms. Inhale here and hug your shoulder blades towards each other. As you exhale bring your arms in front so your hands and forearms touch. Inhale to open back up. Repeat 5x then on the next exhale bring your right arm over your left so that either you have the front or back of your arms and hands touching, or you give yourself a hug. Explore hugging the elbows towards each other and moving the arms up and down as you continue to breathe. Let your shoulders be relaxed and imagine you could breathe into space between your shoulder blades. Take 5-8 breaths here then repeat on the other side.
5. Wall Stretches x 3:
Part one: Take a few breaths in neutral before coming to standing. You can practice this against a wall, a door jam or anything else the works. Begin by facing the wall and bring your right arm out so your hand is parallel to your shoulder and your palm presses into the wall, or at 3 o’clock. When you’re ready, begin to move towards the left SLOWLY so your right hand stays on the wall. Find the place where you get a stretch in the front of your chest/arm but you can also breathe easily. To increase sensation, bring your left ear towards your left shoulder. To increase more, lift your right hand from the wall so only your pinky presses strongly against the wall. Stay 5-8 breaths then come back to center.
Part two: From here, bring your arm to a 1 o’clock position with your shoulders relaxed. Repeat the same instructions for this stretch, moving slowly, mindfully and with the breath. Repeat 5-8x then come back to center.
Part three: From center, bring your right arm to 5 o’clock. Repeat again 5-8x then come back to center. Repeat on the other side.
Try these stretches together or one at a time and notice the feeling of discomfort, pain, and rounding diminishing. Don’t forget to comment below for your feedback, or if you have any questions. Also, please share this post with anyone you know who may benefit!