Neck and shoulder stiffness is a common symptom for people in the modern era. Postural habits are the ultimate culprit. Too many corporate warriors and office dwellers spend long hours in front of the computers. When we are stuck physically idle in the same position for hours with minimal movements, the muscle and connective tissue tend to be dehydrated and weakened.
The next most common cause for problematic neck and shoulders is smartphone usage. Since the birth of smartphone, wifi and unlimited data plan, people of all ages are constantly on their device for long period of time. The increased usage of mobile phone becomes a mindless action during commute; it is so severe that many people are not aware of their poor postural habit. Next time, take a few minutes and observe your train/bus/ferry ride – you will be surprised to see the amount of people slouching.
Fortunately, this poor postural habit can be corrected consciously. The most natural way to hydrate our muscle and tissues is to always incorporate breathing during stretching and holding in a pose.
At your work desk, you can easily get into a Cat-Cow Stretch with breath connection.
- Hands can be resting on the lap, or interlaced fingers behind the head with palms support the bottom of the skull.
- Inhale to widen the collarbone and chest, and arch the spine forward; exhale to round the spine, draw the belly button toward the back and slight round the rotator cuffs inward.
- Repeat this for a few minutes and try to make the exhalation longer than the inhalation.
- Not only does the mindful breathing help expand the stretch, it tunes the parasympathetic nervous system to temporary get into Rest & Recover Mode.
The next effortless way to release neck tension is to internally rotate one arm and bring it behind your back, take a deep inhale to reach the other arm overhead, exhale simply to press the opposite corner of the head above the ear against the upper arm direction. This stretch can be held statically, or the head can be gently tilted back and forth with your breath flow. Prepare to bring your chin down at the end to complete this easy stretch.
The next shoulder release requires a strap, a belt or a stick.
- Simply hold the strap (or belt/stick) with both hands, start off with a much wider grip if your rotator cuffs are extra stiffed.
- Find a comfortable upright seat with your arms and strap in front of your body;
- As you inhale, bring your arms overhead, allowing both shoulders to glide through smoothly.
- As you exhale, row your arms to the back.
- Then inhale to reverse, and exhale to bring the strap to the front.
- Allow your arms to move simultaneously, be aware of the breath at the same time.
- Repeat for 10-15 times to soften the tight upper chest muscle, and to create mobility around the joints.
Using the same strap (or belt/stick), you may get into Gomukasana arms. This effective pose helps our shoulders to fully extend and rotate while simultaneously stretching and opening our arms and chests. This is suitable to be done seated upright. Ensure to stay for 10 deep breaths on each side, and let go of the strap slowly to release from the pose.
Consistency and frequency are definitely more beneficial than only going to a yoga class once a week. Start including these simple, yet effective, stretches and movement into your daily routine. Set a daily reminder in your calendar to kick off. Keep practicing and you will soon see the beneficial result.
By Annie Wu