A few emails and comments I received this week were very similar to this: “I wanted to let you know that the pain in my …. shoulders are greatly reduced after class today. I loved that class and it was absolutely perfect for the issues I’m dealing with right now. I wish I could just duplicate the same stretches every day as I’m sure that would mend my poor body”. So let’s go over some of the concepts covered and I will endeavor to put out a video which would compliment this post.
Shoulder muscles are the topmost layer around the neck, therefor shoulder muscles should be stretched before neck muscles to produce the most benefits. BUT shoulder muscles will be less likely to resist a stretch if you strengthen them first; they will be tired and be manipulated more easily. The shoulder exercises are more complicated to describe so a video will follow shortly to assist you but in the meantime you can do simple postural adjustments which are also neck and shoulder strengthening exercises:
THE IDEA: The muscles that depress, or keep the shoulders down, tend to be the weakest of the human body (well, technically the weakest and smallest is located inside the ear).
THE EXERCISE: If you slightly shrug your shoulders then let gravity pull them down, you are almost there….now gently press your shoulders as wide as you can and experiment to see if they drop a little more without compressing the spine and getting shorter or leaning back. Our shoulders tend to round forward so it takes A LOT of focus to trigger and train the muscles that reverse this. Take the opportunity this summer to watch other people’s upper back to see how little muscle activity happens in the mid-spine and back of the shoulders. Don’t stare though;)
THE IDEA: One of the strongest muscles in the human body is the masseter, located in the jaw which can close with a force of up to 200 lbs on the molars!! But the muscles that pull the chin back (without triggering jaw tension) are located on the front of the cervical spine. These anterior neck muscles work quite beautifully with the shoulder depressors and have many benefits for invigorating and stretching fascia. The mere change of head and shoulder positioning throughout our day can have immense effects on tension, breath, immunity and appearance.
THE EXERCISE: While keeping your spine as long as possible, gently draw your chin back and parallel to the floor and at the same time ensure you have no jaw tension. You may notice a lengthening of the upper neck, front and back. This will be difficult to perform for long periods of time but there will be less discomfort the more often you practice this.
THE IDEA: The neck is full of strong ligaments. The shoulder is too, but there is not a collection of ligaments between the shoulder blade and spine, therefor balanced muscle strength is required to keep your shoulders and neck in optimal alignment and prevent wear and tear. Interestingly, your neck requires the ability of static muscles to hold your head upright and to use our senses which are located up there. You also need dynamic muscles which allow you to move your head in response to those senses. If your body has begun to mix these functions up, meaning your dynamic muscles are trying to hold your head still, and your static muscles are trying to move your head, there will be problems.
THE EXERCISE: With your neck as lengthened to the ceiling as possible nod your head softly ‘yes’ using the joint at the base of the skull (the very top of the spine). Then use the next joint down to turn your head slowly as if motioning ‘no’ Finally, allow your head to drop softly to one shoulder while keeping the rest of your spine still. Then lift your head to upright again and see if you can feel your face muscles assisting in this.
As you do more, you want to FEEL more, not push harder. More info to follow soon but you are always welcome to ask more questions in class:)