Unwind Wednesday – Neck & Shoulder Flow

Over the weekend, I was so very lucky to get to see some of my CDC friends, whom I haven’t seen in 6 or 7 years! So much happens in that time and yet it seems like so little has changed when we all get together. (CDC stands for Collegiate Development Consultant…we were all consultants for our sorority after college.) Lots of laughing, talking, eating, dancing, drinking, and celebrating of our friend Ashleigh at her wedding.  The pictures on my phone didn’t turn out, but once I get a few from friends, I’ll try to share.  The wedding was in Cincinnati, which really surprised me.Screenshot_20160622-173807.jpg I underestimated it as another Midwestern city but it had a great energy, and we all loved exploring the neighborhoods. It was one of the best weekends I’ve had in a long time, and wish all the best to Ashleigh and Eric!!

This is three of us on Sunday at brunch after the wedding. If you haven’t tried Nada and there is one close to you, definitely check it out! They were so accommodating with gluten and dairy allergies.

 

 

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Sweet scalenes…so tight!

Whether it is from a weekend of traveling, sleeping on poor hotel pillows, awkward sleeping poses in airplane chairs, or the daily grind of your desk job, we’re destined to develop some poor habits leading to stiff necks and tight shoulders. As a yoga teacher, I try to get to know my students, if they have any injuries, what they do for work, etc., and I know from their jobs, what type of stretches to incorporate.  If you sit at a desk a lot, the chances are quite high you have very tight neck muscles and tension in your shoulders.  Even the most athletic individuals with these types of jobs can experience this because of the constant posture you hold of staring at the screen, sitting at a desk that’s too high or too low, and limiting mobility in general during those 8+ hours.  I am no exception…tight muscles.

 

Here’s a quick little flow that you can do at home or in your office with some modifications.

 

Cow/Cat: Warm up the spine.

Inhale on cow, dropping your belly, and looking up. Try to pull your tailbone toward the back wall and reach the top of your skull up so you feel like you’re creating space in your spinal column.

Exhale on cat, arching your spine, pushing down through the floor with your hands and the tops of your feet.

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Seated pose with neck stretch: You can reach one hand toward the ground, leaning your head the opposite direction, applying just a little pressure with your fingers. You’ll definitely feel this stretch on the side of your neck. Take a few deep breaths on one side and then switch sides and repeat.

20160622_153331Eagle Arms: This pose stretches the shoulders and upper back. Start with arms extended in front of you with your palms up. Cross your right arm over your left near the elbows. Bring your arms (still crossed) back toward you and either wraps arms/hands so that the palms face (like in the picture), or place backs of hands against each other. Focus on breathing into the upper back and expanding the space between your shoulder blades. Raise your elbows slowly and you’ll feel a deeper stretch. Take 5-7 deep breaths, release arms, and switch sides.

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Cow Face (Arms only): As you are seated, reach your left arm toward the ceiling, and bend it at the elbow to let the left hand drop between your shoulder blades at the base of your neck. Reach your right arm behind you and try to grab the left hand. The weight of the hold should be a good stretch, but you can pull a little with your bottom hand if needed.  Modification: You can see here that my right arm is a little tight as it’s not quite perpendicular.  If it’s difficult for your hands to reach, hold a dish towel, strap, or belt with your left hand and let the item drop down to the floor. Grab the item (towel, tie, belt, etc.) with your bottom hand and use the item to allow you to stretch. You’ll slowly improve your flexibility and shoulder mobility to the point you may no longer need the assistive item.

Breathe deeply for 5-7 breaths. Release your arms and repeat on the opposite side. Avoid putting pressure on the neck with the top arm. If this occurs, try leaning back or using a towel as mentioned to assist you.
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Child’s Pose: This is a resting pose. Bring your knees toward each other with distance between your feet. Sit back toward your heels and extend your arms in front of you with forward to the ground. Take 3-5 breaths here.

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Thread the Needle: From Child’s Pose, reach your left arm underneath your body. You can do this with your hips still back, or for a deeper stretch, bring your left shoulder back toward your knees, and your hips may naturally come up (as in picture). The left side of your head will be gently resting on the ground.Take 5-7 deep breaths here and switch sides.

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Downward Dog: From Thread the Needle, come back onto all fours and push up, sending your hips up and toward the back of the room.  Reach your heels toward the ground and pedal them back and forth…it’s completely normal for them not to touch the ground. Take 3-5 breaths here. (Hint: Place your hands a little wider than your shoulders if your shoulders are tight. Also, keep pressure into the base of your thumb and index finger, which should take some pressure off of your wrist.)

Downward dog is great for so many things…elongates your spine. Gives you a realignment (you may here your vertebrae crackle but that’s ok!!). Relieves anxiety and stress since it’s an inversion.

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Standing Forward Fold with Shoulder Opener: Come to standing from downward dog, and clasp your hands behind you at the base of your spine. Fold forward slowly, bring your hands back and let gravity be the pull that stretches them. Soften your knees slightly with a small bend. Breathe deeply here for 5-7 breaths.

Modification: If it is difficult to clasp your hands, use the towel from earlier as an extension of your hands, and grasp that with each side. It will give you more range of motion and allow you to increase flexibility over time.

 

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Kneeling Prayer Pose with Blocks: Start in a kneeling position and place your elbows on two blocks in front of you.  Bring your hands together in a prayer position and drop your head between your elbows. Bring your prayer hands the base of your neck.  Breathe here for 5-7 breaths.

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 Shoulder  Opener with a Wall: Stand near a wall and place your forearms on the wall, parallel to each other and perpendicular to the floor.  Your elbows should be at shoulder height and shoulder distance apart.  Walk your feet to a place where your hips are at a right angle with your chest parallel to the floor. Take 5-7 deep breaths.
You can slowly cool down by coming into downward dog and then child’s pose again.
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Namaste!

 

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