With the holidays over, we find ourselves slowly trickling back to our office desks and back into our daily routines. Along with that comes the all-too-familiar, daily stresses of going to work: traffic, deadlines, deliverables, quotas, or even a new boss or a new job. And while we urban yogis are mentally equipped, through our consistent yoga practices, to handle these stressors and/or changes, our bodies might not be. Neck and shoulder pains could be one of the many signs that indicate stress manifesting in the body.
If you find yourself unable to practice at the studio to address these concerns, well, here are some stretches that you can do in the workplace or at home to relieve your neck and shoulders of pain and/or muscle tightness:
To begin, sit on a chair. Grab hold of the under seat, and make sure that as you do, your arm can straighten strongly. If the elbow is bent (even slightly bent), you can put a book or a couple of them on top of the seat. Sit on them to elevate yourself. From there, try lifting the chair using the hand that is grabbing the under seat.
If the shoulder lifts up as you try to pull the chair, that means you need to elevate yourself more. The shoulders should be lower than your neck when you are trying to pull the chair up. If done correctly, you should already feel a little bit of resistance around the neck and shoulder area already as you do.
1) Upper Trapezius Stretch
From there, simply bend the neck away from arm trying to pull the chair up. As much as you can, lower the ear close to the shoulder. You may also use your free hand to guide the ear to the shoulder. You might feel the stretch happening at the muscles in between the shoulder and the neck.
2) Levator Scapulae Stretch
From the same position as the Upper Trapezius stretch, simply shift your gaze towards the armpit of your free arm. You should feel the stretch move from the muscles in between the shoulders and neck at the top slightly behind that moving up to the sides of the neck.
3) Scalenes Stretch
From the same position as the Levator Scapulae stretch, trace your gaze from the armpit to the ceiling. You will find the stretch moving from the shoulders all the way to the sides of the neck more intensely.
4) Pectoralis Minor and Major Stretch
Find a wall space. Stand with your face to the wall then stretch your arms about 45 degrees from your side body. Then simply turn your chest away from the wall and the arm that is pressed against the wall. After staying in this position for a couple of breaths, re-face the wall then straighten your arms 90 degrees away from your side body. Bend the elbow at a 90-degree angle as well, then turn the chest away from the wall. This will stretch out your chest muscles, which if tight can hunch the shoulders and impinge them.
After these stretches, feel free to do a couple of rounds of these dynamic movements:
- Standing Cat and Cow: still facing the way, just press the palms against the wall and straighten out the elbows. Press the hands strongly against the wall so you feel your chest hollow inwards. Inhaling has you do so. You should feel the shoulder blades move apart from each other. Then from there, imagine touching your chest to the wall without bending the elbows. Exhaling as you do so. You should feel the shoulder blades move in towards each other.
- Standing Locust Pose: start out standing tall, begin to interlace your fingers behind you. You can use a belt or a strap if interlacing the fingers behind you is not accessible. Allow the elbows and shoulder blades to squeeze in towards each other to begin with to widen the top of the chest. Then, as you inhale, reach your chest up to the ceiling as you gaze up while you straighten out the elbows and reach your fists down to the ground. Exhale to release.
Try these stretches and dynamic movements in the workplace or at home! A couple minutes of self-care will not hurt and, in fact, will surely go a long way as we work our way through Year 2017.
Ron Habla currently teaches FNR, Vinyasa Flow, partner yoga in Urban Ashram Manila. He finished another course in acro yoga, Rehab Training Essentials and leads asana workshops that help new to yoga members build strength.