As a Pure Barre teacher, one of the things I notice with clients is the tendency to raise the shoulders when working out the chest, shoulder muscles (rotator cuffs), triceps and the rest of the arms. I always advise them to press the shoulders *down* because raising them puts undue stress on your neck and over-develops your trapezius, which is the triangular muscle behind your neck. Don’t get me wrong, muscle tone is great–but no woman comes to barre thinking, Awesome, I’ll get nice big traps from this!
Aside from the aesthetic concern, many people experience neck, shoulders, and the upper back pain from being hunched over at the desk. A few years ago, I kept feeling excruciating pain on my upper back until I realized it was caused by forward-head posture, and consciously worked to correct it. It made such a difference–I actually even noticed that I felt more optimistic and less depressed, probably because your body corresponds so much to your inner state. Having your shoulders roll down and back opens up your chest and clears your air pathway–all of which lead to a sense of clarity and confidence.
If you’re experiencing any of the issues above, you’ll feel so much better after doing some of these simple dance and yoga stretches for neck and shoulders. You’ll stretch out your neck muscles to lean them out and also relieve any pain in your upper back. These stretches also have mental and emotional benefits as well. We have such a resistance to letting go of our head and neck, probably because they’re the place where we hold our sense of identity and self. We live from our heads most of the time. Really try to let go and feel the crown of the head point to the floor, and feel how that releases so much tension and holdups.
Start cross-legged so that your right knee is over your left knee. Take your right hand on the floor by your side, then reach the left arm up and over to the right side. Your right forearm may rest on the floor if you are more flexible. *Release your neck over to the right side, but keep your supporting forearm active and lift away from your right shoulder joint.* You’ll feel an intense stretch on your left side neck.
From that position, just lower the left arm down to low V. Keep reaching with the fingertips–the more you reach, the more stretch you’ll feel all along the side of the neck. Carefully play with circling your arm out and feel how that stretches different angles.
Stay in position as you carefully circle out your neck. If you drop the chin forward you will feel more of a stretch on the back of the neck. (Feels so great!) Use your supporting side hand to gently and slowly press your head back up right (not using the neck muscles you just relaxed). Then, repeat the whole thing on the other side, switching arms and legs.
Come up standing, feet parallel and hip distance apart. Clasp hands together and push your hands away from your shoulders, round the back as you completely release the neck and shoulders to drop your head. The more you actively press your palms away from your shoulders, the more intense the stretch will be. You can also play with grabbing one hand and pulling with the other in this position.
From there, widen your stance, and point your toes in slightly. Hinge forward from your hips as you bring the arms behind your back and overhead. *Keep pressing the shoulder down away from the ears as you completely release head and neck. The crown of the head points down to the ceiling.* Play with gluing your palms together, or raising the arms higher, for more intensity. Shake your head yes and no; flutter your lips, let it all go.
Come back up standing. Raise your shoulders as high as you can toward your ears, keeping your arms active. Hold it here for 5 seconds.
Then roll your shoulders down and back and press down firmly, as you lift the chin and open your collar bones wide. Chest opens up. This feels great!
Come back to the floor. Come into pigeon pose, right shin forward, left leg stretched long behind you. Place two yoga blocks shoulder width apart, at the highest level. Fold over forward and place your upper arms over the yoga blocks, bringing your hands into prayer. Release your head, neck, and shoulders.
More yoga stretches: Yoga for Neck Pain
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