Because of my work as a writer and online teacher, I clock up a lot of computer time, on a daily basis and this little sequence helps keep my neck supple and the blood, energy and lymph moving freely. It means I can actually look over my shoulder when parking my car! In fact, I think of my neck as the motorway to my brain and I don't want any traffic jams!
Naturally, if you have any kind of neck injury or suspected problem, seek your medical practitioner's advice on ANY neck exercise.
I either do the whole sequence or part/s of it and encourage you to try all aspects and choose what seems to suit YOUR neck. If you have persistent neck pain, consider seeing a practitioner: doctor, cranial-sacral, osteopath, physiotherapist - whoever you feel drawn to.
Our neck is indeed a motorway to our precious brain so needs to be cared for. Key nerves run through the neck area, including the Vagus Nerve that research is showing has an impact on nearly every single organ and system of our body. Blood and lymph vessels share this busy motorway and each of the 7 key chakras are located in neck 'chambers', so you will not simply be working the physical body but the energetic one too - can you separate them? I don't think so!
To avoid congestion of any of these vital aspects of our health, here are a few ideas to explore.
Stop the merry-go-round: we can hunch up and live too much in our brains, here's a method to temporarily bring you out of that state, which in turn will enable you to make the decision to do this sequence (or part of it). Do it right now!
Stop and stretch your arms backwards and towards the floor, anything that opens up the chest and encourages the shoulders downwards.
Hunch the shoulders and relax them.
Place hands over your heart to connect to this healing energy and divert attention from the brain
Focus on 3 blessings in your life - smile - breath deeply and feel the connection to that loving heartfelt energy of gratitude.
Evaluating the range of movement: gently turn your head and look over the right shoulder - note how far you can turn. Do the same on the other side.
Pull out the ears: literally massage firmly and pull out the entire ear area. According to Auricular Acupuncture, this stimulates the entire body, including the muscles, tendons, ligaments.
Grasp and lift/massage the upper trapezius muscle - on both sides of the body. It's a favourite to become tight and congested - which diminishes healthy flow.
Hairbrush tap over entire neck and shoulder area - not sure what I'm talking about? click the link!
Do the same neck turns and see if you can move your neck that little bit further.
Stretching the side neck: Simply bring your right ear down towards your right shoulder, but make sure you don't hunch that shoulder. It really doesn't matter if you can only move it one inch, just do enough to feel the stretch (not pain).
Repeat on the other side.
Increase the stretch by: right ear to right shoulder (as above) but this time hold the bottom of the chair ( if you are sitting) with the left hand. If you are standing simply stretch that left hand down - you'll feel the stretch increase.
Turbo charge the stretch by: bring the right hand over the top of the clavicle bone and feel, with the fingertips the muscle mass of the big SCM muscle that runs from up behind the ear down to the sternum. (see diagram) It's involved in bending and rotating the head .... think of the old Hollywood actress looking over her shoulder "I'm ready for my close up". Looking straight ahead, apply pressure over the muscle with the fingertips. Now move that right ear to the right shoulder - can you feel the difference? the resistance?
Making the most of any stretch: Don't go into pain, but feel the stretch and remain still in that position, smiling and breathing for 20-30 seconds. Muscles do not release by themselves, they rely on an instruction from the brain, via the nerve pathways, and the brain has to feel it is 'safe' to release muscular tension, which often is initially a safety reaction that should have been temporary but has become one of the body's bad habits.
In addition, the brain is going to be even more reluctant to release the neck muscles as they are so involved in the support of the head and brain itself.
So don't rush stretching, take your time, ideally 20-30 seconds per stretch.
Taking it further: Remaining in that ear to shoulder stance, move the mouth into a 'kiss', jutting the jaw slightly - can you feel it increase the stretch as it engages more of the neck?
Ending any stretch: slowly return to start position and tune into the area you have stretched: can you feel a difference? if you've stretched one side of the neck, does it now feel different to the other side? Evaluation is important, it's motivating to be mindful of the effect any stretch or energy exercise, when you feel a difference, when it feels less stiff or crunchy, you'll be more inclined to make simple stretching a part of your life.
Where's the sticking point? This exercise must be done slowly and gently.
Starting position is head held high, feel a string on the top of the head pulling you up to the sky. This visualisation has the effect of bringing the neck vertebrae into a better alignment.
Stretch a semi-circle: Bring the right ear towards the shoulder, stay there for a few seconds and then slowly roll the head forward, literally inch by inch. You may encounter a muscular reaction, and it may be in the upper back or shoulder, not just in the neck. This is because we are now stretching the upper superficial muscles that insert under the occipital ridge.
Okay so when you feel a reaction, stop, breath and stay in that position for the famous 20-30 seconds while the brain decides if it's safe to relax that muscle tension.
Continue to the other shoulder where you'll end with left ear to left shoulder.
If you enjoy this, go back from left to right, but slowly and gently.
Come back to start position and assess.
Safe stretching the back of neck: The simplest, safest and in my mind one of the most powerful stretches for the back of the neck area is to first of all massage with fingertips or thumbs all along the occipital ridge (skull bone). Lots of muscle attachments here so when you come across a sore point, linger a while and hold with pressure, release, rub and move on inch by inch. I like to use my thumbs to do the massage, so my palms cradle my head.
Now simply bring your chin to your chest, watch that your spine is straight and shoulders not hunched. Wait for the magic 20-30 seconds while the brain decides. Come up very very slowly and carefully.
If you are ready to increase the stretch: place the wrists (crossed) on the back of the head. Do not deliberately apply pressure, let the weight of the wrists/arms increase the stretch. I love doing this but an always careful and slow and after that 20-30 seconds I'll feel muscular release all along the spine, shoulders, rhomboids ..... it really highlights where tension is stored.
Working the front of the neck: my personal preference is to NOT tilt the head backwards, if there is any damage it can exacerbate it. I am not a fan of the head-rolling full circle.
Instead I prefer to gently pull out the front of the neck with my fingertips, one hand stretching up along the jaw while at the same time the other hand stretches down along the side and then the clavicle. Keep the head straight.
Then pinch along the horizontal centre line of the neck, about a dozen little pinches to activate the area. This can activate the 7 Chakra chambers.
Thyroid can be stimulated by figure 8'ing
Try the Mini neck cross, part of The Eden Method daily exercise routine, it encourages the basic energies of the body to cross, which in turn:
· Greatly improve the body’s natural healing ability.
· Enhance the absorption of vitamin supplementation.
· Relieve fatigue, exhaustion and lack of motivation.
· Bring clarity to your thinking.
· Help your whole system function more efficiently.
· Improve co-ordination.
· Reduce certain learning difficulties.
· Stimulate memory.
· Pump lymphatic and cerebro-spinal fluid.
· Help you feel more balanced, motivated and energised.
· Harmonise energies and increase natural self healing abilities.
· Ease depression.
· Support the immune system.
· As described previously, clasp the top of each shoulder and ‘pinch’ that upper trap between fingertips and heel of hand, rolling the muscle. Do on both sides of the body.
· Take the right hand and clasp it around the left side of the neck so the palm is against the skin, fingertips over the vertebrae.
· Apply a gentle pressure and pull around the neck (avoiding any direct pressure on the vertebrae themselves when you cross them), down over the right breast down to your waist.
· Repeat on the other side
Repeat as many times as feels good – about two or three on each side.
End with hands on heart area, smile and breath.
One last tip from my schooldays:
Take a lightweight book and place on the top of the head. Keep it there while you work. We used to have to do it at school when I was small. It helps keep the neck in alignment and the minute you start to put your head back, look through the bottom of those glasses or squint, the book falls off. It helps you create a new postural habit.