Here are 8 stretches you can do anywhere—at your desk, in front of the TV or when you're travelling. If you practice them consistently, they will help to release tension, relieve pain and increase your range of motion in the neck, shoulders and upper back.
Where focus goes, energy flows
As I’ve written about before, one of the most significant benefits of yoga, is that it is some of the only time you get to spend focussing on what’s going on inside your body and mind, without distraction. So while I'm not a proponent of multitasking with yoga (or ever really), taking stretch breaks at work, when you’re travelling or at home relaxing, can be a great opportunity to tune into your internal life.
In this article, I'll look at two areas specifically—your posture and the quality of your breathing.
Alongside your athletic training, it’s likely that poor posture is contributing to tightness in your neck and shoulders. It’s almost impossible not to lapse into the head forward, shoulders slumped position if you spend any time at a desk, in front of a screen or tapping away on your smartphone—and this can cause a cascade of problems.
Over time, the muscles in your chest and the fronts of your shoulders become short and tight and the muscles in the back of your neck, shoulders and your mid-back become overstretched and weak. This imbalance between the back and front of your body stresses the muscles and ligaments in the area and can cause a number of issues both up and downstream. These may include carpal tunnel syndrome, rotator cuff injuries, shooting pain in the neck and along the shoulder blades, as well as chronic lower back pain.
So when you interrupt what you’re doing to cycle through these stretches, take a moment to readjust your posture. In this way you’ll also be addressing one of the root causes of the issue.
- Sit up straight with your ears, shoulders and hips in a straight line.
- Look straight ahead.
- Relax your shoulders away from your ears.
- Soften the muscles in your face, especially in your jaw.
Poor posture can also interfere with healthy breathing patterns, so when you've corrected your alignment, turn your attention to your breath.
In yoga, we practice deep, diaphragmatic breathing, in and out through the nose. This type of breathing is known as a down-regulating technique as it calms your central nervous system. And when your body is in a relaxed state, your muscles are more receptive to stretching.
During your stretch break, try to maintain diaphragmatic breath throughout. The first few times, you may lose track, but in time, it will become automatic.
- Seal your lips.
- Take deep breaths deep into your abdomen.
- Allow your belly to expand on the inhalation and contract on the exhalation.
- Relax your shoulders and sit up straight.
Hold each of these stretches for 5-10 breaths, in and out through your nose. You can repeat the cycle several times. Be mindful and explore your specific areas of tightness and tenderness so that you can fine-tune your recovery.
Stretch breaks alone are not going to fix your neck and shoulder issues, so here are some other strategies to consider.
- Soft tissue work, including massage
- Warm baths
- Magnesium supplementation
- Restorative yoga classes
- Not working so hard/booking a holiday
This is the subject for another article, but if your sport prioritises muscles in either the front or the back of your body, ensure that you’re following a strength training program that addresses this imbalance. For example, mountain bikers need to focus on strengthening their upper backs as these are the muscles that are commonly over-stretched and weak.
I have put together a 5-video mini series to target pain and tightness in the neck, shoulders and upper back. You can find out more and watch your FREE 3-Minute Upper Body Mobility routine here: yogaforneckandshoulders
Please let me know if you have any questions and if you have other neck and shoulder stretches you can share with us.