Neck and shoulder pain (and tension) is the top complaint I hear from people. Most of us have experienced at least a period of serious discomfort in our neck or shoulders.
When I have pain or stiffness in my neck and shoulders, I don’t do stretches; I do Feldenkrais movement explorations. I find these far more effective at releasing tension and increasing mobility.
I’d like to give you one of my favorite “3-minute miracles” for neck and shoulder issues. I’ve seen videos of Dr. Feldenkrais using this particular sequence to excellent effect with people who had whiplash and other serious neck issues.
What’s a “3-minute miracle” you ask? It’s a short sequence of gentle movements that, as you do them, you really pay attention and sense what is happening. The changes can sometimes feel like a tiny miracle given how little time it takes to do.
The movements themselves are really just an excuse for learning. The key components are awareness and curiosity. These are what enable your nervous system to let go of chronic patterns and find new, easier ways of moving.
“Miracle” Exercise: Head and Shoulder, Together and Apart
This exploration can be done sitting right at your computer—or better yet, take a break from sitting and do it standing. To get the most benefit, do these movements slowly, stay within an easy range (i.e., less than 50% of what you can do) and use a minimum of effort (think light and lazy!). And don’t skip the rests after doing each part—giving your nervous system time to process is as important as doing the movements!
Start by sitting or standing with your arms hanging loosely (if sitting, sit at the front of your chair with your feet flat on the floor). Note: this entire sequence is done on one side. After, you can repeat it on the other side.
1. Start by turning a little right and left. Let your eyes scan the horizon as you look around. How far do you see easily without an ounce of strain? Notice the quality of your turning and any differences between the two sides. Pause and rest.
2. Choose one shoulder and lift it. With your eyes open or closed, begin to let one shoulder float up (toward your ear) and then down again. Lift your shoulder only as far as is completely comfortable. Can you feel how your shoulder blade slides on your ribs? And how your collarbone moves? Do this several times, making it smoother and simpler each time. Notice when you breathe in and when you breathe out. Then rest.
3. Next, bend your head sideways. Bend your head toward the shoulder you just moved. Keep your nose facing forward as you bend your ear a little closer to your shoulder. Stop shy of the point where you might feel a stretch. Sense how the opposite side of your neck lengthens, while the side you’re tilting to shortens. What other parts of you move? Make this movement enjoyable, reducing unnecessary effort wherever you find it. Pause and rest.
4. Combine the previous two movements. Raise your shoulder and bend your head simultaneously. Feel how your ear and shoulder move a little toward and away from each other. Find how to move both equally. Allow other parts of yourself to be soft so they too can participate in this movement—that is, don’t hold your ribs, spine, etc. still. Are you breathing? Take a rest.
5. Move your shoulder and ear up and down together. First bring your shoulder and ear toward each other a comfortable amount. Imagine a stick keeps your ear and shoulder at this same distance, and begin to move your head and shoulder up and down together. This means as your head moves toward being upright, your shoulder lifts a bit higher, and as your head bends to the side, your shoulder lowers. Again, breathe and allow your ribs, spine and rest of yourself to go along with the movement.
Gradually make the movement smaller but faster, lightly rocking your head and shoulder a small amount. Stop and rest.
6. Take a few moments to scan for any changes. Close your eyes and compare your two shoulders and two sides of your neck. Are there differences? What other effects have the movements and your attention had? Once again, turn a little right and left. Has there been any change in the range, quality or comfort to one or both sides?
If you’d like, repeat this sequence on the other side.
Would you like to have more ways to alleviate your neck and shoulder woes? Come to one of my Tuesday classes. The theme varies for each monthly series, however, improving your neck and shoulders is always the focus!