The key to letting go of neck tension.
Most people hold a lot of tension in our necks, partly because this is an area that will naturally tense up when we are stressed (or cold) but all that sitting at desks we do and peering down at our phones doesn’t help, either. The key to letting go of neck tension isn’t about stretching it out like crazy but creating the conditions for allowing the neck to relax on its own. Here are three poses to do that:
Eagle arms neck stretch
From seated or standing, wrap your right arm under your left and, if you can, twist-tie your wrists. If you can’t, holding opposite shoulders works well. Lift your elbows up a bit and try to pull the bottom tips of your shoulderblades down: when these mid-back muscles activate, the upper part of the trapezius where most of us hold our neck and shoulder tension can begin to relax. Lengthen the back of your neck by tucking your chin in, and then relax your right ear to your shoulder. Don’t pull, just let gravity take your head weight, keeping the shoulderblades actively pulling down away from your ears. Take a couple of breaths here, and then come back to center and relax your head to the left side. When you’re ready, come back to center, unwind the arms, and then wrap the left arm under the right and repeat.
When you have finished this Eagle arms sequence, interlace your fingers around behind your back and pull the fists away, letting your chest open.
Side Angle Pose
Come into Side Angle pose: step your feet apart about a leg’s length with your right toes pointing forward to the short edge of your yoga mat and your left toes pointing to the long edge of your yoga mat. Align your right knee directly over your ankle. Lean forward and place your right elbow on your right thigh. Actively press your elbow down into your thigh so you lift up out of your right shoulder. Take your left hand either on your hip or let it slip around behind your lower back. Pin the shoulderblades down the back as in the last pose. Turn your heart to the side wall or slightly up if you can. Let the weight of your head relax toward the floor. Don’t collapse into your shoulder, keep your elbow pressing down and forward to keep your shoulderblade pulling down your back. You may like to turn your head slightly down or up to explore releasing different parts of your neck. When you are ready, carefully come up and repeat on the other side.
Take a similar stance to Side Angle, if slightly shorter, but straighten both legs. Do not lock your knees. Tip your right hip back and reach over your right leg, trying to keep your torso in line with your front leg. Put your hand on a block close to your leg or right on your shin but be careful not to put too much weight there. Turn your chest to the side wall. Pin your shoulderblades down your back. Reach your left arm to the back wall so that your palm hovers over your hip. Pull the shoulder back even further, and tuck your chin in to lengthen the back of your neck. Without collapsing, relax the weight of your head gently towards the earth. As before, you can tip your chin up or down to get different effects for the neck stretch. Gently come out and repeat on the other side.
After you complete any combination of these three poses, you might like to come into a standing forward fold, simply allowing your head and neck to relax completely. Give the head a shake or a nod from side to side and take a few breaths to let all those muscles relax.