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If you, like the rest of us, are logging more time than ever in front of your screen and on your phone, chances are, at some point, you’re going to experience tech or text neck—discomfort, tightness, or pain in your neck and upper back. Fortunately, there are quick, easy, and effective ways to release those muscles which are most vulnerable to stress and strain. And best of all, you can do them at your desk.

As a national yoga teacher who specializes in the intersection of yoga and life off the mat, I can tell you that questions about and requests for neck releases are among the most popular I receive, which is indicative that, yes, Houston, we do have a work-posture problem. Whether I’m teaching yoga classes, in-house corporate workshops, or giving talks at events around the country, people often ask how to deal with and heal their chronic neck discomfort. And since nobody has endless amounts of time to follow a lengthy and rigorous protocol, I’ve assembled these 3 effective, efficient stretches for us desk jockeys, myself included.

1: Upper back. This is one of my favorite ways to release the upper back muscles. According to Lalla McHugh, a seasoned physical therapist with private practices in both Braintree and Roslindale, MA, “Eagle arm posture can help counteract long hours sitting at a desk, or using a cell phone. It provides a good stretch for your latissimus, trapezius and deltoids, (muscles of the shoulder and upper back), and can help maintain a healthy length of your rotator cuff muscles.

How to: sit up tall and bring the arms in front of you at a 90-degree angle, elbows at shoulder-height. If this is enough of a stretch for you, stay here. If you need more, drop the right elbow below the left and twine your forearms. The key to this release is to keep the elbows comfortably lifted–if it feels ok, equal height to the shoulders–and the shoulder blades as relaxed and low as possible. McHugh, who is herself a yoga practitioner, senior meditation teacher, and certified level 10 esoteric healer, advises, “To ensure an effective and safe stretch be sure to sit up straight while performing it, and don’t to push the stretch to the point of pain.”

 

If you need more stretch, press the elbows away from you slightly and let the head hang forward (photo below). McHugh explains, “When you gently bend the head forward, you increase the fascial pull from the neck into the upper back.” Stay for 30-60 seconds, then switch sides if you dropped an elbow, or just do the pose again with the elbows next to each other.

“Lastly, remember,” McHugh said, “if you can’t comfortably do the full posture, ask an experienced yoga teacher well-versed in anatomy and modifications how to best modify the stretch.”

 

 

 

2: Side of your neck. If you’ve been working on your computer or texting on your phone, you might start to notice you feel it in your neck.

How to: sitting tall, try to relax your shoulders down toward the floor and then drop your right ear toward your right shoulder. Immediately, you should feel a really nice stretch down the left side of your neck. Stay for 30 seconds, then stay exactly as you are and turn your gaze down to the floor. Now stay here for 30 seconds. These stretches target the levator and erector spinae muscles.

 

 

 

 

To intensify this stretch, lift your right hand to the back of your head and with the pressure of one finger (aka NOT TOO HARD), BRIEFLY (about 2 seconds) try to gently lift your head up, as you also gently resist with your fingertips. So the head won’t actually move, but you’ll deepen your stretch. You can repeat the lift/resist 2-3 times.

Why does this work? Dr. Leonard Kamen, Clinical Director of MossRehab Outpatient (a tertiary rehabilitation hospital in Philadelphia, and one of 10 best rehabilitation hospitals in the US), and Clinical Associate Professor of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Temple University, explains: “The extensor muscles work to keep your head up. When you work at a computer, and hang the head forward, they become less and less capable of maintaining postural control. The levator scapulae, which connects to the superior medial corner of the scapula bone and then makes its way up to C 2-3- transverse process juncture (in your neck), is a long muscle and tends to fatigue easily. Over time, hunched over your desk or device, it takes a beating. So it’s an important muscle to strengthen.”

When you press your head up and resist with your fingertips, you’re gently strengthening this vulnerable muscle—which is great. But you may also notice, as I do when I try this at my desk after a day of writing, that you’ll also feel a deeper stretch. I asked Dr. Kamen why and how that works.

“When you give yourself this isometric pose, you’re resetting golgi-tendon organs—the spindles inside the muscles that tell you how much stretch you’re capable of,” he explained. “When they’re tight, they’re fully loaded. But with first an isometric engagement followed by relaxation, you’re resetting them.” (So don’t forget the relaxation part!)

In my opinion, the really cool part of this is that you’re not just going to feel better (although that is pretty cool), but you’re actually reprogramming your body and redefining your flexibility—as you also strengthen those muscles! Now, that’s a major win-win-win in my book.

3: Lengthen and release the back of your neck with occipital traction.

How to: Sit up tall. Bring your fingertips to the back of your head. At the base of your skull, where the head meets the neck, you’ll feel two bony ridges—that’s your occiput. Consciously draw your shoulder blades down and relax the shoulders,  then hook your fingertips under the occiput and gently press forward (toward your chin) and lift up (toward the sky). Drop the shoulders again—the goal is to create as much length and space along the neck between the head and shoulders as possible. When you draw the shoulders down and pull the occiput up, you’ll probably feel a really nice release. Hold for 30 seconds as you traction the occiput, lengthening and releasing the muscles that run down the back of your neck, then let it go.

I also asked Dr. Kamen if he and other doctors in the pain field are seeing a rise in patients with tech neck. He said he tech neck is technically classified as a repetitive strain disorder. And went on to explain, “There’s a long history of repetitive strain disorders (based on the work people do), and over the past 20 years it’s been on the rise for computer workers for sure. It has always been controversial in the medical field because you can’t get a picture—(an MRI, or ultrasound) of it. It’s just a repetitive challenge to muscles because you’re sitting in odd postures for long lengths of time. For practitioners in my field, it falls into recognizable myofascial pain.”

Friends, that’s why I’m giving you these tools to support your wellness in these vulnerable areas. Follow along for more well-focused work series and let us know in the comments how these feel.

All photos by Jenna Blum 

Athleta Chi Snap

I’m thrilled to have my first piece featured on the Athleta Chi Blog! Check out my how-to guide on going “OM for the Holidays: 5 Tips to Keep You Zen“–for when your back’s tight from the plane, your belly’s too full, you can’t sleep, or the ever-loving fam is driving you crazy (um…not that MY fam or YOUR fam would ever do that!) 😉

 

If you’ve been shoveling snow lately (thanks, #Blizzardof2015!), here are the five most important post-shoveling stretches to minimize an aching back and sore muscles later.

1. Release your upper back: Eagle Arms.

Bring the arms in front of you at a 90-degree angle, elbows at shoulder-height. If this is enough of a stretch for the shoulders/upper back, stay here. If you need more of s stretch, drop the left elbow below the right and twine the forearms, pressing the back of the palms together. The key to releasing the upper back muscles is to keep the elbows lifted–equal height to the shoulders–and the shoulders as relaxed and low as possible. Take ten deep breaths and switch sides.













2. Stretch your lower back: Modified Half Moon Pose.
Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Place your right hand on your right hip. Lift the left arm up and then to the right. Take ten deep breaths here, using your breath to expand the left ribs, deepening the stretch. Switch sides.
















3. Release your psoas: Crescent Lunge.
The psoas is the largest hip flexor muscle. It runs up the front of the hip, cuts through the abdominal cavity and attaches to the lower lumbar spine. Stretching the psoas not only gives you a hip flexor stretch, it can also release lower back tightness. Stand in a lunge position, with your right foot forward and the right knee bent at a 90-degree angle. Tuck your tailbone forward to intensify. Stay for 10 deep breaths and switch sides.
















4. Stretch your arms: Forward Bend with Arm Twist. Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Bend forward to a comfortable level, lifting your arms up behind you.  Rotate the thumbs in (toward the center line) and then out to stretch your biceps.








5. Release your chest muscles: Doorway Pose.
As you head in from all your hard work, stand in the doorway and put your right arm out at a ninety-degree angle. Press your palm, forearm, and elbow against the doorframe and twist your chest gently to the left. Stay for 10 deep breaths and switch sides.




Taking time to stretch all the major muscles you’ve just worked will minimize soreness and increase your chances for the quickest snowpocalytic recovery possible. Stay warm, stay hydrated, and remember the most important pose of all: couch-asana, which should be done lying down and for an extended amount of time. 🙂




*Thank you to my co-snowga photographer and model, STC

On the mat and off, your primary focus may be on stretching your muscles. But whatever your level of flexibility—you may actually have a fascial “restriction” on top of your muscles, and the muscles themselves may be perfectly flexible. For this reason, I work both muscularly and fascially in the classes I teach, as well as in my personal practice.

You may be wondering what exactly IS this mysterious, enigmatic fascia, which potentially holds the key to unlocking the next level of your practice?

Fascia is a wet, slippery, see-through tissue in your body that pretty much looks like Saran wrap. If you’ve ever cooked raw chicken, you know exactly what I’m talking about. And if you gagged at the thought of raw chicken, make yourself some peppermint tea, and keep reading.

Like raw chicken, humans have that same slippery cling-wrap encasing all our muscles, organs, and other body parts. If you’re not working fascially, you’re missing out on an important component of flexibility and functionality on and off the mat.

Important note: fascia doesn’t stretch. Ever. It can, however, get stuck or “caught” when ideally it should slip and glide. You can release these restrictions three ways: with massage therapy; foam rolling; and/or slow, deep stretching.

Today we’re going to use slow, deep, stretching to help release both hip flexor muscles, and the fascial covering over your hip flexors. I chose to work on hip flexors in this piece, because they can contribute to front-hip pain as well as lower-back pain. The psoas muscle, which is the deepest muscle in your entire body as well as one of your largest muscles, runs up the front of your hip, cuts through your abdominal cavity, and attaches into your lumbar spine. A tight psoas can pull you into lordosis, or being swaybacked, as well as cause lower-back tightness. The psoas is important not only for initiating every single step you take (it’s the largest of the hip flexors—as in, it “flexes” your leg up to take each step), it’s also key to spinal and abdominal health and strength. On the mat, it’s an integral part of many poses—among them, navasana (boat pose), forward folds, and many more.
Let’s get started.

From Low Lunge:

  • Make sure your right knee is directly above your ankle.
  • Draw your back knee down to the mat (as shown above).
  • Rest your palms on blocks at whatever height best supports you, and lets your arms stay relaxed. The elbows should be at ease—be careful not to brace or “lock” them out.
  • Stay for 5-8 cycles of slow breath. Really tune in and focus on the sensations in your hip flexors (the front of your right hip). How tight  are they? Is this side easy for you? Do you feel them stretching?
  • Now let’s move on to the fascial release. Make sure you still feel a stretch in your hip flexors. If you’re really flexible here, you may need to bring your chest a bit more forward and/or down until you get the right amount of stretch for you. If you’re really, really flexible here, you may need to bring the right arm inside the right leg in order to bring your chest down low enough to feel a stretch.WHEN you feel that stretch, let your head hang gently forward (as show above).
  • NOTICE how this brings you deeper into the hip flexor release, if you have fascial restriction in addition to muscular tightness. It can feel really intense or almost “pinchy.” If you don’t have a fascial restriction, you may not feel this stretch intensify but stay with it regardless so that you have a baseline to compare the release on your left side.
  • Stay for 5 more cycles of breath. Gently lift the head up. Tuck under the back toes and come up to a low lunge.
  • Switch sides and repeat.

Remember that everyone’s body is somewhat asymmetrical. You will have a tighter side and an easier side. You may also have a fascial restriction on only one side, or one day/week/month and not the next. Tune in and really notice your body in each pose. Notice how the muscular and fascial releases feel different. Notice which works best for you each time. Your only goal is to serve and support your body so that it can better serve and support you–both on the mat and off.

*This piece also appeared on Sequence Yoga Mats “Serious Sundays.”