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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 

Long day? Long week? When there’s no time to hit a yoga class or head to the gym, here are four easy poses to help you unwind and rejuvenate. Try breathing extended-exhale breaths (exhaling longer than your inhale) to amp up the calm vibes in each pose.

You will need: A pillow or bolster, a full-size bath towel folded into a square, two hand towels, and your favorite lavender-scented body oil, butter, lotion, or essential oil.

#1: Seated Calming Pose. Begin seated on the floor, or in a chair. If you have lavender-scented body butter, oil, or lotion, apply it to your palms and rub together to warm up the essential oil and release the calming scent. If not, you can do this without any scent. Cup your hands over your face, especially nose, and breathe deeply, inhaling for a count of three and exhaling for a count of four or five. Repeat three times. Then cup your hands gently over your forehead and eyes, and take three more breaths. Allow the calming pressure of your hands, blocking out the light, and scent of lavender, soothe and calm you.

 

 

 

 

 

#2: Child’s Pose. Begin kneeling in table pose with your wrists under your shoulders and knees under your hips. Bring your toes to touch, knees wider than hips, then sit back on your heels and walk your hands forward. If your forehead rests comfortably on the floor, great. If not, place a yoga block or folded towel under it. Stay for 30-60 seconds minimum (or as long as you like).

 

#3: Legs up the Wall Pose. Sit next to a wall, with a pillow or folded bath towel next to you. Swing your legs up the wall, place the pillow or towel under your hips, and extend your arms out to each side. This should feel delightful. If not, you can move to a chair and try “Legs up the chair” variation, letting your calves rest on the seat cushion. You can stay for 5-7 minutes (or as long as you like).

 

#4: Supta Savasana. Lie on your back and place a pillow or bolster under your knees. Fold a hand towel in thirds (or fourths depending on the thickness of the towel and how much support your neck likes), and then roll it. Place the roll under your neck. Fold the other towel in thirds or fourths and place it over your eyes. Stay, practicing extended exhale breathing, for as long as you like.

When you’re ready, roll gently to one side and press slowly up to seated. Bring your hands over your heart and imprint a sense of calm. Gently open your eyes when you’re ready. Enjoy!

 

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!) 😉

 

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.”

In the corporate world, the term “I.T. Band” conjures images geeks with glasses playing Guitar Hero or hunching over their computers and checking out some website that's far too cool for you or I to know about while ignoring your repeated phone calls asking how to restart your computer.Uh…I mean some adorable geeks with glasses who're helpfully waiting by their phones and only too delighted to help you locate the power switch so that you can restart your computer.

In the yoga geek world, I.T. (iliotibial) Band is the wide, thick band of fascia (I see you zoning out–stay with me!) that runs down the side of your legs between the hip (ilium) and the knee (tibia). It can get tight–really tight–and this can cause pain in both and the knee and/or the hip. It's also hard to stretch because it runs along the outer thigh (I promise this story really is going somewhere–stay with it!).

Last week after I taught, a student who is a runner came up and asked if I had any tips for her knee pain which seemed to be coming from her outer thigh and into her knee. After giving her the standard disclaimer about how I'm not a doctor…yadda, yadda, yadda…I suggested she try this I.T. Band release.

This week, she came into class–late, unfortunately, as everyone was already seated on their mat in the silent studio–and strode directly to the front.

“HEY!” She yelled, apparently forgetting she was wearing headphones with blaring music that necessitated this sort of volume, but the rest of us weren't. “GUESS WHAT?? I TOTALLY TRIED THAT I.T. BAND THING YOU GAVE ME AND IT WORKED!!!! MY KNEE DOESN'T HURT AT ALL!! SCORE!!!”

I high-fived her. The rest of the class seemed happy too–but not sure if that's because she then stopped yelling and the class continued.

Wildly curious? Mildly intrigued? Read on…

I.T. Band Release:
Grab a yoga block, a foam roller, or one of those foam block kid toys that look like yoga blocks. Alternatively, roll up a towel into a Tootsie Roll shape.

Lay on the floor on your right side with your bent elbow directly under your shoulder. Inhale and lift the hips up (you can place one foot on the floor if that helps), and place the prop perpendicularly under the leg half way between the knee and the hip.

Place the left palm on the mat to help support yourself. Inhale, steel your resolve, gird your loins, and when you are ready, drop the left hip forward (in effect “rolling” forward). Exhale, roll back. Repeat 10-12 times. Curse the day you were born, your mother, yoga, and this darn blog. Oh…and don't forget to breathe.

*This will always be intense, but if it's not good intense and you're using the block/roller, pad it with a blanket or towel. Or just switch to a rolled up towel.

Now it's time to do the other side! Repeat on the left.

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Let me know how it goes. I promise you that I have students that request this every single week. They LOVE it and as far as I know, they're not crazy.

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There is a great article, American Anxiety: Why we’re such a nervous nation on Today. com this week. And by “great,” I mean important and yes, somewhat anxiety-inducing in and of itself.As the article detailed how anxiety has become a problem for many of us, how our thoughts race, our hearts pound, blood pressure sky rockets, and we lay awake plagued by insomnia and worries, I felt my own pulse pick up and thoughts start to race–ironically getting anxious about my anxiety.Anxiety about anxiety? Surely, that is a level-two problem. And by “level two,” I obviously mean, “crazy person problem.”

Oh well, according to the article, I’d be in good company.

Here’s the thing though: when I’m not reading anxiety-inducing articles about anxiety, I’m actually fairly calm. Or at least calmer than I used to be, which was a high blood-pressure insomniac with a racing heart. But over the years, I’ve used wine, more wine, gallons of wine yoga as a tool to lower my anxiety and its many unpleasant side effects.

Here’s how you can too.

  1. Got an extra hour a day (and no injuries)? (If injured, proceed directly to #3)
    Take a yoga class. One with lots of core work will help burn off that agida.
  2. Are you LOL at the idea of having an extra hour? No problem. Got 15 minutes?
    Do five rounds of sun salutations as follows:

    • Stand with your big toes together (or hip-width apart) and heels slightly wider. Take a deep, slow inhale and sweep your arms up slowly. Exhale slowly, drawing your palms to your heart. Set an intention for yourself. Maybe it’s “Ground myself.” Take a deep breath in. On the exhale, engage your core and slooooowly fold at the hips, bringing the hands toward the floor. Bend your knees to get there. Inhale half-way up to a long spine, pressing the palms against the shins. Sloooooowly exhale out, bending the knees and bringing the palms back down to the floor.
    • Inhale and step the right foot back to a low lunge. Exhale slooooowly. stay here.
    • On the next inhale, lift the left foot and then hold here in a “knee hanging” high plank for 3 cycles of breath. Lift the navel to the spine for extra core work. Breathe slooooowly and deeply, extending the exhale.
    • After three cycles, step back to high plank on your exhale. Keep the elbows slightly bent.
    • Next inhale draw the right knee to the right elbow, exhale slowly return to high plank. Inhale and draw the left knee to the left elbow, exhale and step back. SLOWLY repeat on both sides.
    • Are your arms shaking? Oh good–it’s working.
    • Inhale and draw the knees down to the floor (or stay on your toes in your name is Clark Kent or you’re freakishly strong). Inhale and drop the chest only to elbow-height. Stay here, with the hips high, for 3 cycles of slow, steady breath. Keep extending the exhale.
    • On your next inhale, breathe through to an upward-facing dog. Take a cycle of breath here. Release the shoulders down, away from the ears. Release any tension they’re holding.
    • Tuck the toes under and with strong core engagement, lift the hips first up and then back to downward facing dog or child’s pose. Stay here for 5 breaths.
    • Inhale, walk the palms back to the toes. Stay here for a breath. Then roll slowly back up to standing.

    Repeat this 4 times.

    Next, sit down (on the floor, on your desk chair, anywhere). Close your eyes and breathe 5 cycles of extended exhale breathing. Return to your intention. Open the eyes. You’re done!

  3. Got 1-5 minutes?
    1. Do one sun salutation (above) OR
    2. Sit. Think of what’s stressing you out and take a deep breath. Exhale (extending it longer than your inhale) and flick your hands as though you’re trying to get something off of them (you are–the stress!). Also know as the “there’s no paper towels in the restroom flick.” Repeat 3-5 times. Now, settle into extended exhale breathing with the eyes closed, concentrating on your new-found wellness.
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OK so it's gray, chilly, drizzly-raining here for approximately the 500th day in a row. Now don't get me wrong, I like rainy days…in moderation. But moderation, this is not.So in addition to downing copious amounts of caffeine (by which I mean I down 2 cups of tea because anything stronger or more will render me a hand-shaking, stuttering, sweaty, caffeine-sensitive mess), I try to do a yoga pose or two for energy.

What yoga poses are energizing? Oh, I'm so glad you asked!

BACK BENDS!

Now, I am not suggesting that anyone leap into wheel or any other super-intense back bends. Especially without warming up first (bad, bad idea–don't do it!), but you can probably do a little back bend safely and still benefit energetically.

Option 1:  In a desk chair
Prep: In your desk chair, clasp your fingers behind your head to support your neck. Sit up tall. See how your neck is right in line with the rest of your spine as you sit here? Yeah, keep it that way as we start to recline. Don't let your head flop back–that will compress your cervical vertabrae. Now, supporting the head with the palms and keeping the neck long, lean gently back so that your upper back arches gently and your heart lifts. Keep your elbows wide and your heart open. Take 5 deep, energizing breaths. Come back up slowly.

Option 2: On your mat (or rug) with a rolled blanket (like a cigar)
Prep: Sit up tall. Supporting the neck as described above, engage your abs and slowly recline back over the blanket roll (it should be lined up under your armpits as you come back). Lay all the way down on the floor, still on top of the blanket, with each rolled end extending out past each armpit. Keep the elbows wide and the hands supporting the head OR straighten the arms and reach out and up (away from your toes). Take 5 deep energizing breaths. Come back up slowly.

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See if you feel a difference. Let me know!

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