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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!

 

Winter tightness is the worst! And if you’ve been shoveling snow lately (thanks, #SnowBombCyclone!), you’re may find yourself with a doubly aching back the next day.

Yoga to the rescue! Here are my four key stretches for survival!

1: Release Your Hip Flexors & Lower Back: 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.

BONUS: Open your arms, bend your elbows, and pull your shoulder blades together to add a chest stretch.

Stay for 10 deep breaths and switch sides.

 

2. 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 a 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 and equal height to the shoulders, and the shoulders as relaxed and low as possible.

Take ten deep breaths and switch sides.

 

 

3. Release Your Lower Back: Modified Half-Moon Pose
Your lower back may bear the brunt of the winter tightness AND certainly will feel it after any significant amount of shoveling. Release this vulnerable area with this gentle stretch.

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. You should feel an immediate (and delightful!) release of your lower back muscles (the quadratus laborum or “QLs”).

Take ten deep breaths here, using your breath to expand the left ribs, deepening the stretch, then switch sides.

 

 

4. Release Your Chest Muscles: Doorway Pose
Anytime you stretch a muscle group, you want to release the synergists and antagonists. After you stretch the upper back, you also want to stretch the chest. While we began that work with the open-arm bonus above (Pose #1), let’s stretch them pectorals (chest muscles) a little more deeply now. Stand in a doorway or agaist a wall 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 away (in this case, 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 snow bomb cyclone 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. Bonus if done with a puppy. ?

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I’m SO excited to announce that I’m hosting a Tea-Time Chat and Q&A with New York Times bestselling author, Oprah SuperSoul #100 leader, and internationally acclaimed speaker Gabby Bernstein on Sunday Oct 2 in Boston…and you’re invited!

 

One of the many things that I love about the WELL Summit is that it seeks to nourish attendees on all levels, which directly aligns with my philosophy, and this event will be the same. You’ll sip delicious, organic tea, enjoy healthy treats and soul-deep conversation–including answers to the questions you care most about–in an intimate, welcoming space in community with similarly minded people. What a perfect way to spend a Sunday afternoon!

All attendees will leave with a gift bag of carefully curated wellness products and a copy of Gabby’s new book, The Universe Has Your Back so that they can continue to be nourished and pampered at home.

Tickets are available through the W.E.L.L. Summit: http://wellsummit.org/gabby-bernstein-event/

I’m thrilled to be leading a workshop again this year at Grub Street’s Muse and theGrub Street Typewriter Mark Twain Marketplace. This is my third year teaching and fifth year attending this nationally recognized writer’s conference and every year I leave full-up on the excitement of new knowledge, connections, friendships, and energy, ideas, and tools for my writing.

Here are my 5 reasons you won’t want to miss it either:

  1. It’s a writer’s buffet of teaching talent. This veritable smorgasbord for writing allows you to take classes with a wide variety of teachers, learning from their unique experience and background.
  2. You can take classes on anything–ANYTHING and everything about the craft and business of writing. Want to drill down to the sentence level? We have a class on that. Wrestling with multiple points of view in your work in progress? We have a class on that. Not sure if your agent is right for you? Well, we just so happen to have a class on that. Not sure if you want to go indie or traditional? We will walk you through the pros and cons. If you can think of it, dream it or ask it, YES, WE HAVE A CLASS ON IT.
  3. It’s specific time to dedicate to you and your craft and that matters. As writers, we often squeeze our writing into the times we’re not doing everything else in our lives. I believe while that is unavoidable, it also sends a message to some deep level of your psyche (and your Muse). Taking time and making time to dedicate to your craft also sends a message: This matters to me and I will lovingly tend to, nourish, and dedicate myself to you.
  4. You will learn things you don’t even know you need to. See #2 above. Now peruse the list of classes here. Take something unexpected. Leave with your #mindblown.
  5. I will teach you tools you can use at home to bust through blocks and boost your creativity. You will leave feeling empowered and looking at creativity in a whole new way. Also, I will have snacks. 🙂

 

I took a chance and wrote a piece about why I left my high-powered (and soul-sucking) PR career to teach yoga…and was THRILLED when Marie Claire accepted it!

Then Cosmopolitan picked it up…!!Marie Claire 2

Then Elle picked it up…!!

Then Dr. Oz picked it up…!!!

And then Redbook picked it up!!!

OH HAPPY DAY!!!! I’m so thrilled to share my story with even more seekers, the growing tribe of people that are looking for more than a paycheck. Who want to make a difference, serve the world in their highest way, and find more fulfillment as they do. Keep seeking, seekers! We’re all in this together! <3

Logo Elle

 

 

 

Logo Dr Oz Logo Cosmo Logo Redbook Logo Marie Claire

 

 

 

 

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!) 😉