Deck the Halls & De-stress Your Body: Exercises to Ease Tension & Stress
Enjoy the holidays with less stress by remembering to take the time to care for your body. This time of year we may tend to be more rushed, overloading to meet end of the year deadlines and of course, shopping on the internet or at the mall!
How does this all affect the health of our body? You may feel more tense or pain in the areas of your neck , shoulders, and back. The weight of our head alone adds stress on the neck, especially if you are not paying attention to correct posture, while sitting, standing, and walking. Also, when experiencing extra stress, we tend to take short shallow breaths up into our chest, instead of full inhalation-exhalation breaths. Deep breathing exercises will help to increase lung capacity and deliver oxygen to the working muscles and brain more efficiently. This also helps release stress on the body.
There are seven cervical vertebrae that support the skull. The first cervical vertebrae supports the head, while the second vertebrae rotates the head and the sternocleidomastoid and trapezius muscles are responsible for moving the head in every direction. When you are not conscious of your posture or form when moving or sitting, or tense up from excess stress, the weight of the head will pull forward and tighten these muscles of the neck. When sitting, if you slouch, you round your shoulders forward, this tightens the pectoral muscles. When carrying bags and boxes or lifting them up, you use the muscles of the upper back, shoulders, and neck and if you strain those muscles the levator scapula and the trapezius tighten. All of these scenarios add unnecessary strain and tension to your neck and back.
The holiday neck and back care solution? Stretching and breathing. Try these exercises during the day and enter the holiday season and New Year with ease!
Diaphragmatic Breathing: You may sit tall on a bolster or folded blanket, with legs crossed to open up hips or sitting on a chair with knees bent hip width apart, feet flat on the floor. Place your hands on your rib cage, inhale through your nose with a nice full breath. Expand the diaphragm “laterally” nice and wide. You should feel your lower abdominal muscles contract slightly (supporting your back). Exhale slowly through your mouth, allowing the rib cage to draw in and fingers will draw closer together, pull your navel into your spine. You will feel your abdominals contracting second time. This type of breathing increasing lung capacity, improves posture, relaxes the body, and also strengthens the back. Repeat 3x
Neck Stretch for Cervical Spine and Levator: To increase flexibility, relieve tension. Sit tall. Lift shoulders up and allow them to draw back and down, until you feel your shoulder girdle stabilize. Inhale through your nose and turn your chin towards the left shoulder, exhale through your mouth while rolling your head down in front of your chest. Continue rolling you chin across your chest to your right shoulder, exhale. Inhale and roll your head down with chin toward your chest, continue to roll across the chest to your left. Repeat 2x
Upper Back, Neck and Shoulder Stretch: Releases tension in the cervical spine, trapezius, and rhomboids. Sitting tall, place hands behind the center of your head, elbows opened wide. Inhale through your nose with a nice full breath, expanding ribcage wide, exhale through your mouth lower your chin to your chest and slowly draw your elbows in towards the side of your head gently. Hold this position allowing your shoulder, neck and upper back to stretch. Inhale and exhale 2 more times. Inhale lift your head, open your elbows wide, gazing forward, exhale and lower your chin to your chest, draw your elbows in towards the sides of your head gently. Inhale and exhale, 2 more times, while enjoying this stretch, Inhale and sit tall to finish.
Stretches for the thoracic spine, pectorals, lumbar, neck, and then total relaxation
Photo 1: Place your bolster or two pillows length wise between your shoulder blades. Rest your neck and head. Your legs can be crossed at ankles to open up your hips or you may straighten them out in front, to modify. Inhale deeply and exhale slowly 5x. This stretch will open up your pectoral muscles and thoracic spine in the upper chest.
Photo 2: Using your favorite pillow or as pictured here, a micro bead therapeutic pillow. Place pillow on top of the bolster. Sit with your legs open into a straddled position and folding the body forward to relax the entire back, lower lumber, shoulders and neck. Your forehead should be resting on top of your palms. Inhale, with a large full breath, all the way into the low back and lower lobes of your lungs. Exhale slowly through your mouth, drawing your navel into your spine. Repeat the breathing pattern slowly 3x. This totally relaxes the entire back from cervical spine to lumbar.
Photo 3: Total Body Relaxation. Lying on your pillow, with your arms at your side and palms turned up (this position will help you relax the shoulders down.) Placing a pillow/bolster under your knees will alleviate any pressure in the low back. You also have the option of extending legs straight out without bolster/pillow under knees. Inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth, while slowly circling your head to the right 5x. Think of drawing a small circle on the ceiling with your nose, while circling from the neck. Reverse the direction. Circle 5x each way to loosen up the cervical spine. To finish, take a nice relaxing breath through your nose, expanding the rib cage wide. Exhale through your mouth slowly. Repeat this breath pattern 5x – totally relaxing from the top of your head to the soles of your feet.