The neck and shoulders hold much of the daily stress that builds up in the body. Before you realize it, you may experience discomfort and pain such as a headache that may essentially come from tightness in the neck. Unfortunately, this is all too often the case with the use of 21st century technologies that lead to sitting for extended periods of time and consistent poor posture. Making stretching a part of your regular workout routine can help relieve overall stress, muscle tightness and poor posture. However, you can perform a few simple neck stretching exercises anywhere, such as at your desk, to help alleviate tension, pain and tightness due to stress buildup in your neck.
People tend to forget about their necks, especially when it comes to exercising and stretching. Yet, the neck is important for many reasons, and if you injure your neck, it can put you out of commission for a while. Not only is it important to exercise and stretch your neck regularly to keep it flexible and avoid injury, but it’s also crucial to treat it gently. Although the neck is strong, since it has to support a head all day, it’s also sensitive. If you happen to jerk your neck the wrong way, you’ll know it instantly, and as many people know the pain from a neck injury can be unbearable. Daily neck stretching can help prevent such injuries, relieve stress and increase flexibility, but maintaining neck fitness and health requires gentle, careful, and patient movements during stretching exercises. Incorporate breathing and meditation techniques for optimal relaxation.
Many of the stretches that are best for your neck muscles include simple movements, such as a forward neck stretch. Prepare for the stretch by sitting straight up in a chair with your head straight and facing forward and your legs and feet relaxed in front of you. You can also sit on the floor with your legs gently crossed in front of you. Keep your arms relaxed by your sides. Take a deep breath, relax your shoulders and exhale. You may have to focus on pushing down your shoulders while you breathe if you hold a lot of tension in your shoulders and neck. Gently elongate your neck some and continue with deep breathing. While keeping an erect posture, slowly and carefully allow your chin only to fall forward toward your chest. Avoid forcing or jerking your neck forward. This should be a gentle stretch. Hold for approximately 15 seconds and continue to breathe deeply. Gently raise your head and look forward again while continuing to breathe. Repeat the stretch about 3 times.
Another gentle stretch you can perform anywhere is the head rotation stretch. With an erect posture, shoulders and arms relaxed and head straight and forward, simply begin rotating your head slowly to the right without moving the rest of your body. You can also perform this stretch from a seated or standing position with arms relaxed by your sides. Avoid lifting or lowering your chin as you turn your head and stretch your neck. Keep your head in front of your right shoulder and avoid trying to rotate it too far back to keep from straining your neck. You shouldn’t feel any pain or twisting in your back, neck or shoulders. Breathe deeply and hold for about 15 seconds. Slowly return your head to the original forward position. Take another deep breathe and repeat the rotation stretch to the left. Complete three to four head rotation stretches in both directions.
Neck side stretches help relieve tension and tightness all along the sides of the neck, as well as in the shoulders and the upper back. From a seated or standing position and with an erect posture, take a deep breath and exhale slowly. Relax your shoulders while you continue to slowly breathe in and out. Your head should be facing forward with your neck relaxed. Avoid lifting or lowering your chin during neck side stretches. Inhale as you allow your head to fall to the side toward your right shoulder and exhale. Hold and continue to breathe. Your right ear should be closer to your right shoulder, but avoid forcing your head down toward the shoulder. Make sure you’re not lifting your left shoulder as you stretch your head toward the right shoulder. Continue to hold for 15 to 30 seconds. Close your eyes and take several deep breaths. Focus on relaxing your shoulders and your neck. Lift your head back up and take a few more deep breaths. Repeat the neck side stretch to the left.
Routine stretching is an essential part of total fitness. Neck stretching exercises are only a part of holistic stretching. You cannot fully stretch your neck muscles without stretching the muscles attached to your neck. It’s important to stretch every area of your body. The human body is an interconnected system with all of its parts continuously working together toward perpetual successful functionality. Constantly exercising without stretching out before and after workouts places you at a greater risk for injury. Daily stretching not only helps relieve stress and tight muscles, but it can also boost your immune system, improve your mood and help you with balance and coordination.
The stretching involved in yoga or Pilates practice provides additional benefits. For instance, yoga also builds strength and stamina in the upper body, core and lower body and is considered a form of strength training. Further, it helps correct poor posture and may help remedy lower back problems. Many people also believe yoga improves organ function and circulation.
MayoClinic.com: Neck Stretches for the Office
Yoga Journal: Six Stretches to Do at Your Desk
GAIAM Life; Yoga Benefits; Ashley Dodson
The Movement Center: Health Benefits of Hatha Yoga