By Peggy Protz, Feldenkrais® Practitioner
Neck pain really can be a pain in the neck. Especially if the pain affects your ability to move easily and comfortably. Ask anyone who has experienced a whiplash, a pinched nerve, or a bad tension headache. Pain caused by these conditions will often restrict the natural, free movement of the head, creating an experience of life that is limiting. A real pain in the neck!
The pain can easily spiral downward into more discomfort. As you try to keep your head still to avoid pain, muscles in the neck, shoulders, and upper back begin to tighten up. This is understandable, as your body intelligently wants to protect you from further injury. The increased muscle tension, however, can actually cause more discomfort. One way to disrupt this cycle is to begin moving in a gentle way.
Try this experiment… Sit on the edge of a chair that has a firm, flat surface. Have your feet flat on the floor about hip width apart and your thighs parallel to the floor. Rest your hands comfortably on your thighs. Gently turn your head a little to the right and to the left, keeping the movement in a range that is easy and not painful. Observe how far you turn by taking note of what you see in the room around you.
Next, keeping your head in the center, slowly look downward, lowering your chin to your chest. Allow your chest to sink, relax your shoulders, and think that you are bending your whole back backwards, creating a “C” shape from the top of your head to your tailbone. This position may feel like slouching.
Now reverse the movement. Slowly lift your chin off your chest, looking straight ahead as you straighten your back. Push your chest forward and gently pull your shoulders back. Think that the top of your head is being pulled upward toward the ceiling, causing you to sit taller on your seat.
Repeat the motion: lowering your head as you bend your back, lifting your head as you straighten your back. See if you can feel the pressure of your hips rolling back and forth on the chair; leaning back on your tail bone, then forward on your sit bones.
Begin to coordinate your breathing with the movement. Exhale as you look down, relaxing the chest. Inhale as you lift your head, expanding the chest. Allow your whole body to relax into the motion.
After you’ve done the exercise five or six times, stop and rest with your eyes closed, noticing the feeling in your shoulders, back, and neck. Open your eyes and turn your head again, like you did at the start. See if it feels easier or if you can turn a little further. Notice if you see more of the room around you.
This is an exercise I often share with my students and is something you can do anytime to relieve tension. The back and forth movement or your spine sort of “resets” your nervous system, allowing your body to relax and learn a new way moving, without you having to think about it. With gentle practice, the better way becomes the natural way, and perhaps that pain in the neck won’t have to be such a pain in the neck!
For more guidance on how to reduce neck and shoulder pain, join Peggy for the “Pain Free Neck and Shoulders” Feldenkrais workshop, Saturday February 7, 2 – 4:30pm in the Mind Body Studio