Growing up with a scoliosis and carrying a heavy school bag full of books for many years did not help…Then a couple of whiplash injuries left me with chronic pain in the cervical spine and shoulders area. I got so used to it that I did not complain anymore nor seek to alleviate it, until I developed more body awareness through my yoga practice and meditation…
How many of us suffer in silence with a sore neck, shoulders or stabbing pain in between the shoulder blades, just accepting and putting up with it ? Many people have just resigned themselves to pain as they feel it is a normal condition…. As I check in with students at the beginning of my classes, there is always at least one person in class, who suffers from chronic pain, tension in the neck and shoulders area.
In the United States, it appears that 80% of the active population report at some point a neck and shoulder problem. I did not find any statistics for the UK population but it would not surprise me if it was pretty close. There seems to be an increasing amount of people who loose the natural curvature of the neck and develop a military neck (flat neck) or hyper extended neck (head forward or reverse cervical curve). The most common causes are poor posture, walking in high heels, sitting at a desk all day, spending long hours in front of a computer and/or on electronic devices. Whiplash injuries, carrying weights, doing lots of arms forward movements, occupations which require repetitive neck movements, regularly sleeping on piles of pillows, can also ultimately compromise the shape and structure of vertebrae and muscle of neck and shoulders.
When the natural lordosis of the cervical disappears, it can result in chronic pain, numbness in the arms and hands and sometimes even pinched nerves. It also affects the way we breathe and the quality of our sleep. Inspirational Yoga therapist Doug Keller, explained in a training I attended a couple of years back, that during sleep, the cerebrospinal fluid moves up to the head and washes the “waste-pipes” going to the brain. And if our sleep gets interrupted every so often, this important process cannot run smoothly. In the long run, it affects the nervous system and leads to all kind of medical conditions linked to the nervous system. This was a revelation for me. As far as I can remember, I had been part of the “happy many fluffy pillows club”, sometimes sleeping with up to two big pillows and a bolster… As I started to look after my neck and sleep with a single good quality pillow gently supporting the back of my neck, not only did my sleep improve greatly but also I felt more rested in the morning and less prone to tension during the day.
Beyond the physiological and anatomical aspects, taking care of the neck is just as important from an energetic perspective: The neck is the location of Vishuddhi (the throat chakra – the fifth energy centre*) which represents our ‘Voice’ , our self-expression/ communication (with ourselves and with others). On a psychological level, neck issues can be related to a feeling that we are unable to express ourselves as we would like or that we feel not heard when we speak. As a result, the throat chakra starts to close down, the energy there stops expanding, unable to flow properly. When the neck and shoulder area clammed up, the shoulders tend to round and the chest caves in. It affects the way we breathe but also the way we feel. When this happens, the communication between the head, the rest of the body,and our energetic heart centre (Anahata chakra*) is affected. It becomes more difficult to hear our “inner voice”, also known as the “inner teacher”, the voice of the heart. This is the amazing body wisdom which tells us when there is an energetic disconnection we need to address. Most of the time, we are far too busy to listen, as we get caught up in all kind of external distractions.
The modern society we live in encourages us to look outward constantly , live in our head more than our body. Just consider for a moment how long most of us spend on computers, electronic devices or watching TV, bombarded by social media, and all kind of advertising, ‘gloom and doom’ news etc … As a result, and with years of conditioning, the voice of the mind becomes much louder than the voice of the heart.
Ultimately, it is our choice and responsibility to become more aware of unhealthy postures and the tendencies which do not serve us. This is the first step to transformation to get more attuned to the bodymind**, access our quiet centre and become more empowered individuals in the mist of the eternal battle between the voice of the heart and the voice of the mind…
Simple steps to take care of your neck and shoulders:
1/ Take regular breaks from your desk, move and stretch yourself.
2/ Give yourselves a hug by placing your hands around the shoulders. As you breathe in, feel the area around and in between the shoulder blades expand, as you breathe out, feel the neck soften, and the shoulders relax down. Repeat a few times then change the crossing of the arms and repeat the process again.
3/ A simple reclined posture: Lay on the back, with knees bent and resting towards each other, feet wide. Place a rolled blanket in the area just below the shoulder blades. Rest there for 5 minutes with the arms in “cactus position”. After a while, when the body has softened, you can try extending the arms in a wide V shape.
*Chakras (Sanskrit cakra, “wheel”): according to Tantric philosophy, and the Yoga and Ayurvedic traditions, there are seven main chakras, thought as a spinning vortex of energy. These are Muladhara (located mainly in the pelvic floor), Svadhisthana (located in the pelvic basin/ lower abdomen), Manipura (at the navel centre), Anahata (energetic heart centre,in the sternum area), Vishuddhi (throat energetic centre), Ajna (third eye) and Sahasrara (at the crown of the head).
**Bodymind : is an approach to understanding the relationship between the human body and mind in which they are seen as a single integrated unit. In the fields of psychology, therapy and alternative medicine bodymind implies that the body, mind, emotions, and spirit are dynamically interrelated. Experience, including physical stress, emotional injury, and pleasures are stored in the body’s cells which in turn affects one’s reactions to stimuli.