In this month of Understanding, we may all be looking for certain things… some of us a deeper understanding of our practice, or of ourselves. For others it may be a deeper understanding of French cuisine, or pumpkin carving… really the choice is up to YOU 🙂 One of the ways we explore understanding in yoga is an understanding of the needs of the body. A common theme in the classes that I lead is for students to ask for a focus on the neck and shoulders.
This does not surprise me in the least, in our Western culture many of us suffer from what Doug Keller describes as “The Upper Crossed Syndrome” which is characterized by leading with the chin. This causes many of us to feel tight in the upper trapezius and levator scapula on the back side of the body, and the pectoralis muscles on the front side of the body. It also creates weakness in the lower trapezius and serratus anterior on the back body and deep neck flexors on the front side of the body.
These imbalances create tension in the neck and shoulders that make it feel as though we are carrying a great weight. The muscles described above that hold tension rarely have the change to relax!
One great exercise to check in on this tension in the body is to place the thumbs at the base of the skull on either side of the spine. Relax and close your eyes. Without opening the eyes look as far to the left and to the right. Feel the movement of your muscles under your thumbs. Allow yourselves to feel how the subtlest of motions impacts the muscles of the neck. The more of these slight motions we add to our neck and shoulder, and the less we let go of, we are tasked with the problem of taking, taking, taking, without ever softening.
Understanding these holding patterns in the neck is a key to noticing the tension and working on release. Of course coming to class, and engaging in a regular practice – asana or meditation, is another beautiful way to enhance our understanding. Let’s allow ourselves to let go, even just a little bit!