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Managing Neck and Shoulder Tension – Self-Massage Tips

You’ve probably heard the saying, “Carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders”. The weight we carry may not be quite that heavy, but it sure feels like it sometimes.

Why do we feel like that?
Physical or emotional stress comes in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes it creeps in little by little and then peaks, and at other times it can hit you over the head like a ton of bricks, or at least feel like it!

Closely related to how we treat our bodies and how we care for our minds, stress can grow and grow! Sadly, sometimes we get used to feeling horrible and forget what it feels like to feel good. For many of us, the upper back, neck, and shoulders are an all-too-common places for tension to build.

Headaches, back aches, tight painful skin, pressure, soreness, or muscles as hard as rocks - these are some of the uncomfortable symptoms you might feel when your neck and shoulders are bearing the brunt of the world.

Get to the bottom of it
To free yourself from tension’s grip, determine the source of the problem and look for practical solutions.

Maybe you’re working long hours, sitting for long periods without breaks. Maybe you’re standing on your feet all day, slouching, without supportive footwear. Perhaps there’s a repetitive movement you do, causing you pain or discomfort. Maybe you’re getting too little sleep, eating the wrong foods, or not drinking enough water. Too much caffeine may also be an issue.  

Or perhaps you’re under a lot of stress. When life’s pressures mount and you’re going through rough times, your emotions can weigh heavily on you and cause great strain on the body.

As with most things, finding solutions and taking action helps us feel relief.

Hint: The easiest way to make big lifestyle changes is to pick one or two things at a time that you want to work on or change, and implement them for 2 or 3 weeks so that the body begins to get used to new habits. Be it sleep, diet, posture, working habits, relationships, or the way we process the challenges we face… no one ever changed the world in one day. Make a plan for yourself that’s do-able so that you don’t feel overwhelmed.

Maybe taking a walk every day at lunch-time, breathing deeply, practicing yoga asanas before work, or adding japa meditation (add a link) to your day could help. Taking one or two weekends a month to do something in nature, loosening up a bit and having some fun, might also do the trick. These are just examples, but they’re all things that are do-able. By adding one or two things over time, you’ll be able to practically make positive changes to improve your health and wellbeing.

In addition to long-term solutions, it’s important to release tension from the body regularly.

Massage
Ahhhhhhh…there’s nothing like a really good massage. Massage, as you probably know, is a wonderful way to soothe sore muscles and also gets the prana/chi and blood flowing, bringing oxygen to your cells. It’s revitalizing and relaxing.

Getting a massage is a not something most of us can do every day. That’s why self-massage can be a practical way to dissolve some of that built-up tension.  Self-massage is also preventative. If you get tight and sore, try some of these techniques to reduce frequency and intensity.

Temple Tension Release

  1. Run a small washcloth under hot water and squeeze it out.
  2. Press it against your face, the front of your throat, the back of your neck, several times, making your muscles warm and your skin clean.
  3. Dab a bit of facial oil or mild massage oil onto your fingertips and replenish as needed throughout the massage.
  4. Draw small, soothing circles with your fingertips on your temples and gradually make them bigger
  5. Increase the pressure and move towards your scalp
  6. Follow with large circles around the eyes in one direction and then the other
  7. When you’re ready to move on, trace the lines from the outside of the nostrils to the corners of the mouth up and down sinking the fingertips into the grooves
  8. Draw your hands around to the back of your neck, massaging the upper back, shoulders, and neck.

Tennis Ball Shoulder Rub

  1. Stand with a tennis ball between the wall and the soft part between your neck and shoulder. 
  2. Raise your arm above your head and shift your head from side to side. 
  3. Experiment with the ball in different positions along your spine, neck, and shoulders, bending your knees and then straightening them, so your torso presses into the ball as you move up and down.
  4. The ball will move out of place, so reposition it as needed.

Tennis Ball Neck Rub

  1. Lie on your back on a soft, flat surface with your legs bent.
  2. Holding a tennis ball in each hand between your thumb and index finger, bring your hands behind your head so the balls sit on either side of the base of your skull.
  3. Shake your head from side to side like you are saying “no”, then alternate between tucking and lifting your chin, like you are nodding “yes”.

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