Neck Health and The Practice of Not Doing / by Lauren Minear

Let's talk about neck health...

Last weekend, I spent three days alternatively crouching over a notebook, practicing restorative yoga poses, and adjusting classmates. My neck muscles weren't strong enough for all of that sitting, and on Sunday evening, they froze. I literally couldn't lift my head off of the couch!

This week, I have been slowly working toward a near full-range of movement using therapeutic exercises. I've been thinking, though, about how much I take my ability to move for granted, and how connected it is to my mood. (I'm writing now from an apartment in disarray, as I haven't felt motivated to do much of anything all week). 

The upside was lots of time for restorative yoga practice. I swear, it's better than nap time.

It's ironic, really, to injure oneself in a restorative yoga teacher training. The weekend itself was a profoundly productive and healing experience for me, and Restorative Yoga is really the practice of not doing. As such, I've been thinking that perhaps I needed more rest than I thought. I'm reminded of a cue given to me by a professor in Social Work school: "Don't just say something, sit there".

I'll take it one step further: Don't just do something, be there.

Movement heals, but I'm starting to think that we need to do less of it. Early in my yoga practice, I would often take a rigorous Vinyasa class every day. These days, my practice is more of a restorative and therapeutic exploration with the occasional class thrown in, or the odd run when I need fresh air and freedom. If anything, my health has improved, and my sleep is better for it. I am injured less. This week, it has been interesting to observe myself in this place of not doing, without my usual "get up and go". If I detach myself from it a bit, it's actually quite peaceful.

For those of you who spend a lot of time sitting, it is important to strengthen your neck muscles so that they can hold up your head. Try these exercises, and let me know what you think. While you are practicing them, breathe in "rest" and breathe out "restore".

Take a seat in a chair or on a block. Make a fist with your right hand, cover it with your left, and lightly press your hands into one another (about 3-5 lbs of pressure) while also drawing your shoulder blades together on your back. Close your eyes and visualize holding a pencil between your shoulder blades. Hold for five long, complete breaths, and repeat on the other side.

Take your right hand to the right side of your head. Nestle the heal of your hand right under the ridge of the skull just in front of the ear. Lightly resist your head with your hand and your hand with your head. Hold for five breaths and repeat on the left side.

You're probably starting to get the idea here. Clasp your hands behind your head and resist your head with your hands, hands with your head. You're not actually moving anything, just holding the tension. Hold for five breaths - inhale "rest", exhale "restore".

Finish up by pressing your clasped hands into your forehead. Maintain the resistance and breathe deeply. You can experiment with the order of these six exercises and do what feels best, but try to take five or ten minutes out of the workday to strengthen your neck and restore your mind.

[This article was originally posted on February 2, 2015;edited and reposted on May 24, 2016]