It's this time of the year, during the countdown to Christmas, that hunched shoulders and stiff necks can be the icing on the cake for stress-induced, festive-rush, cram-in-as-much-work-before-the-holidays headaches.
To make this time as enjoyable as it should be, here are my all-time favourite three neck yoga exercises that I try to sneak into every class. Practise while standing in the kitchen waiting for the kettle to boil, sitting in your chair at work while you watch your emails stream in, or standing in the grocery line with mince pies in hand.
This first exercise I've fondly nicknamed Sky Gaze, as I'm fortunate to teach a fair few classes outside in the glow of the sunset, under rainbows, and with stars above. Interlace your hands behind your head, elbows pointing out wide to the sides. As you inhale, take your gaze to the sky, core engaged, lower rib cage drawing in. You'll feel heat and energy building in your upper back, between the shoulder blades, as you find space and openness in the chest and shoulders. Exhale and begin to slowly and gently, with control, guide your gaze down to the ground without pulling on your head. Keep the elbows out wide to take the weight out of your hands. You'll feel a magnificent stretch down the back of your neck into your shoulder blades, where those big knots tend to lodge and hang on. Inhale and repeat, taking your gaze to the sky.
Rainbow Warrior is another favourite yoga pose that finds those tight, hard-to-reach, achy spots in the neck and upper back. Interlace your hands behind your back, and then wedge them into your right hip. Relax your shoulders, as you tuck your chin and look down at your right shoulder. Inhale and follow the rainbow from the base at your shoulder, taking your gaze up to the sky, over the arch, and exhaling down to your left shoulder. The more relaxed your right shoulder is, the deeper the stretch along the outside of your neck. Inhale, taking your gaze back the way it came. Up, over, and back down to your right shoulder. Bring your head back to centre, and then take your interlaced hands around to your left hip. Repeat on the other side.
Finally, my neck yoga pose repertoire would not be complete without a twist, seated or standing. Let's imagine that we're sitting. Bring your right hand to your left knee, and take your left fingertips to to the floor behind you. Look forward as you inhale, twist as you exhale, tucking your chin and looking down at your left shoulder to find length at the back of your neck. Peel back your right shoulder, as you use your hands to lever you around, with minimal weight in your left fingertips. After several breaths, inhale to bring just your head back to centre. Exhale, and lower your right ear down towards your right shoulder to feel a tremendous stretch down the left side of the neck. Stay here if you've hit the sweet spot, otherwise feel free to tuck the chin in slightly and take your gaze towards the ground to move the stretch around towards the back of your neck and into your shoulder blades. Inhale to bring your head back to centre, and exhale to release the twist. Repeat on the other side.
Practise each pose for 10 deep breaths on each side and hopefully your tired and cranky neck will start to feel better and get you into the festive spirit. Your Christmas shopping will become a breeze, your last minute work chores a joy, and you can actually begin to feel like a holiday is on the horizon. Merry Christmas!
Louise FitzRoy is the Principal of Activ Life, a leading health and wellness company based in the Cayman Islands. If you enjoyed this article you may also like: Yoga to relieve headaches and Favourite nighttime yoga pose.