I don't know about you, but when I'm stressed, the first places I start to feel it are in my shoulders and neck.
It sort of feels like tiny, angry little balls of pain have decided to take up residence in my upper body, and every now and then, punctuate themselves with pulsating aches.
It's not good times.
While there are times when neck pain is indicating something a lot more serious, for the most part, this is just a very common place for tension and stress to park itself in your body.
Especially when you're sitting all day long at a computer, which unfortunately, many of us are.
While exercise, meditation, good sleep patterns, and maybe a weekly deep-tissue massage from your sweet, sweet lover are great for sustained stress relief, sometimes you need a little something to do like, right now.
1. Drop And Lift, Lift And Drop
I learned this one from a Kundalini yoga class.
It's very simple, and it always makes my shoulders feel lighter and gives me a boost of energy.
All you do is breath in, bring your shoulders up to your ears, then breathe out and drop them. Then repeat.
If done enough times, it actually tires your muscles out, and definitely loosens them up.
Yes, it's basically just a frenzied shrug. It's not rocket science, guys.
2. Lean To The Left, Lean To The Right
This one's a classic.
If you're at the office, sit in your chair with a straight spine and your feet on the floor.
Take a deep breath in and out, and extend your left arm to your side with your hand flexed, parallel the the floor.
Tilting your neck to your right side over your shoulder, take your right hand and place a light pressure on your head, increasing the stretch towards your shoulder. Repeat on the other side.
3. Slow And Steady Spine Roll
This is one of my personal favorites, and one I used to do as a dancer all the time as part of my warmup.
It's also a classic pilates move. Simply start by standing with your feet hip-width apart, and starting from the crown of your head, roll down one vertebrae at a time.
Eventually you'll be loose enough to do this kind of a thing.
A note for this one, too: Sometimes it burns a bit of your neck, or the area between your shoulder blades is particularly knotted or tight, but if you breathe through it, there's a payoff.
Just remember to keep your navel towards your spine to protect that precious lower back.
4. Stop, Drop, And Yeah, Another Roll
The slow neck roll is another classic.
If this is doable for your body, I find it works best if you sit on the floor with your legs extended in front of you and your spine kept as straight as possible.
If not, sitting in a chair is also totally fine. Supporting yourself with your arms extended next to you on the floor or loosely gripping the edges of the chair, roll your neck to one side and then the other, at your own pace.
Pay attention to the sensations in your neck and shoulders, using what feels good as a guide.
And remember, never push past shooting pain of any kind. Listen to your body.
5. The "Nobody Puts Baby In The Corner Stretch"
Find yourself a nice corner at home or at the office.
Facing that corner with your feet together, place a forearm on each wall, just below shoulder height.
Slowly lean forward, and hold for up to a minute.
Never forget to breathe!
6. The Big Pinky
Another trick I learned from dancing days is how to self-massage.
Get yourself a racquetball, a tennis ball, or one of these great pink bouncy balls (we called them "big pinkys").
Place the ball between your back and the wall, and using your legs to move, massage the knots in your back and shoulders.
It's pretty much the best thing ever.