Tension Tamers

You know it well: the tightness, the dull ache, the sense that your shoulders are creeping ever closer to your ears. So often, tension takes hold in the neck and shoulders first, resulting not only in pain and stiffness but also impaired mobility. The culprit? Poor posture, stress, and incorrect movement (especially when exercising) can all be to blame. A sedentary lifestyle only makes matters worse. "Our bodies adapt to what we're doing," says Eric Franklin, a mind/body movement educator and creator of the Franklin Method, an integrative approach to chronic pain and effective movement. "So if we don't move our neck and shoulders, they adapt to not moving." Here, Franklin pairs reconditioning exercises with imagery, which improves focus and allows you to perform each exercise with greater precision. Use these moves to wring out tension, increase mobility, and replenish stiff muscles with oxygen-rich blood -- in about five minutes flat.

1.  Refresh: Squeeze Out Stiffness
What It Does
Relieves tightness and stiffness in the neck and shoulders; the warmth of your hand helps loosen and relax the connective tissue in those areas.

How To Do It
Put your left hand on the back of your neck, take a breath, and squeeze the muscle with your hand as you exhale. Repeat 3 to 5 times. Then put your left hand on your right shoulder (on the trapezius muscle, not the bone) and repeat, squeezing as you exhale, releasing slowly. Repeat on the other side.

What To Visualize
Your muscle is a sponge full of water; each time you squeeze, you wring out tension. When you slowly let go, imagine fresh water filling the sponge, causing your muscles to spread and widen.

2. Release:  Lift + Lengthen
What It Does
Increases the flexibility of the scapula and clavicle; stretches and relaxes the shoulder and neck muscles.

How To Do It
Rotate your shoulders in a circle: Roll shoulders forward (above image), then up and back (below image), and finally bring them back to a relaxed position. Coordinate with your breath, inhaling as you pull forward and exhaling with a sigh as you rotate them around, letting go of all physical and mental tension. Repeat 3 times.

What To Visualize
Your muscle fibers are stretching with ease-like chewing gum, elastic and soft. Each time you release the muscles, feel your shoulders dropping lower and your shoulder blades gliding down the back.

3. Revive: Tap Away Tension
What It Does
Improves circulation and increases sensation, enhancing flexibility; releases growth hormones in the skin, assisting in the production of endorphins.

How To Do It
With your left hand half-closed and your wrist loose, tap firmly but gently up your right arm, along the trapezius muscle and on the sides and back of the neck. Repeat on the other side.

What To Visualize
Your body is made of layers of soft cloths and you're reaching every layer. Each tap stimulates and relaxes the skin, connective tissues, muscles, bone, and marrow.

Text by Terri Trespicio

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