In the East, pain in the head is not only addressed through the neck and skull, but also the shoulders, chest, and upper back. It is understood that there are thick, complex, and intertwined layers of soft tissue from the solar plexus area all the way up to the face.
The shoulders are a focal point for all of these muscles, tendons, and soft tissues. Getting rid of tension in the shoulders can relieve a lot of pain spread around the body, and also drastically improve your physical performance and day-to-day life.
Throughout the day, we often allow our head to hang, which compresses the neck. We also have a tendency to allow our shoulders to "float" up and forward, meaning the tension in our shoulder, upper back, chest, and neck muscles is gradually increasing as the day goes by. Many people sleep with one or both shoulders tucked up tightly under their jaw, compressing these muscles even more.
How to Fix Tight Shoulders
First and foremost, learning to sleep on your back is of key importance. Get a comfy pillow that isn't too fluffy for your head, and use another pillow or two to slightly elevate the legs behind the knees. Your goal is to have your spine aligned and under no tension. If you get cold when you sleep and like to curl into a fetal position, add warm blankets to your bed so you will be less likely to get cold in the first place.
To actively release tension from your shoulders, you can do a few exercises. First, grab a broom stick and hold it in front of you as though you were doing a chin-up with it (palms facing away from you). You can lower and raise your arms like you were actually doing chin ups to get used to the feeling. Once your hands are a comfortable distance apart, bring the stick down to shoulder height and pull it toward your body until it is about an inch away from the your chest, parallel to your collar bones, just like you have completed a chin-up.
When you are in this position, your shoulders are in their neutral alignment. Totally relax them shoulders down if you are holding them up. Let them sink and allow the stick to slide down without it moving forward or your elbows unbending. Get used to this feeling and your shoulders being aligned. When you do the other exercises, you will want to experience this same feeling of alignment.
You can do this stretch (I call it the emergency neck posture) in your office, putting your head on your folded arms against your desk. The goal is to sink down into the space made between the desk and your shoulders. This is an excellent way to release tension in the back of the neck and between the back of your shoulders (the trapezius muscle).
Next, do one of my go-to stretches, Iron on the Wall. This stretch is one of the best ways to help your shoulders sink back down to their neutral position and stop them from "floating" up during the day. Because you do it against the wall, your head is pushes back into proper alignment above your spine too. As with all of these stretches, BREATHE deeply in and out. Image the tension melting like ice into water.
Lastly, do this dynamic movement called Stretch the Bows. If you remember to keep your shoulders from floating up, this movement can help you release tension in your chest and back, preventing the shoulders from rolling forward or backward. Keep the head suspended straight up, and practice the feeling of having the head sit directly above the body, instead of pushed forward like many people do.
And that's it! Happy Stretching!