Do you suffer from neck or shoulder tension? If so, you’re not alone. Chronic neck and shoulder pain affect millions of people, notes yoga therapist Robin Rothenberg, founder of Essential Yoga Therapy in this free download. And it’s not just an issue of chronic pain. It can also affect us systemically in terms of lower energy and reduced well-being.
Oftentimes, the problem may not really originate in the muscles of the neck and shoulders. Rather, what is most commonly at issue is loss of integration between the abdominal core and what Robin refers to as the mid-back core.
The center point of the body is the lower ribcage and the diaphragm, notes Robin. The upper and lower part of the body are linked through what Anatomy Trains author Tom Myers refers to as the deep front line, i.e. the deep inner core line that starts from the inner arches and runs up through the pelvic floor, the iliopsoas, the transverse abdominis, and into the diaphragm, and pericardium.
The deep core line is similar to what the ancient yogis referred to as the Bandhas. With neck and shoulder problems, issues with the muscles involved in Jalandhara Bandha are often involved. To have a healthy yoga practice, it is important that we include that essential understanding of how to stabilize first and mobilize from that very strong stable center.
Robin Rothenberg has been teaching yoga therapeutically for more than thirty years. She specializes in utilizing adaptive asana and breathing practices to break chronic pain patterns and reset the body to move with greater stability and freedom.
Increasingly, Robin notes, she has become aware of the key role that breathing plays in musculoskeletal issues.
“Functional breathing and functional movement go together,” Robin explains. “Functional breathing is very much about the core being engaged appropriately so that the abdominals are always sinking and oscillating with the diaphragm.”
When we sit in our computer slumped position, we effectively cut off the abdominals from the diaphragm so the abdominals become flaccid. As a result, the diaphragm is no longer doing what it needs to do to breathe well.
Once this happens, the accessory muscles of the chest start to be used as primary breathers; people breathe up instead of out. When we do this 20,000-30,000 times a day (which is how many times we breathe), the result is a tremendous strain on the musculature in the neck and shoulders.
This in turn creates chronic tension all the way up through the jaw. That can create headache and tension in the head, TMD, joint pain, tension in the eyes. We’re not getting the full range of the diaphragm, which means our Prana is affected, because we cannot breathe effectively and fully in that slumped position.
Robin further goes into detail of why the newest trend in rehabilitation science is to look at the breath as a possible precursor to chronic musculoskeletal pain. It is important for yoga teachers that we really get people breathing functionally, she notes. We need to use asana practices to help people to sync the diaphragm back up with the abdominals to alleviate upper back and neck and shoulder tension and to stabilize and support the lower back.
Yoga offers a wonderful tool for fostering asana-breath integration and greater mindful awareness. This can be an amazing tool for transformation, if yoga teachers have the education and training to know how to do it effectively.
You may also enjoy Robin’s course, Yoga for a Healthy Back: Freeing the Neck and Shoulder Girdle.