The good news…It’s never too late to change a habit!With a little effort, and having some new strategies to play with and practice, you can effectively reduce neck tension and neck strain quickly and easily just by paying attention to where you are holding tension and practicing better breathing habits during your Pilates exercises.
Here Are Six Tips To Help Reduce Neck Strain During Pilates Exercise (AND Daily Life Activities!)
1. Posterio-Lateral Pilates Breathing Technique
Learning how to utilize the Pilates style of posterior-lateral breathing is KEY to helping lift the head up off the neck and lengthen the spine. Emphasis is placed on inhaling to fill the back of the ribcage from the bottom to the top. In effect, what happens is as you fill the lungs with air, you are increasing the natural curves of the spine. This should happen from the tailbone to the top of the head. So your inhale helps to float the head up off the neck.
For more details on a variety of Breathing Exercises to practice your Posterio-Lateral Pilates technique check out my blog post Breathing Basics
2. Keep the Front of the Neck and Throat Relaxed on Your Inhale
I notice that a lot of people actually inhale through the torso and tense up so much through the front of their neck that the head actually gets closer to the body on the inhale! When this happens – the neck muscles are pulling the neck bones closer together (when things should be lengthening apart!) Watch yourself breathe in front of a mirror and see if you notice your neck get longer, or shorter as you inhale. Do you see the muscles in the front of your neck tense up on your inhale? Or do they stay loose and relaxed? Think about your neck and throat being an open tube that air can easily flow in and out of.
3. Tongue Placement
Where your tongue is placed in your mouth can make a difference! Lightly touch the tip of the tongue to the roof of your mouth on your inhale, and drop the tongue away from the roof of your mouth on your exhale. This helps facilitate proper use of the diaphragm, and as the tongue drops on the exhale, you may notice that the muscles in the front of the neck soften and relax a bit.
4. On Every Exhale Use a “HA” Sound To Release and Open the Jaw
Using “HAaaaaaa” and opening the jaw to exhale moves the primary support lower in the torso to help activate core muscles. You might actually make the “HA” sound as you exhale until this becomes a familiar habit to release the neck and open the jaw.
The habit I notice if people aren’t doing a “HA” breath, is exhaling like you’re playing a flute, through a slightly pursed lip. This creates the look of a sour lemon face. If you make a sour lemon face, you’ll notice that the front of the throat tenses up, scalene muscles grip, and the head and neck get pulled closer to the body. Plus, it is more difficult to feel the activation of core support – support almost gets stuck in the throat instead of dropping lower into the center. Can you see how this can create or aggravate a neck problem? Strive to make “HA” breathing your new habit!
5. Pelvic Floor
While I’ve got this as #5 on my list….It probably should be #1! Effective use of the pelvic floor provides the anchoring at the base of the spine which is necessary for lift and lengthening that occurs during breathing. Without an active, engaged pelvic floor, it’s impossible to get the ribs to lift away from the pelvis, the neck to lift away from the torso, and the head to lift away from the neck! How do you effectively find and use the Pelvic Floor? If you’re not already familiar with using your Pelvic Floor, check back soon, for a blog post on this very important topic!
6. Shoulder Depression
Our body is a system of levers and pulleys. Think of a teeter-totter. Both ends can’t go up! One goes down and the other goes up. So for our body, the shoulder blades doing down provide the leverage for our upper spine, neck, and head to lift up. If your shoulders are wrapped around your ears, chances are your head and neck are jammed in too close to your torso. Pull the shoulders down and you should feel your head shoot up another inch or two closer to the ceiling.