I have given some consideration to where to start and how to progress through the body with these stretches. Some people are more interested in upper body stretches, while others are more interested in stretches for their legs and hips, so we will take this in 'turn-around' style. This week we will start with a neck stretch, and next week we will cover a leg stretch, then back to the upper body, then down to legs again, and so on. Hopefully this keeps everyone interested. If you are seeking stretches for a specific area, please let me know and we'll look at it for you as quickly as possible ... Now, on with the stretch.
This stretch focusses on the back of your neck, and primarily the Upper Trapezius muscle - i'm sure everyone has heard of that muscle and knows exactly where to find it. You can do this stretch either standing or sitting down, but I recommend doing it sitting down because it will probably give you a better stretch. "Why?" I hear you ask - if you do this stretch standing up your body's reflexes can/will come into play to stop you from loosing your balance, and this can reduce the effectiveness of your stretch.
Sit tall ... by this I mean sit up and elongate your spine. Try to hold your head up and don't slouch your neck or hunch your shoulders.
Interlock your hands and place them on the back of your head. Take a deep beath in, then as you exhale lightly pull your chin to your chest until you feel a stretching tension through the back of your neck.
Hold this position for 15-20 seconds, and don't hold your breath, then gently release the tension.
Try to keep your neck long - that is don't let it slouch or collapse on itself.
Try not to let your scapulas (shoulder blades) ride up your back. The Trapezius muscle attaches to the Scapulas and if they ride up it will lessen your stretch. Mentally try to stabilise your scapulas and 'lock' them down to maximise your reward for effort.
Try to touch your chin as far down your chest as possible.
Variation to include some rotation:
When the back of your neck (or your Neck Extensors) become flexible you can progress to stretching each side individually which will stretch another neck muscle as well - the SternoCleidoMastoid (or SCM). The technique is basically the same, except instead of using both hands to gently pull from the centre of the back of your head you can use 1 hand to pull from the opposite side of the back of your head ... follow me?
Use the same start position as for the first stretch, then place your right hand on the back of your head but slightly more to the left side. Prepare exactly the same as before - elongate your neck, stabilise your shoulders, deep breath in - but when you gently pull your head, pull it to your right as if trying to put your chin on your right shoulder. Hold this for your 15-20 seconds, continuing to breathe, then release and repeat on the other side.
Always remember to relax into your stretches - don't fight against the stretch (it may cause more harm than good), and always do each stretch 3 times, at least twice each day.
Taken from "Stetching Anatomy" by A.G.Nelson and J.Kokkonen - pp 2-3