When we think about the holidays, a lot of things come to mind. Food, family, giving the perfect gift, everybody has their favorites. Sadly, the one thing almost everybody associates with December is stress.
In my years as a massage therapist I learned a lot about stress. Some things are common to everybody. I’m talking about the big three, neck, shoulders and lower back. Chances are, no matter how well you take care of yourself, you get tension in these areas. There are four things I ended up telling almost all my clients to do to help. They are quick, easy and require no special equipment.
1. Look Up. We spend so much time looking down – at a book or a computer screen or whatever we are working on. Take a minute or two every day to look up at the ceiling. It un-stretches your overstretched back muscles and gets the blood moving in your under-stretched chest muscles. You’ll need to experiment a bit, but the most effective thing to do is to look up at a bit of an angle. Imagine that straight up it twelve o’clock. You want to tip your head to eleven and one or ten and two. You’ll know when you find the right angle because you’ll feel it all down your back. The first few times you’ll feel it more in the front of your neck and your chest but trust me, you are doing your back a world of good.
2. Shoulder Rolls. Chances are you did shoulder rolls in gym class, and haven’t done them since. When you have spent the day hunched over your work, they feel amazing. Just roll your shoulders back, either one at a time or in pairs.
3. Doorway Stretch. This is another one that stretches the chest and relaxes the back. Stand in a doorway and hold your arm up like you are signaling a right-hand turn. Rest your hand and forearm on the door jamb and gently lean your body through the door. Hold the stretch for a few breaths and then do the other arm.
4. Lean Forward. For a gentle lower back stretch, just lean forward and relax your stomach muscles. This is best done while standing, though you can do it sitting down if you must. If you are standing, just bend at the waist and relax. Don’t worry about touching your toes or how flexible you might or might not be, just bend down till you feel a stretch and hold the pose for a few seconds.
The most important thing is to take it easy. Move slowly and, once you feel a good stretch, hold it for a few breaths. Do not bounce. It is not conducive to relaxation. If at any time you feel like your body is telling you to stop, then stop. Nobody wants you to get hurt while trying to de-stress.