Breathing habits play a significant role in a number of aspects of our health, including (but certainly not limited to) the development of tension in our neck.
So often I see people with an incredible amount of tension in their neck, mostly those of us who work at a desk but even (surprisingly) a number of avid practitioners and teachers of yoga!
Why does breathing relate to neck tension and massage?
Some of the muscles in our neck are considered ‘deep inspiratory’ muscles. Even though these muscles sure are motivational, this actually means that they get used when we breath in really deeply! Muscles like movement and so when we breath only small amounts of air in (our regular tidal volume of breath) then we’re not using these muscles or our full capacity for air. When muscles don’t get a lot of movement, tension starts to develop and that’s where massage often comes in to help alleviate this discomfort.
In particular, the muscles I’m referring to here are the scalenes and the sternocleidomastoid. These muscles mostly participate in general movement of the head and neck, and stabilizing our head. Again, when muscles don’t get movement, they build tension – and when you think about how many times you move your neck each day (staring at a computer screen), I daresay it’s not all that much, right!?
Part of their function also includes creating that extra little bit of space within your chest cavity for an extra little bit of air!
And we usually only utilize that function when we perform some kind of intense aerobic, borderline anaerobic activity. Once again, not many of us do this on the daily, so these muscles are not really getting the movement they need.
So what can we do to reduce this kind of neck tension?
Well, beyond saying “just breathe” we should emphasize time spent on breathing the fullest/deepest breaths you can bring into your body. Trying to do this sporadically throughout the day will help to alleviate building tensions. A great tool to use is the timer on your phone – every 30 minutes when your timer chimes, you know to take 5 really deep breaths.
Maintaining regular aerobic physical activity will also ensure these muscles keep moving! It kind of forces the deep breath…
Also, a number of these muscles play a role in lateral flexion of the neck, so we could also use the timer on our phones to tell us to take a break from the computer screen and move our head around. Alternatively, we could continue to look at the computer screen using a cute image such as this (or any sideways images to help us get more movement!):
Take some time this week to consciously take ‘neck breaks’ by breathing in as deeply as you can using as much of your torso as possible, and add in a few head tilts while you’re at it. Just remember that it takes time to retrain these useful habits, so be gentle with yourself.
Cheers to less neck pain!