Despite doing yoga for 10 years, and better posture, a stronger core, and
looser hips, hamstrings, and shoulders, I still suffer from chronic neck and shoulder tension. [Don’t get me wrong: the yoga has provided enormous benefits for my other ailments, especially my back.]
Why do I still hold so much tension? I don’t know, but I am trying to figure it out. In the meantime, while I get at the long-term causes, I’ve discovered the glory of the tennis ball + acupressure on my trapezius muscles (“traps”). This releases the tightness in my neck and shoulders for a glorious few moments like nothing else ever has. My neck feels lighter, longer and my chest open. Different from a standard neck rub, I use static pressure, no kneading, on my knots until the tension drains away. I can reach the knots on my shoulder/upper back with my own hands, and do this when I’m out in the world, but I prefer the tennis balls because: 1) they allow my whole body (arms and chest) to relax open with gravity, and 2) I can reach otherwise inaccessible parts of my mid back and along my spine.
You can google to find out more about the trapezius and the neck [for example, see here and here]—I am no anatomy expert—but suffice it to say the interweb consensus is that tightness/imbalance in these muscles can cause all types of pain for people that spend a lot of time bending their head forward to do housework, drive, work on the computer, e.g. participate in modern life. The trap is a kite-shaped muscle that runs from the neck, across the shoulders, and down the back. They (upper, middle and lower trap) connect the skull, neck and upper and mid back vertebra to the shoulder blade and shoulder joint. Find it on your body–it lies just under the skin. See the picture on the right.
Massage with balls
Now massage this bad boy. What I do is lie on my back on my yoga mat, knees bent and feet flat on floor. I put two tennis balls on either side of my spine between my upper back and the floor. I find the tight spots, which for me tend to be along my spine in the upper to mid back. I maneuver the tennis balls to those points, and let my body weight + gravity + tennis balls do the work of releasing the knots as I lie on each spot for 10 or more breaths.
When I start out, I usually do a mini chest opener. The tennis balls go on either side of the spine, next to each shoulder blade, approximately at the level of my nipples. Then I relax, letting my shoulders and chest open. And it’s pure pleasure.
Find the tight spots
The internet has a lot of stuff on “trigger points” and acupressure, but I just go where my knots are. Then use my feet to propel my body, rolling the tennis balls to the
next spot. It takes a few minutes to get the hang of it, and my hair gets painfully caught under the tennis balls sometimes. But whatevs, this is not rocket science. My tense spots tend to lie between my shoulder blades and the spine. Oh it hurts so good.
Moan with pleasure
The yoga comes in with awareness of where I’m holding tension (often in my jaw, which I open and close to release tension when I notice it) and in my breathing. When I find a spot of tension and stop there, I breathe in and out, deeply, imagining the tension pour out of my body on each exhale.
My exhales of tension usually sound like little orgasmic breaths because the release is so pleasurable. Even if this sounds pervy, I do think the audible exhale is good for releasing the tightness.
So there you have it. This is not medical advice, and maybe a massage or physical therapist would say something more sophisticated (for example, this lady seems to know what she’s talking about.)–but I swear this feels amazing. Lemme know if it works for you.