Question: How do you help a tight neck?
Answer: You move it.
That’s pretty simple, right? Does it sound too simple?
After 15 years of working with and learning about bodies, I’ve reached an answer that is a lot clearer and simpler than the one I used to give.
You could stop reading right now. After all, I’ve already transmitted all my accumulated learning…and it only took three words.
Would my answer change if I knew the very specific reason why your particular neck is tight?
What if it hurts to move my neck?
I know that’s rough. I’m truly sorry that’s happening. And movement is still the thing to do. But this movement I’m talking about, it’s not a particular set of neck exercises. It’s not movement to try and stretch your neck, to bring your chin to your chest or your ear to your shoulder. It’s not holding a position for some number of minutes. It’s not movement like running a race, there is no finish line to cross, no end point to reach. It’s just movement.
Move your neck like you’re opening a present. Move your neck like you’re exploring a park or a garden. Move your neck like you’re having coffee with your friend, and you’re curious what’s going on in her life.
And when you encounter pain–go slower, notice more, let go of any agenda.
When I say, let go of any agenda, what I mean is, don’t push your neck farther into the pain because you think it’s therapeutic. Don’t stay focused on doing a particular motion. Move your neck fearlessly up to the pain…and then watch how it–and the rest of you–reacts. If you’re noticing, you might feel a sort of “buzzing” feeling in your neck. It’s not really buzzing, but I need a word where there is no word, so I’ll say buzzing.
That buzzing feeling is when the body wants to stop the motion, because it doesn’t feel safe anymore. Pushing it will not make it feel safe.
When you get to that spot, right where the pain starts, see if you can find some ease somewhere close by in your neck. You may have to back off from the point of pain slightly. If you find a spot that feels some ease, or back off to a point of ease, then you can wiggle that area slightly. I don’t mean with your hands. This is all happening just with your neck. Wiggle it a little bit and see if you can spread that sense of ease, so that it becomes bigger.
Sometimes it helps to try making the movement while in a different position. If you usually try moving your neck standing up, then maybe try doing it in a forward bend, or laying on your side. Just that bit of difference can take away some of the body’s expectations about what is going to happen. That opens things up to allow in more curiosity and less apprehension.
How’s that working for you?