Class #4860

Gentle Neck Strengthening

40 min - Class


You will relieve discomfort and tension in your neck that can happen from tightness and stress with this gentle Mat workout by Cara Reeser. She builds from the first class in the series to work on building strength and endurance in your neck muscles. She uses a combination of stretching and breathing techniques to help you get more flow into your upper body.
What You'll Need: Mat, Yoga Block (2), Towel, Foam Roller, Theraband


Read Full Transcript

Hi, everybody, welcome. This is class two of what we're calling Upper Body Health. It's a series of six classes. Class number two, you're gonna need the same props we used in class number one. A TheraBand that's sort of medium weight, medium or lightweight, something that you can sort of easily kind of pull on with your arms, like this.

Two yoga blocks. I'm gonna use the cork yoga blocks, but you're welcome to use foam yoga blocks. A hand towel, and a foam roller. I'm using a soft foam roller that is a little bit narrower. It's just my go-to.

But whatever roller works for you is fine with me. So the goal of this second class is similar to the first class. It's gonna be some repetition, and then adding on, right? We're looking to create some tension relief, right? We're gonna use some stretching techniques, some breath techniques, some kind of releasing movement techniques, right, just to get a little bit more flow in the upper body, and maybe hopefully take care of any of that discomfort that sometimes we get from tightness and stress.

So here we go. We're gonna start with the roller, and this time we're gonna start using the roller in a vertical position, right? Which means I'm gonna sit down at the very bottom, depending on how tall you are, right? You wanna make sure that your entire trunk is on the roller. All right, I'm gonna bring my arms out to the side, and just take a moment to just settle into sort of the wobble of this.

Get your footing in a way that you feel like you're really in the mat, right? So you could catch yourself if you felt like you were too wobbly. And then reach your arms out, your palms up. You want your cervical spine in neutral, and what that means is don't be looking down at yourself, but just look straight up, chin. Again, we want space between the chin and the sternum, right?

The throat to be open. Palms up, and you're probably already feeling a stretch across the front of your chest and shoulders. And then you're just gonna reach your right fingertips long. And it's gonna kind of move that roller over into that left shoulder blade, right? And may even pick up that left hand a little.

So the stretch increases, you get a little pressure under that roller, that shoulder blade, and then you're gonna reach your left hand. The roller's gonna come up under the right shoulder blade, or along it, I should say. And then you're gonna go back and forth. You're gonna start with breathing in and out through your nose, like we did in the first class. Basically, you're just kind of reaching your hands.

You're rocking yourself side to side, right? This can be very soothing. You might wanna close your eyes if you like that, just rocking back and forth. Just letting the roller sort of push on that tissue between your shoulder blades. And then we're gonna just bring ourselves to steady.

Bring your arms down by your side, and lift your arms up to the ceiling. Now we're gonna do that, pop it arm that we did in class one. But now we've got a chance to kind of really squish into that roller. So our scapula go up, they fall down, and then they fall even below that. So we get this nice full range of motion in our shoulder blades up and down.

And the next time your shoulder blades are up, let's do some arm circles. Let your arms come back, and exhale. Bring 'em alongside your body. Maybe move your props out of the way if they're in your way, I'll just sort of compensate here. But inhale, exhale, come around, and inhale, exhale around.

You can bend your elbows, or keep them straight. Whatever feels good for you, but you're just looking for that big stretch. Let your breath be wide in your chest. And then let's just do a few in the opposite direction. Inhale.

Exhale around. Inhale. Exhale around. One more big breath in, sweeping around, and come up. Ah, and just take a moment there.

Maybe any more little rock or wiggles you wanna do before we come up to seated, and then do use your hands, lift your gaze towards your pelvis, push yourself up to seated, and take your roller away. I'm just gonna set my roller out of the way now. Okay, so now we're gonna come to a seated segment, like we did in class one. We're gonna put our yoga blocks down, and we are gonna start with that lateral breathing that we did in class one. It's always good to start class getting that rib cage moving, right?

That rib cage, when it gets stiff, it's gonna create a lot of kind of stiffening around the shoulders and neck as well. So again, you take your TheraBand, you bring it across your rib cage in the back. You cross it across your front, pull out a little bit, and here we go. We're gonna breathe in this time for six counts, five to six counts, exhale for five to six counts, whatever you're comfortable with, right? Going three dimensionally into this band.

So through the nose, inhaling, exhale, just find that comfortable upright seat, and expand your ribs. Just have a moment of holding the breath before you exhale now. So we're working out that diaphragm, right? Inhaling. A little breath suspension, exhale.

Right, and I want you to notice how when you breathe in fully like that, how your shoulders lift a little towards your ears, right? And then they fall as you exhale, right? You want that. A lot of times we end up in pain and discomfort in our shoulders 'cause we're overly correcting them down. Right, so let your shoulder girdle bob up and down with this breath cycle, one more.

Exhale. (Cara breathing) And then we're gonna do a little movement with the breath now. We're gonna do something called rib cage isolations here. You're gonna breathe up through the center of your body, hands on your shoulders. And then as you exhale, just move your ribs over to the right.

And back to the center. Inhale through center, exhale over to the left, and back, right? So we're just getting a little bit of lateral glide in the ribs, breathe in. Exhale during the whole shift away, and bring back, coming back, inhale. Exhale.

When you're gonna bring your arms down, we're gonna drop into that forward roll that we did last class, where you just let your head drop down. Today, I'd like you just to add bringing your hands, just don't pull on your neck, but just set your fingertips gently on the back of your neck, and just give a teeny bit of weight there. On the exhale, roll up. And you can leave your hands there. Again, I'm not pulling, but I am just coaxing, and maybe just letting my fingertips rest a little bit there.

Just so I get, I'm just coaxing my neck to go in the stretch a little deeper. Breathing in, could almost think of your fingertips sort of tractioning the back of your skull off your neck, and back up. And let your arms come down. Okay, so now we're gonna come off of our yoga blocks. We're gonna go to sideline.

We're gonna use our yoga blocks as a pillow, as we did in class one. Can bring that TheraBand aside, and we're gonna add on to that series. So I'm gonna bring my two blocks the long way. And again, I'm gonna lie on my side, right? And I'm gonna stack my hands, so I'm gonna bring my head to the very front of this yoga block, right?

So that my head is really supported. And it allows me when I roll open, right? My head will still be supported. Right? So now we're gonna work this time on some arm circles, right?

So what's gonna happen here is you're gonna start to move that top arm around in a circle. And I want you just to let your arm come around, and look at the ceiling. And then I want to bend your elbow there, right, that back elbow in like a goal post position. And then just let your scapula migrate toward your spine. Breathe in.

Breathe out. Now, stretch the arm. You could even gaze back at that wall, that's such good movement for our cervical spine. So then come back. Inhale, open.

Again, this leg can come up. If you're tight, you might need that leg to come up, or stiffer in your thorax, and then squeeze your shoulder blade, bend your elbow, breathe in. Breathe out. Then reach, look towards the back wall, really reach around. Right, this is just so yummy, this big rotation.

One more time. Breathe in, bend that elbow, squeeze your scapula towards center, your shoulder blades, and then reach. And then bring that arm around. Now we're gonna stay on this side. We're gonna add in, you're gonna bring your bottom arm onto your top shoulder, and your top arm onto the mat.

And then you're just gonna pick your head up off this block. And you're just gonna hold for five, four, three, two, one, and put your head back down, right? You're just gonna lift your head, and float for five, four, right? So what's happening here is we're working these side neck muscles, two, one, and down, right? If you can't tolerate this, use your hand to help you, or don't stay as long.

But we do wanna build that endurance. And then, guys, just open up, take a stretch, and then we'll find our way to the other side, right? I'm gonna put my back to you, just so we can stay moving here, but you just keep doing this with me. We're gonna reach around, inhale, exhale. Now I have this elbow bent, and I'm wrapping my shoulder blades towards my spine, breathing in and out.

And then as you come back around, reach for that back wall, and let your body derotate, or come back to where you started. Inhale. Exhale. Bend the elbow, full breath, round, squeeze scapula, shoulder blades together. Full breath, gaze back, really stretch all the way over, right?

So your arm may not go to the floor, right? You may not be, you might not have that range of motion, right? I'm kind of avoiding my mic there a little bit, but whatever works for you is what you wanna do here. Breathe in. Breathe out.

Now we're gonna do our side head lifts. You're gonna take your bottom hand on top of your shoulder, your top hand on the mat, and have your head directly laying on your side, like where your ear and temple are. And then you're gonna lift your head for five, four. You just wanna reach it straight out, three, two, one, and down, twice more. You can press into your hands, and your shoulder to help you a little bit.

Just holding your gaze straight forward. Try not to look up or down right now, and down, and again, if it's bothering you, use your hand to help you, or do it for less counts, and we'll build the tolerance in time. And down, and then open up to a stretch all the way out, breathing in and out. (Cara breathing) Come on to your back body, bring your left knee into your chest, and roll yourself up to seated, okay? We are going to move these yoga blocks away now, and we're gonna move into our supine, and let's do grab our TheraBand, and let's grab our towel.

We're gonna fold the towel, and we're gonna roll it up like we did in class one, right? So we're making a little bit of a neck roll, right? And depending on the shape of your neck, you may need this rolled more or less. I'm gonna go with small, 'cause it's bumping a little bit into my mic here. So we'll just come back, and we'll come onto our backs, right?

And then just find your way comfortable into your back. Make sure your shoulder blades are free, and your back is along the mat. And then we're gonna start with the little circles that we did seated last time, but we're gonna do 'em in this supine position. I want you to feel your shoulder blades, very heavy rooted in the surface of your mat. And then you're gonna just slowly start to lift your elbows, and you're gonna let your elbows come up to the ceiling, and then you're gonna open wide.

Now the main goal here, where your fingers are, you wanna feel a lot of relaxation. You want the movement becoming distal, right, from your elbows. You're gonna come around, right? We call these baby birds, right? You're gonna go up.

It's like a little baby bird's wings. And then you're gonna open. You're gonna let your shoulders up here. Stay soft as your elbows come down, right? So you don't wanna be pulling down on the fabric of your shoulders.

So one more time in this direction. Big lateral breathing, exhale. Let's reverse, in. Keep the blades grounded as your elbows come up. Two more.

All right, so you're just looking for that really easy roll and glide of your arms and their sockets. And then from there, let's just go ahead right into the rib cage arms that we also did, we'll just go floating up, fingers falling apart. You're just gonna slowly let your arms float back. And you'll just stay easy in your neck, now keep your scapula almost like, if you were laying in warm mud, or something, that you were like almost seeing the scapula ground down into the surface of the mud, right? So we're really trying to find this very clear individuated movement of our arms at first.

And then as our arms travel over, you wanna feel that scapula elevate, right? You wanna let it slide up your back, like you're pulling a T-shirt off, right? So you wanna feel that movement. And then, guys, I want you to let your left arm come down, take your right arm up to the ceiling, make a fist. And then I want you just to do a little bit of spinning of your arm in its shoulder socket, right?

So we're just feeling that little internal external rotation, and just letting that swing. And then let's switch arms, right? So you take that arm up, and then just finding, right, the movement of internal extra rotation, just to your ease, right? You may have one side that's a little bit funky, I do on this left, so just whatever works for you. And then just bring those arms down by your side.

Now I wanna come into a little bit of lower body stuff here. You're just gonna stand out in your arms, and we're gonna bring ourself into a little bit of a small bridge. You're gonna let your pelvis reach up, right? And as you do this bridge, I want you to really push your arms back into the mat, right? You wanna feel your arms grounding, and then slowly roll yourself down.

Right, we're gonna do two more small bridges. You're gonna press into your feet. You're trying to extend the front of your hips, stretch across your quads. Now really press your arms back. Don't fall into your spine, but stand in your arms, and roll back down.

Right, so there's a very strong presence of the scapula also starting to sort of migrate towards the spine here. My neck is not tucked, right? I really got that towel roll there to keep me in neutral. Keep me honest, and not falling down through my cervical spine as I do this. We're gonna go into a little bit of pistons here.

You're gonna just let your right leg float in, and come back down, right? And what I really want from this for you, as you're doing this switching legs is to stand back down in your arms, and neutral in your neck, right? So maybe now pressing the back of your skull slightly into the mat surface, right? So that we start to engage a little bit, and start to really feel the support of our shoulder girdle, and our neck as we're working the lower quarter, and rest. And then I'm gonna ask you to go ahead, and straighten your legs.

We're gonna go into head lifts, right? Now if you're ready to get rid of your towel in your head lifts, great. If you still want your towel, that's fine. We're remembering that our elbows are reaching high up, and we're floating. We're gonna hold today for five, four, three, two, one, and down.

If you're choosing not to use your towel now, you would be just lifting, as if somebody slid a piece of paper, five, four, three, two, one, right? And that's crazy hard, right? So maybe you could only hold for two seconds. That's fine. But we are building some endurance and strength in our neck muscles, holding, and release.

Right, and then again, we're gonna move into the head lift itself. So you're gonna float your head, and then you're gonna spin. You're gonna flex your neck, and guys, let's keep our trunk straight. So we're really just flexing the neck now, and then come back out. Right, so this is our sort of classical head lift.

I'm gonna do two more without the towel. I'm gonna really bring that chin down. I'm gonna look at my toenails. Right, it is a huge effort in the front of my neck, right? But we're remembering that strength is part of what we need to get rid of some of that discomfort, that tightness, and that irritation, and sometimes even pain in our cervical spines.

Ah, take a deep breath in, just close, bring your legs back in, take your arms out to the diagonal here. Just cross your left leg over your right leg. And then we're just gonna twist a little bit. We're gonna do crossovers. We're just gonna let our legs sort of roll over to the right, press down in your right arm.

Really press down, and then exhale, come back, right? So we're now thinking about this frame, right? This like triangular frame that our arms are making, our shoulder blades, our head, and letting our trunk sort of just move in between that frame. So you're making a very nice, strong imprint of your arms, right? But you're not pulling down, your back with your blades.

You're rooting your blades into the surface of the floor. And there's a big difference with that. And then we're gonna uncross, and re-cross, right? Feel your left arm. You're going to the outside of your foot, and you're twisting, press your arms into the floor, and coming back, right?

Obviously, we're using some trunk control here, right? But we're just keeping a really open front shoulder girdle, kind of dissociating the lower quarter from unnecessary tension in our upper body. And then we're gonna come in, and then do take your right knee into your chest, straighten your leg, lift your head, look at your navel center, and roll yourself up to seated. Okay, we're headed to quadriped. Let's move this towel out of the way.

Or actually, we're headed to prone, move this towel out of your way. And we're just gonna lie down here, and we're gonna come into, onto our forearms, right? So last class we did cat and cow and quadriped. Now I wanna find this motion in this sphinx pose. I like my elbows slightly above my shoulder.

And then I want you to push forward with your hands, like you're trying to move them out forward. Tuck your chin under, and really round your upper back. Really try to fill out that area between your shoulder blades. And then you're gonna come into cow, right? This is your inhale.

Looking up. Exhale, push, look down. Inhale, pull, look up. Ex. (Cara breathing) In.

One more set, ex. (Cara breathing) And in. And then we're gonna come down. We're gonna do number 14 head only again, right? So we're gonna lie our heads down, and then what's gonna happen here is you're just gonna gently pick up the weight of your shoulders.

You're gonna pick your head up, and you're gonna look straight down. You are going to look at the front of your mat, and at the front wall, you are going to extend your neck only, try not to arch your back here. Spiral your head, so you look straight down, right? So we're using full range of motion and extension, and release, everything down, just collapse into that mat. Slowly lift your blades up.

So your shoulders, the side body. Float your gaze straight down. And then again, extend your cervical spine, we're really crunching up the back of that neck. I know like that might seem like it's against the law, but it's super, super good for your neck. One more time, up.

And extend. Looking down. You regain that length, and release. Last time. So we're creating length, but we're also building some strength endurance, right?

We're contracting muscles, right? Instead of just only stretching on them, and release. And then from here, I'm gonna just grab my towel, and put it under my forehead, because I'm squishing this mic. You may not need this towel, but it also could be quite nice if you wanna do this. And then you're gonna take your arms back to where they were.

Now, what you're gonna do is you're gonna lift your hands, and then I want you to just really reach up, and keep your elbows straight, engage your scapula together, and your triceps by lifting your hands. And then guys, just float your head off that towel, or off the mat, and hold. And let everything come back down, right? So now we're building a little bit of strength here in the triceps, the muscles between your shoulder blades, rhomboids, mid trap, and up, just let your head reach out, and hold, and back down, right? It's surprisingly difficult, two more times, right?

Getting that upper back to engage, really, really get those muscles to turn on, and our triceps as well. You're welcome to make fists here if that kind of gives you a better sense of where your hands are in space, that sometimes helps me engage my triceps a little bit better. And then you're gonna come all the way down. Bring your hands under your shoulders, and then push yourself back into a wide child's pose. Drop your head down, take a deep breath in.

(Cara breathing) And a deep breath out. (Cara breathing) Let your rib cage billow one more time. (Cara breathing) Bringing your sitting bones towards your heels. You're gonna slowly roll your spine up, and just pause with your head down for a moment, and take your time. Just lift your head.

Right, and just feeling that change in your neck. We're gonna move to seated. You're gonna bring your yoga blocks to the top of your mat. You're gonna grab your TheraBand. And sitting down, we're gonna move into our last section here.

So you're gonna take your TheraBand, and you're going to put it at your feet. We're gonna do some rows again, right? So you're gonna pull back, inhale, squeeze your shoulder blades. And forward. Now we're gonna do one more of this, and we're gonna add into a little sequence.

So stay with me, we're gonna wrap, and away, and then we're gonna go pull, and in. And pull back, and back. So you unleash the band, and you pull out. So we're alternating between that T and that row, right? We have one more round, pull, and in, and pull, and out.

Now I want you to cross the band. The right, this side of my band, my right hand is holding is above. And I'm gonna pull back, and I'm gonna look over my shoulder, and then I'm gonna look at my toes. I'm gonna pull and twist, look over my shoulder, look at my toes, right? So we're getting a little rotation with this row now, one more.

And then take the other side of the band above. And we've got four on this left side. Turn, and look at your toes. So, right? So we're using our eyes as sort of the way to work with some of our range of motion in our neck, which is really, really a great strategy in my opinion.

And then we're gonna take that off, and we're gonna go into spine stretch forward, go ahead and reach your arms up. Can't say you didn't do Pilates today. Exhale, curl. (Cara breathing) Inhale, stack your spine up. Exhale, drop your head, curl.

(Cara breathing) Stack up. (Cara breathing) Exhale, curl. (Cara breathing) And I want you to come up. I'm just gonna turn and face you for this little stretch we're gonna do here. So I want you to just very gently take your hand, and bring it across your head, so it's touching the top of your ear.

Now, listen, you're not gonna pull on your head, right? You are going to take this arm out, and then you are gonna let your head fall towards your shoulder, right? And you're just setting your hand there as a gentle weight. And then I want you to take a breath in. And then flex your wrist.

And then slowly just pull that hand down towards the floor. It's a big stretch in your nerves of your arm, and in your shoulder. And you lift everything up. And bring your head. And then pulling down.

Right, really, very, very, lot of sensation in that stretch. One more time. (Cara breathing) Now from here, I want you just to let your head come forward. Let it dangle down. And find your way up.

Woo! Again, other hand, you're gonna touch the top of your ear. This arm's out, right, you're not pulling, but you're letting your head side bend, right? That's gonna, that feels like, wow, that's already a lot for me, right? I'm just gonna use the weight of my hand to help me. I'm gonna flex this hand, I'm gonna breathe in.

I'm gonna exhale, I'm gonna slowly draw this hand down. I'm basically making space along that top rim of my shoulder girdle, right? And then I'm coming out of the side bend to come back, and I do the whole thing over again. I go across my head, and then I slowly pull down, right? Just deep nerve stretch there.

It's just a really, really lovely way to get some opening in that top shoulder, one more time. And then again, just take your head with your hands, and just kind of bring it forward, and let it hang down for a minute, and stack it back up. One more last thing with our cervical spines, we're gonna drop the head forward, like we've been doing, but what I want you to do now is imagine you have like a long spoon hanging off your nose, and a bowl of soup or tea right here below you. And then you're gonna just slowly, very easily start to stir to the right or left, the imaginary spoon into that bowl. Right, so this is a very small movement at the very top of our spine, where our skull meets our spine.

Make the stirs the other way. And I call this exercise soup head, so stirring the soup. And then just let your neck hang down for a moment, and then slowly find your way up. And just take a moment to like look up, and then bring your head back to center. Gorgeous, all right, let's come off these blocks, and put them aside, and let's come into our abdominal sit up.

We're gonna do the same one. We'll add on a little bit at the bottom. Some of you might have chosen last week, or last time you did class one, to have the yoga block behind for your head. That's absolutely fine. I don't need that.

So I'm gonna let my yoga block stay over there. And then I'm gonna wrap my arms, and I'm gonna gaze down. Right, and then here, we've got that movement of the pelvis taking me back into my sit-up. So I'm gonna roll through my spine, and I'm gonna roll all the way down. Let my head come down.

Now here's that use of the head lift, right? I'm gonna lift my arms a little. You're gonna float your head, you're gonna spin your skull. You're gonna flex your neck, and then you're gonna flex the rest of your spine to come up. You might need to pull up to help yourself sit up.

And there we are. We're gonna look down, we're gonna roll back. I'm gonna bring my arms down, right? So we're just getting this nice little workout in our tummy. And I'm opening up that whole back line of, from the top of my skull, to the bottom of my pelvis.

Last one like this. (Cara breathing) And all the way up, again, you could always pull up with your arms to help you. And this sit-up takes some time to get good at, right? So, you may be a little clumsy right now, which is fine. I want you to cross your band now, hold your arms like this, come back under.

And then we're just gonna do about six pulses here. Six, five, four, three, two, one. And roll all the way up, straighten your legs. Reach your arms up over your head. Exhale, come into whatever type of forward bend you have available.

Drop your head, breathe in. Breathe out. (Cara breathing) Slowly find your way up stacking. Let your head come up last, right? Feel the length of your spine.

And great. I don't know about you, but I can feel a lot of heat there in between my shoulder blades, right? So just getting that kind of working into some strength and endurance. Thanks for coming. Thanks for watching.

Thanks for watching, class, and we'll see you next time, bye.


1 person likes this.
That was so great.  Thank you.  I found the stretch with extended arm flexed had particularly challenging.  Who knew how many nerves there were in those arms?  Kidding.  It's a great stretch for me, who spends a lot of time hunched over typing.  
Lina S
1 person likes this.
It's a good idea to strengthen the neck muscles. Nice class!

Thank you : )
Ruth S
This has helped so much. Thank you,
Louise D
Wonderful class, wonderful series. Thank you Cara!
Thank you Cara. My neck feels longer, stronger and just brilliant after your very precisely cued class. 
Jane R
brilliant class and such clear instructions, thank you!
Mona H
So simple and effective. Can't wait to use this on my clients.

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