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CRICK FIXES
Tension can be a pain in the neck. Master these gentle moves to create lasting ease.


Introduction
By the time Tatiana Makoukhina came to my workshop last spring on easing tension in the neck, shoulders, and upper back, she'd been suffering from chronic pain for more than a decade. In the early '90s, as a single mom newly arrived from Russia, Tatiana worried constantly about whether she could make a new life in America with her daughter. She put in long hours as a hotel cleaner—the only job she could find—and felt she could never relax, never stop working and planning. Her back and neck were constantly rigid with tension, she suffered severe migraines, and then she herniated a disk in her lower back lifting a heavy mattress.

Despite her persistent discomfort, Tatiana worked hard to manage her pain and improve her health. Athletic in her childhood—she had loved gymnastics, volleyball, and dancing—she began running and exercising again. Surgery for her disk injury helped with her lower back pain, and her migraines eased once she began practicing yoga regularly in 2002. Still, nothing seemed to banish the tightness, aches, and occasional stabbing pain in her shoulders and neck.

Tatiana certainly isn't unique: We all live in a world filled with anxiety. We race through hectic days and fall into bed exhausted; we fret over our bills, our kids, our jobs and the state of the planet, too. It doesn't help that many of us have lives skewed toward the sedentary, with too many hours spent hunkered down behind a computer or steering wheel. Our stress often winds up stored in clenched necks, shoulders, and backs-which eventually weakens our muscles, strains our joints, and limits our range of motion. The tension hangs heavy on our necks and shoulders, as unwelcome as a winter coat on a summer day.

It doesn't have to be this way, of course. The shoulder girdle is designed so your arms, neck, and shoulders can move freely and easily. Even if you have a history of injuries or have suffered from chronic tension for years, the approach I've developed can help you learn to soften your neck and shoulder muscles and restore ease and freedom.

When I ran into Tatiana a few weeks after the workshop, she was thrilled with her progress. Not only had the workshop taken away her pain but, even better, she'd been able to stay pain-free by including 5 to 10 minutes of my exercises in her daily hour of yoga. Her back, shoulders, and neck were feeling more relaxed than she'd ever imagined possible.

Benefits
• Increase spine and shoulder flexibility
• Strengthens and invigorates the whole body
• Improves respiration
• Builds confidence
• Develops humility

Contraindications
• Spinal nerve damage and disc problems
• Chronic shoulder dislocations
• Pregnancy
• Unmanaged high blood pressure
• Retina problems

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© 2005 Barbara Benagh
Reprinted from Yoga Journal