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

Tame Tension with Traction
Just as I did at first, you need to give yourself plenty of time to become familiar with the undoing process in the simple passive poses. Then begin to explore the more active exercises I call Arm-Across-Chest Stretch, Standing Child's Pose, and Easy Neck Release. In these exercises, you use a little muscular energy to create a bit more traction than you can achieve in the passive poses. But you should infuse these exercises with the same intention that informs the passive ones: Undo tension by finding fluid movement guided by your breath.

In these more active exercises, challenge your concentration by stretching right to the edge of discomfort and then use your undoing skills to release your muscles' resistance. Move slowly and gently, giving your muscles time to assimilate the stretch. If you work too hard or move too quickly, you can create more contraction or strain your muscles. But if you're patient and let yourself be guided by your breath, you can usually trust your intuition about how intense a stretch you can handle.

All three of these poses help you learn to separate and isolate the movements of your head, neck, shoulders, arms, and ribs instead of moving them as one stiff unit. In each exercise, explore how your exhalations can ease away your tension. Every few breaths, you may feel an urge to make a small adjustment in your position to create greater ease, expansion, and vitality. Be sure to make these changes consciously and slowly. This gentle, mindful work will prepare you for continuing to release tension even as you move into increasingly challenging asanas.

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

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


© 2005 Barbara Benagh
Reprinted from Yoga Journal