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Relax your neck and shoulders - get rid of tension and pain

The neck and the shoulders are quite a complex series of joints and muscles it's easy to have things go wrong. To add to that, seemingly unrelated factors such as your diet, your breathing patterns, the strength in your belly and intestines, can also contribute to this massive issue that is experienced by so many people on a daily basis.

You may spend a fortune on massage, chiropractic work, acupuncture, yoga - or whatever your choice of treatment may be, but all of this can be a waste of time if you are not addressing each of the following issues (which are all for free):

Your diet Food is a huge culprit to tension and stress around your neck and shoulders. Consider that food has different energies within it and affects the body in a variety of different ways. For example, salt has a downward energy and can contract things in the body, brings us heat and moves down to the lower body. Sugar, on the other hand, has a rising energy, expands everything and moves to the upper body. In fact sugar has so much rising energy that it often rises so fast to the upper body that it causes massive problems in the neck and shoulders causing tightness, tension and even headaches. Sugar, by itself especially causes tightness in the left side of the body, and when you wake up one morning and can't turn your head, this is NOT because you 'slept wrong', but because of the sugar consumption yesterday or a day or two ago! "Yes", it may be true that you slept 'wrong', but you did so as the sugar contorts your body into that shape to start with!

Alcohol also plays havoc with your upper body. It will mainly affect the right side of your body, but also gives you lots of tension in the upper back between your shoulder blades. Notice this the next time you have a big night. Unfortunately, if you drink everyday, you may not notice the difference as you are probably tight up there all the time. The body is basically like a map for our organs and meridians and the area between your shoulder blades relates to the heart. Did you know alcohol puts a huge amount of pressure on your heart? If you want further proof of this try walking up a steep hill or some stairs after you've had a few drinks and notice how much (more than usual) your heart starts to THUMP. This will even be the case the day after you've had a few drinks.

Your breathing If 80% of us breathe incorrectly, there is a high chance this includes YOU. When we breathe into the upper chest or we don't breath full breaths, it can cause our unnecessary tension in the upper body. This may sound very strange, I guess, but consider that your 'primary' breathing muscles: the muscles you should use all the time are your abdominal muscles, your diaphragm and your intercostal muscles. Your 'secondary' breathing muscles are you pectoralis minor (chest), trapezius (neck & upper back), sternacleidomastoid & scalenes muscles (in your neck). So the muscles that are more toward the mid and lower body are what we are supposed to use, but most people use the secondary breathing muscles (in the upper body).

Next time you get the chance ask someone to take a deep breathe and I bet you they will puff up their chest and raise their shoulders up to their ears! This is using their 'secondary' breathing muscles. These muscles are only supposed to work with our breathing when we are in 'fight/flight' mode - which means when we are in life or death situations. 80% of us use them all the time. This is like going to the gym and doing a bicep curl or a chest press with weights all day. If you've ever trained with weights, you know that you are only supposed to do a few sets of repetitive movement which in total would take 30 - 60 seconds x 3 times with a rest in between each and then the muscles are fatigued. If you are using the secondary breathing muscles all day, then you will definitely be fatigued in these upper body muscles. The primary muscles are actually designed to breathe and to be utilised all day!!!

Your belly strength This may seem even stranger... Build strength in your belly to fix your shoulders? Yes! This is probably the most important factor in relation to shoulder and neck tension. While it might seem a bit like going to Parramatta to fix the plumbing in Sydney, it really works.

The reason for this is mainly that if you have lots of pressure and strength in your belly, that's where the pressure will stay and it won't end up in your neck and shoulders. If you don't have belly pressure (which most people don't have enough of), there is no where for the tension to go so it will end up in your neck and shoulders. Basically, whenever there is too much tension in the upper body, it tells us there isn't enough tension in the lower body. So... If you build lots of tension (strength and power) in the lower body, the excess that is in the upper body will just drain down into the lower body and you will remain stress free. This needs to be accompanied with your diet (as mentioned above) though as foods such as sugar, alcohol and even coffee will take the tension away from your belly and send it up to your upper body. If you never plan to give up these foods, at least consider sugar, then you can build pretty good strength with your Zen Ki Yoga classes in the lower body to drain that excess away.

I've had several women with frozen shoulder or general shoulder pain (usually this will occur around menopause because of the change in hormones - but not always - stress and diet will be other factors if you are younger or male) and we haven't touched their shoulders but just worked on the deep belly and they have become pain free in the shoulders!!

Your intestines... The strength of your intestines will increase when you increase the strength and power in your belly: it all works together. Increasing the strength in your belly will improve your large and small intestine function and therefore your digestion.

Apart from the whole idea of lower body strength keeping the upper body tension at bay, your large intestine meridian runs from your index finger up your arm and directly through the top of your shoulder joint and then into your neck and your small intestine meridian dominates your shoulder blade as it runs straight through the middle of it (it even branches and zig zags through it) as well as running up the neck from the back of the neck to the side/front of the neck up to under and slightly in front of the ear. If we have a lack of function in the organs OR the meridian then we are in trouble with the neck and shoulders.

So, observing these 'seemingly' unrelated issues to the shoulder and neck will actually get you long lasting results as these 4 categories are the MAIN reason for most upper body tension. Massage etc. will usually only treat the 'symptoms'.

We have lots of classes online for strength in the intestines and belly. All classes are based on this in Zen Ki Yoga!!

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