Pilates Postures

Simple Exercises to Release Neck and Shoulder Tension

At a recent dinner with two friends and their out-of-town guests one from England and one from the US I was asked: who takes Pilates in Paris and why?

Exercise mentalities are vastly different from one country to the next and the reasons people decide to exercise and how they do it are most definitely influenced by society. Pilates in France is happily becoming less under the radar while gaining a (well deserved) reputation of pain reliever. So part of my reply is that a lot of my clients have come to me on a quest to alleviate some form of back or neck pain. Many people also come to Pilates to increase abdominal strength, but there usually is some history of pain that accompanies this desire to strengthen the core.

The people who take Pilates in Paris are predominantly female and usually between approximately 30-60 years of age. This is also changing more and more as Pilates as a practice comes to be better known and respected. Between screen time and kid time, the neck and shoulder area is a place that is very typically plagued with tension. Our two trapeze muscles, we have one on each side, start at the base of the skull and run all the way down the spine to the 10th thoracic vertebrae and stretch all the way across the shoulder blades. These big triangular muscles tend to get over worked as we solicit them more than we should which creates tension.

So as we dive back into the hectic rhythm of la rentrée, I'd like to introduce you to a couple of very easy exercises that I frequently give to my clients as homework. You can do them simply standing in your living room, your office or wherever else you might find yourself with 2 minutes to kill and a bit of tension to release.

Arm Circles

Set Up

arm circles set-up position

Stand on the floor with feet hip width apart and body weight distributed evenly on both feet.

Direction 1
Pilates Arm Circles start

  • Lift arms so that hands are level with shoulders.
  • Inhale to start lowering both arms downward simultaneously.
  • Exhale to swivel humerus (arm bone) in the shoulder joint to sweep arms up and around.

Be sure to keep shoulders released as much as possible while stirring arms in the joints, avoid creating extra tension.

Repeat 5-8 times.

Direction 2

  • Lift arms so that hands are level with shoulders.
    Inhale to lift arms up and swivel humerus (arm bone) in the shoulder joint and sweep arms down and around.
  • Exhale to rise arms back up so that hands are level with the shoulders.
  • Repeat 5-8 times.

By simply moving the humerus in the shoulder joint in all possible directions this lubricates the joint which improves movement capacity and circulation thus helping to release tension in the surrounding area, notably the trapeze muscles.

Next do a few Shoulder Rolls.

Shoulder Rolls

Set Up

Same as the Arm Circles

Direction 1

  • Looking straight ahead keeping head level inhale in pick shoulders up to the ears.
  • Exhale to pull them back then roll them down and forward back to start position.
  • Repeat 3 times. Then Reverse.

Direction 2

  • Looking straight ahead keeping head level inhale pull shoulders back.
  • Exhale to lift them up and roll them down and forward back to start position
  • Repeat 3 times.

These two exercises can give you a sense of relief that will enable to get back to your tasks with less pain. Even if you don't have the time to make a regular exercise practice part of your daily - or even weekly habits - doing a few quick exercises like those can go a long way in helping to keep pain at bay and re-energizing you in the middle of your daily activities.

For an even more complete quick standing exercise repertoire you can also do the Standing Spine Stretch that I described in my article "Stretching Your Spine to Release Tension".

Photos © Bruno Rizzi

This article was written for "Message" a non-profit group for English Speaking Parents in Paris and published in its Autumn 2015 Magazine.