Today’s practice is born from the realization that almost everybody—at one time or another—grapples with headaches, neck and shoulder tension, or wrist and hand issues. For some, the cause is work (computer, phone); for others, a life of carrying loads of some kind—baby, laundry, groceries; for still others, perhaps a lot of driving. Or, you may have had an impact or repetitive stress injury whose effects linger.
Because I am currently using two canes to move through each day, there has been an undue amount of pressure on my hands, wrists, and shoulders. I find that I am doing bits and pieces of the following routine multiple times throughout the day: What follows is a full set of the techniques that I have found to be particularly helpful. Pick and choose what works best for you, or integrate the entire practice into your own routine as a preventive measure.
The practice can be done in any position that you like: I tend to do the initial moves standing, and then shift into a seated pose. If standing or being on the floor is challenging, a chair will work for all but the arm circles. Regardless, a relaxed, yet upright and aligned spine heightens the benefits of the practice; as such, I recommend warming up with a few spinal exercises. For example, if you are at a desk, push your chair back, place the hands on the knees, and inhale to extend the spine forward; then, exhale to round back, allowing the chin to drop to the chest. Repeat several times to free tension from the spine and its associated muscles.
Open the practice with firm qi taps. This qi gong technique hones in on stagnant and blocked energy in the muscles and bones that inhabit specific meridians. For today’s purpose, the tapping tool of your own hand helps to break up tension along the torso portion of the Gall Bladder line, as well as the Lung, Large Intestine, and four Heart meridians in the arms.
Form a “beak” of the right hand by bringing the thumb and all fingertips together: This pointer will be the tapper. Starting on the left upper trapezius (thick muscle that runs from neck to shoulder), begin tapping quickly and powerfully: Move back and forth along the muscle, remaining longer on any area that feels particularly tight or needy. Then move the beak along the left clavicle and around the shoulder joint, down the outer arm, around the elbow, then the forearm, and around the wrist.
Move up and down the arm as many times as feels necessary. When you are finished, make a beak of the left hand, and repeat the same progression on the right shoulder and arm.
Then, with an open palm, swiftly and lightly slap along the same path that you tapped with the beak. After you have done both arms, inhale: Raise the arms overhead and shake vigorously; lower the arms when you need to exhale.
Now you are ready for shoulder drops. These are the opposite of shrugs, wherein the emphasis is on the lift and squeeze of the shoulders up toward the ears: Shoulder drops inversely unload energy away from the head and neck. Starting with the right side, inhale as the shoulder lifts up easily and minimally; exhale to strongly drop or push it toward the floor. Allow the head and torso to lean to the drop side if the force of the drop suggests. Continue at a fairly rapid clip for 12-20 drops. Then, repeat on the left side.
Special note: Although I do not suggest specific breathing for the following circling sequence, you likely will discover a natural pattern. Remain conscious of the breath as you roll, and breathe deeply and completely throughout the movements.
Now, alternate backward shoulder rolls: Do a total of 20 rolls. Then, alternate circling the shoulders forward; keep the movement continuous, rather than distinctly rolling one, then the other. For an added mental challenge and focus booster, roll the right shoulder backward, as the left shoulder simultaneously circles forward. Give yourself the chance to work it out, and then aim for a total of 10 opposite and simultaneous rolls: Repeat, shifting the left shoulder to backward rolls, and the right side to forward circles.
Next, move on to large arm circles: Rotate the right arm backward, moving slowly at first, then faster and with momentum as the joint warms. Do 12-20 circles, and then switch to the left arm. After 12-20 circles on the left, return to the right: Circle the arm forward another 12-20 times; then, repeat on the left side. This movement not only helps to keep the shoulder joint healthy, it provides a boost to overall circulation: You will feel well invigorated after a dose of arm circles.
It is at this point that I typically move to a seated position. The next set of movements uses the fingers to reset the nervous system; the sequence also releases basic tension that accrues daily in the hands and fingers. First, extend the arms out to the sides at shoulder level, palms facing down. Inhale as the fingers move in to the palm, keeping them as straight as possible; exhale as you extend them back out. This move should be so quick that the breathing becomes almost a Breath of Fire in and out through the nose, with the belly pumping and jumping: I find it helpful to focus on the exhale during the “flick” of the fingers out; the inhale and inward-moving fingers will respond naturally. Continue for 1 minute.
Then, turn the palms to face up; repeat the quick flick and retraction of the fingers for 1 more minute. To continue, raise the arms 60 degrees to form a large V with your head and shoulders as the base of the V. With the palms facing each other, repeat the same finger movement with rapid inhales and exhales for 1 minute.
Now, re-extend the arms to the sides at shoulder level. Hold down the ring and pinky fingers with the thumbs; the index and middle fingers are straight and together, forming a pointer. Turn the palms to face down, and extend the pointer down as well. Remain here, and refocus on long, deep breaths, in and out through the nose. If you feel that you need to exhale through the mouth at some point, do so: This signals a further release of tension and blocked energy. Continue for 1 minute: Then, turn the palms up, shifting the pointer up as well. Breathe deeply in this position for another minute.
To end your practice, come into Baby Pose. As always, if you need a pillow under your knees or forehead, and/or between the buttocks and heels, feel free to add that support. In the posture, interlace the hands behind the back; lengthen through the elbows, and raise the arms as far up and away from the back as possible. Remain here in Yoga Mudra for 1 minute. Then, slowly lower the arms, and move gently into Svasana for as long as you like.