One of the most important and long-lasting relationships we must cultivate is with the earth suits God has entrusted to us for a limited time. Depending upon the condition in which we maintain them, our bodies can be warmly comforting, a source of pleasure, a vehicle for adventure, or a painfully restrictive straitjacket.
The Bible says our bodies are God’s temple (2 Corinthians 6:16). As temple caretakers, we must fortify our living edifices to withstand battering gales and relentless enemy attacks. Knowledge and prevention of the forces assaulting our temple structures are our best defense.
Stress is one of those destructive forces that does a wicked number on our bodies over time. Whether a result of repetitive physical strain, endless hours at a tedious desk job, long-distance driving, or everyday wear and tear in caring for our families and homes, stress can take its toll in the form of recurrent pain, tight-as-a-tick muscles, limited movement, and debilitating tension headaches (not to mention the lengthy list of internal stress-related maladies, but we’ll save those for another post).
During my 36-years working in physical therapy clinics, I was considered a stress management specialist, serving the myriad of patients referred to me by orthopedic physicians. One of the most effective stress management tools I developed was what I call the Decom-Stressing 6-Pack. They’re relaxation stretches that can be performed anywhere, anytime you feel your overworked neck and shoulder muscles screaming for relief.
Remember, your poor little neck has to hold up that 10-pound bowling ball that is your head all day. Just heave one (a bowling ball, not a head) up in the air with one arm and maneuver it left and right, down and up, simulating what your neck and shoulder muscles do all day every day. You won’t last 3 minutes.
So c’mon, give your weary muscles a break; try the 6-Pack. And bear in mind, stretching should not be painful. Adjust the tension you’re applying so that you feel gentle pulling, not pain. (And don’t be surprised if you experience some muscle soreness the following day; this will resolve when you perform the 6-Pack daily and your tightness morphs into elasticity.)
- Shoulder rolls: exaggerate rolling both shoulders forward 10 times, then backward 10 times, letting your arms hang freely. You’ll likely feel some crunching and grinding; this is normal.
- Ear-to-shoulder: Gently push your right ear down toward your right shoulder using your right hand placed on top of your head. Close your eyes. Breathe deeply and slowly. Hold 10 seconds. Intentionally relax into the stretch. Note: It’s important to completely relax your neck muscles and move the head with your hand for this and the following two exercises; contracted muscles don’t stretch well! Now, using your hand (not your neck muscles), move your head back to center position. Repeat three times toward the right then reverse toward the left shoulder using the left hand for three reps.
- Chin-to-shoulder: Place your right hand on your chin; rotate chin (using your hand, not your neck muscles) toward your right shoulder; hold 10 seconds. Close your eyes. Breathe deeply and slowly. Intentionally relax into the stretch. Gradually dip your chin toward your shoulder to involve more muscle fibers. Rotate your head back to center. Repeat three times each side.
- Chin tucks: Using either hand placed on your chin, gently push your chin down and back toward the Adam’s apple to relieve tension in the muscles at the base of the skull … bye-bye tension headache! Hold 10 seconds; repeat three times. You’re doing it right if you produce multiple chins; avoid cameras during this stretch. (My fave stress-reliever while driving.)
- Chicken necks: With the fingers of each hand cupping your mandible (jaw bones on either side of your face just below your ears), gently thrust the chin forward and hold 10 seconds before returning to neutral position. You may squawk if you feel chicken-like. Repeat three times.
- Pectoralis stretches: Clasp hands behind your back and lift, squeezing the scapula (shoulder blades) together. I call this the Dolly Parton maneuver (hee hee). Hold 10 seconds; repeat three times. (Especially effective for those constantly hunched over a keyboard.)
For your general health and earth suit maintenance, I recommend a five-minute stress buster stretch break every two hours throughout the day. Stop thinking; get physical! Roll, bend, trot laps around your desk, do jumping jacks in the bathroom, stretch with the 6-Pack. Stand if you’ve been sitting; sit if you’ve been standing.
Our Creator didn’t intend for our bodies to stay in the same position hour after hour or to perform the same functions repeatedly without resting. Sitting incessantly at a desk only gets you cauliflower buns. So move. Pump that reinvigorating blood through your body tissues.
None of us wants our temples to fall into ruins. With a sturdy foundation of prevention and a daily slap of maintenance mortar, our flesh and blood cathedrals can glorify God for decades to come without one brick crumbling from neglect.
*Adapted from Debora Coty’s bestselling Too Blessed to be Stressed books. Used with permission of Barbour Publishing.