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THE #1 way to relieve neck and back discomfort

By Jonny Stahl

It's ironic: more and more people worldwide are suffering from back and neck pain/discomfort. At the same time, people are getting lazier and are CRAVING quick fixes and something for just about nothing.

Now, there's reasons for this. In a world that's driven by technology and social media, many people's brains are searching for that next cheap and quick dopamine hit. Many are also looking for ways to avoid dealing with their own stresses and anxiety.

Tension builds --> pain/discomfort develops --> quick fix doesn't solve the root cause --> pain/discomfort repeats and intensifies.

Now, as I mentioned, people are inherently lazier than ever, so most people don't even bother truly investing in themselves. Getting over that initial discomfort and habit change is "too tough", so most people would rather just live in pain and discomfort, complaining all the while, instead of actually just getting started and seeing immediate changes.

Many clients I work with note a massive improvement in their ability to think, focus and maintain high energy levels, allowing them to make better business decisions and live at their potential. They don't sit and let their neck or back stiffness consume them.

That's because I have provided them with a solution to their problem. And it'll work for you too!

Where to begin, so that you can get rid of your pain for the long term

Let's get straight to the #1 way to relieve neck and back discomfort. It's called B-R-E-A-T-H-I-N-G.

Breathing. Breathing deeply, better and as you're designed to. Breathing in a way that will allow you to move your diaphragm, ribs, organs and muscles and you're designed to.

Before you click the X button in the top right corner of your screen, read this next paragraph and you'll quickly understand.

We live in a high-stress world these days. Technology has propelled us so far in so many ways, but it also contributes to poor health in numerous ways.

Breathing allows us to off-set most of this, at least momentarily.

Here's what the average businessman/woman experiences:

  • Breathe predominantly through their mouth

  • Breathe too frequently and inhale more air/oxygen than is required

  • This heightens their arousal (nervous system stress-state)

  • They already experience moderate-high stresses due to work and life (which is fine - that's part of life to a certain extent)

  • They move far too infrequently

  • Focus their eyes on everything at short distances, virtually all the time

  • They breathe largely with their neck muscles and cannot breathe fully and deeply - as they're designed to.

Here's what we as humans should all be able to do:

  • Breathe predominantly through our noses

  • 5-8 breaths per minute

  • Build a tolerance to carbon dioxide (yes, carbon dioxide - that thing that everyone thinks is the devil)

  • Be able to exhale fully, expanding and depressing our ribs as we do so

  • Gaze into the distance (this brings down our nervous system stress - one reason why many find hiking so therapeutic).

But where do I start, Jonny?

This actually couldn't be easier. All you do is lay on your back with your knees bent and the soles of your feet flat on the floor. Tuck your pelvis slightly under Place your hands on your lower ribs and notice how you breathe. Close your eyes and do your best to just relax your neck and your shoulders.

Melt into the floor as you breathe, softening with each breath.

Then, begin inhaling through your nose, pause quickly, and then exhale deeply out through your mouth. Pause for 2 seconds and repeat. Become curious about how your bottom ribs move or don't move.

The goal here is to breathe in deeply through your nose, without using your neck muscles, before breathing out fully through your mouth and feeling your bottom ribs drop in as you do so. The below video highlights this brilliantly.

How the F will breathing on the floor relieve my neck and back pain?

Glad you asked! There's actually a number of reasons:

  1. You change your nervous system state from high-stress to low-stress, which relieves muscle tension and habits we all have in terms of holding muscle tension (e.g. holding your shoulders shrugged when you're stressed)

  2. You begin to breathe less with your neck and back muscles, and more elsewhere

  3. You breathe deeply and fully, allowing your ribs to expand and compress, which is an absolute GAME CHANGER! As the diaphragm descends and we inhale, we want to expand our rib cage outwards in all directions (except for upwards, that should only happen towards the end of the inhale). When we exhale all the air out, the pressures change in the lungs and the ribs should move downwards and inwards

  4. You lengthen muscles and mobilize joints, probably for the first time in a long time. Using the pressure of the air upon inhaling, you begin to actually lengthen those tight muscles between your shoulder blades and around your lower back. This then relieves tension in your neck and back, as many of those muscles attach onto bones in those regions.

  5. You feel more relaxed, which changes the way you think and perceive. When you're more relaxed, you can think more clearly. Relate this to your work and you'll be able to make better decisions with more clarity. You also won't waste time and energy being consumed by your pain/discomfort.

Now that you're more relaxed (physically and mentally), have improved mobility and feel less discomfort, you can begin to move your body. The below two exercises are two great options that I often use with my clients after beginning with a breathing exercise:

Pro tip: do your best to relax your neck, shoulders, arms and fingertips as you swing your arms back and forth.

Pro tip: keep your feet flat the whole time and do your best to only move with your hips (try to keep your upper body straight).

In a nutshell

Breathing allows your body and mind to relax, improve the way you move your body while breathing, improve range of motion and mobilize joints and muscles. It'll also relieve significantly tension that you're holding in your neck and back.

The biggest challenge I face is that most people think that this is too simple to be true, so they feel that beginning with breathing is below their training level or capacities. I totally understand that, and that's not to say that they can't train intensively. I encourage you to ask yourself one question though:

Do you want to relieve the pain and discomfort you are experiencing, so that you can improve your quality of work and quality of life?

If so, then trust me for 5 minutes and give the above breathing exercise a go and see how you feel. Don't forget to take the time at the beginning to relax your neck, shoulders and back and to allow yourself to melt into the ground. I can promise you that it'll make a world of difference!

By Jonny Stahl BSc & MSc (Sport Science)

P.S When you're ready, here's three ways that I can help you to move, live and perform pain-free:

1:1 intensive coaching, programming and accountability, just click here

  1. Online programming and accountability, just click here

  2. Education and consulting for coaches and companies who want to improve their quality of life, just click here

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