Pilates is all about relieving muscle tension through stretching. Stress and poor posture both contribute to a buildup of tension in the neck and jaw area. Sitting in front of a computer for long hours is one of the main culprits behind neck pain, and stress encourages you to clench your jaw and grind your teeth. These simple exercises for releasing the tension in the jaw and neck area are easily done at home.
Tension in your neck muscles tends to move down into your shoulders and from there into your upper back. This neck stretch relaxes the muscles. It's an exercise you can do while you're sitting at your desk. Sit on the edge of a chair or bed and place your feet flat on the floor, about hip-width apart. Allow your arms to hang loosely by your sides and be aware of your shoulders; drop them down and feel the tension flow out of them. Now tuck your chin in toward your chest. As you do this imagine your trunk -- from your chest to your stomach muscles -- melting like an ice cube, and let your spine drop forward. Hold the forward position for 10 to 30 slow breaths. Repeat three times.
Alternative Neck Stretch
You could combine or follow the previous exercise with this one. Sit on the edge of a chair or bed. Relax your shoulders, letting the tension out of them. Drop your right ear as far toward your right shoulder as you find comfortable. Overstretching produces more tension, so it's counterproductive. Hold the position for 10 to 30 slow breaths. Repeat on your left side. Repeat the entire sequence up to three times.
Swan Neck Roll
This exercise isn't suitable for the office, unless your office is at home, because you'll need to lie down for it. Lie down on your stomach and place your hands -- palms flat on the floor -- alongside your shoulders. Keep your arms and elbows tucked in tight to your body. Slide your jaw forward a little; don't rest your forehead on the floor, and tuck your chin under. Inhale, and gradually raise your head, neck, shoulders and upper back using your hands and arms to support you. This is similar to the yoga Cobra posture. Stretch your chin and chest out in front, and then stretch your chin to your left. Roll your chin down into the center of your chest and then stretch your chin to your right. Return to the center and lower your body to the starting position. Repeat up to three times. If you don't know the Pilates breathing technique, use slow breathing, but never hold your breath.
Exercises that release tension in the jaw also help your neck -- one reason a good yawn makes you feel better. You can do this exercise standing up or sitting down. Make a fist with one hand and wrap your other hand round it. Rest your chin on your hands. Open your mouth until your teeth are about a finger-width apart. Keep your upper jaw still and push your lower jaw into your fist. This creates resistance. Hold the position for a count of 10. Now repeat the exercise but open your mouth two finger-widths. Push your lower jaw into your fist for a count of 10. Repeat the exercise again, now with your mouth wide open. Hold for a count of 10.
Based in London, Eleanor McKenzie has been writing lifestyle-related books and articles since 1998. Her articles have appeared in the "Palm Beach Times" and she is the author of numerous books published by Hamlyn U.K., including "Healing Reiki" and "Pilates System." She holds a Master of Arts in informational studies from London University.