This is a bit of a weird stretch to get to muscles that run from behind the ear to the collar bone and the breast bone. These are the ones that form the ‘V’ shape at the front of the neck.
These muscles have the lovely name of Sternocleidomastoid (SCM for short). In the classic anatomy these muscles should slant backwards as they help to move your head forward, as well as turn the head to the opposite side (if using only one). A significant number of people hold their head forward so these muscles appear to be vertical or even slant forward.
This stretch can help to reduce tension in these muscles. If these are tight these can contribute to headaches at the base of the skull and in sometimes discomfort into the forehead and cheeks.
Stretch 1 – one side ear to breast bone
- Sit comfortably, and upright (spine long) and decide which shoulder you want to work on first.
- Bring your hands to rest upon your breast bone, elbows hanging. You don’t want to have your fingers resting on your collar bone or on the throat.
- Retract your head (flattening the back of the neck, and almost like you’re trying to give yourself a double chin)
- Keeping you head retracted rotate to look to one side, this shouldn’t cause pain and if you get a stretch like feel in the neck then wait for 30 seconds here.
- Keeping the face looking where it is, lift the ear that is pointing behind you towards the ceiling. This is the ear on the side that you’ve turned towards (i.e. the left ear if you have looked to the left, the right ear if you have turned to the right). This involves a bit of side bend and this move shouldn’t hurt you, if it does then ease out of the movement.
- You should feel a stretch from behind the ear to the collar bones and the breast bone.
- Hold this for approximately 30 seconds, then repeat steps 4-6 looking towards the other side.
Stretch 2 – Chin to collar bones
- Return to the starting point, looking forward: Sit tall, and place hands on the breast bone.
- Tilt your head back to look directly up towards the ceiling. This shouldn’t hurt the back of your neck.
- Initially, the mouth can be slightly open.
- Close the mouth to accentuate the stretch, and if that feels easy they try to thrust your chin towards the ceiling.
Why do I say to hold the static stretch for 30 seconds? I put it like this: the first 10 seconds it feels like the muscles are shocked into wondering what this position is. Then the next 10 seconds they start to relax into the position, and the final 10 seconds they might also be able to move a bit deeper into the movement, and accept that this is possible.
Here’s a video where I run through the exercise.