Dear Soft Tissue Whisperer,

My shoulders keep climbing up my neck towards my ears. No matter how many times I put them back where they belong and firmly command them to stay,¬†as soon as I’m not watching them they sneak back. I feel sure they are doing it to spite me. I feel hurt and confused. Why are they so defiant? What’s a girl to do?

-Troubled Ears Need Space Eventually

Dear TENSE,

You should withhold praise and treats until they are in a calm-submissive state and insist they allow you to go through doors and tight passageways BEFORE them. Also, stop letting them sleep on your bed so they understand that you’re above them in the pack.

No, wait. That’s not right.

You should tell them if they can’t respect your wishes you will be forced to leave this relationship and you’ll be taking your opposable thumbs with you.

No, not that either.

You should understand that they’re just trying to keep you safe, thank them for their effort and kindly but firmly insist that they stand down till you give them a mutually agreed upon signal to leap to action. Maybe whistle blows. Long, short, long means shoulders up!

We have spindly necks, you see. Spindly, thin skinned, hairless necks that connect our brains to most everything else. Our shoulders know that our necks are vulnerable and need to be protected. They know that, when being stalked by a predator or an enemy, it is crucial not to allow our tiny pencil necks to snap or be torn open, AND they know your neck can’t help itself. I mean, look at it.

And, for comparison…

It’s not a good situation. You can hardly blame your shoulders for wanting to come to its rescue.

The problem is, your shoulders don’t understand that the cable company is not actually trying to kill you (or so they say…), and neither is your passive aggressive co-worker, the New England Patriots, or the serial killer on CSI. It doesn’t make sense to your shoulders. You’re clearly upset, you’re dripping with adrenaline and cortisol – you’re in trouble, right? They should make your neck as thick and inaccessible as possible. So up they go. But then Vince Wilfork fails to launch himself out of your TV screen and neither are you are able to claw your way through the telephone wires (which I understand don’t exist anymore, but just go with me here) to defeat your foe, the cable guy, in hand to hand combat – and your shoulders are left hanging. From your ears. Which turns out to be okay because now the internet isn’t working at your house for some reason and your girlfriend’s aunt Becky is coming to stay with you for a month to recover from her hip replacement. Long short long! Long short long! Shoulders UP!

Plus you likely spend most of your day at a desk with your arms bent and forward and your head bowed, which is also odd to your shoulders. What on earth are you doing with your hands? When are you going to stride across the prairie? When are you going to hunt? Or gather? If you were doing any of these things with regularity (like for hours each day) your shoulders would get stretched and wrung out and they would happily settle back down to, you know, shoulder height. What’s that? You don’t just sit at a desk all day you also spend hours and hours on your road bike? Is your road bike a unicycle? Well then that’s not really helping things, I’m sorry to say. Drat.

Here’s how you can fix this problem.

1. Breathe. Your body gets cues about its emotional state from the pace and quality of your breath. If you are taking deep, calm, steady breaths your body might be willing to believe, despite evidence to the contrary, that you are not actually a part of the carnage at the Tour. In France. Notice when your breathing becomes shallow and quick and reset it. Sigh dramatically, even. It will help.

2. Swing your arms. Just every once in a while. If you’re feeling very daring maybe even shake them out some. Moving your arms will help dissipate some of the fear chemicals that are piling up in your shoulders just waiting to be useful. Give them a job. Let them do what they were born to do. Let them make your muscles move.

3. Stand up. If you can stand up at your desk and work with your arms extended for even a few minutes every hour it would mean a lot to your shoulders. If you could stand up and walk while, say, talking on your cell phone (it doesn’t have wires, you know) your shoulders might just swoon.

4. Unclench your jaw. Easier said than done, I know. If your shoulders are up by your ears your jaw is almost certainly clenched. Likewise, if your jaw is loose, your shoulders might still be pretty tight, but it’s less likely. Jaw clenching is a thing a person can do with their mouth open or shut, so don’t be fooled by the fact that your teeth haven’t shattered. Singing out loud will help with this enormously. Plus it will delight your office mates. If you can sing and gesture grandly at the same time you get bonus points.

5. Get massage. Obviously. Imagine what would happen if you spent 8 hours a day clenching your fists. By the end of the first hour your hands would have only a dim memory of their palms, by lunch you would have learned how to eat without the use of your fingers and at driving home time opening your hand would be no more an option than bending your knees backwards like a goat. The same is true for any other set of muscles in your body. Muscles that are contracted chronically lose their ability to relax. Massage gives it back. It pushes fluid into the bellies of your muscles which allows chemical detritus to be washed away from and healing cells to be delivered to needy tissue. It elongates your muscle fibers, breaks up adhesions, and jump starts your body’s innate healing processes. Plus it reduces stress hormone levels system wide. And gives angels their wings (I might be wrong about that last one…).

Let me know if I can help. laura.ann.green@gmail.com. Probably the thing I will be most helpful with is the massage. But I would also be willing to come sing with you sometimes. I know the words to lots of Beatles songs. Also songs from musicals and anything Julie Andrews ever sang. Just say the word!

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