Balancing the weight of the head over the spine is no small task – especially when we are bulked up around the neck in cold weather wear. Our forward pulling world creates an intense drive to lead with the chin. And maybe take a few on the chin – in the form of overtaxed neck and upper back muscles.

One particularly susceptible muscle for this type of strain is the sternocleidomastoid (SCM). This big neck muscle is easy to see in a mirror.  With your head atop your spine, rotate your head to one side. The SCM will pop out in the form of a diagonal speed bump along the opposite side of your neck. With the chin thrust forward, the SCM cannot properly contract and rotate the head and, as this becomes the typical range of motion, this big powerful muscle becomes shortened, tight and tacked down.

One of the best tools to combat this shortening is to boost your neck proprioception with Yoga Tune Up® strengthening and stretching as in the video below.  Practicing this work reeducates the neck muscles to function in a balanced fashion and imprints authentic strength and stretch in the SCM, allowing for the remaining musculature of the neck to follow suit and equalize the weight of the head over the spine. This fine tunes the stability of the neck, tames the forward chin and balances the impact of cold weather wear that crowds that area, all of which helps prevent neck pain. Bundle up with YTU intelligence for effective posture and a happy healthy winter is sure to follow.

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Kate Krumsiek

From the start, the practice of yoga did it all for me – fitness, awareness, breath, alignment and clarity of mind. My YogaWorks 200 hour training, with the divine Natasha Rizopolous, provided an exceptional foundation of yogic knowledge from which to learn, teach and cast a wide net for continued study. Yoga Tune Up teacher training refined my lens of understanding to shine it upon the anatomical and corrective aspects for practice – helping students, alongside myself, identify and address postural habits that impair efficient, effective movement in the body. Smooth joints, lean muscles and boosted proprioception make each visit to the mat an individualized, satisfying and fun exploration of the human body in motion and stillness.

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Donna Layton


Jarett G

Thanks Kate, I suffer from tightness of the SCM often and I find this a great source of relief. One question I have though is that often when I engage in this stretch and rotate the head/stretch the SCM, I will get small cracks/pops on the lower end of the SCM that I am stretching. I’ve always wondered if this is good or a sign that I am stretching too far and should back off. Any insights into this?


I’m definitely someone who struggles wth neck tension, and learning more about the source of this tension is incredibly helpful in trying to remedy it. While there are likely many sources, when I think about my day at a desk and my shoulders steadily creeping up, I have to say the SCM hits it right on the head. I’ve often found myself massaging that area with my hand as I work. Perhaps, these excercises – which target it specifically – would help even more. Best part – they can easily be done from my desk without any disruption.


This will be fantastic for my musician friends and clients-I hate when folks just do haphazard neck circles, and this is a great systematic opening.


The sides of my neck end up so tight and congested that I was worried that the lumps in the muscle may be something scary. Thank you for posting this. I am hoping that with regular practice I can strengthen and retrain the muscles to avoid the congestion in the first place, instead of trying to relieve the pain when it comes.


Great! I will try this with my boyfriend, who suffers from a tight SCM. I have known this series of movement but never with the application of pressure – the idea of reeducating the muscle instead of just stretching it is fabulous 🙂

Gina Decker

I have many clients who have sedentary jobs who have minimal range of motion in their necks. Several have chronic pain in the neck that cause headaches. I am always looking for stretches that are safe and effective. I think these stretches will help with range of motion and the resistance of the hand will help strengthen and lengthen the neck muscles.


Great PNF to help engage and stretch the rotators of the neck which will allow for more range of motion. While the agonists are engaging the antagonists are getting a stretch, Since there is resistance a lot of other neck muscles are engaging to help stabilize the head and cervical spine.


I have been diagnosed with torticollis (neck dystonia) and I have prominent SCMs. This sounds like it could be a very helpful tool for address this annoying problem.