Monthly Archives: February 2014

4 R-E-S-P-E-C-T Your Head-Spine Relationship

By now you have probably realized that your Nodding Joint only allows you to look up and down so far before the spine starts getting involved. The range of motion of the joint is somewhat limited.

For example, if you are sitting in a chair and have your tablet computer flat on the table in front of you, your Nodding Joint does not allow enough range of motion to easily look down without curling your spine forward and collapsing your torso down. So, you need to bring the tablet closer to your head. But holding it gets tiring. So, what to do?

Using a simple pile of pillows makes reading much more comfortable

Fig 1: Using a simple pile of pillows makes reading much more comfortable

One simple strategy I use when I am sitting on the couch or in a chair and want to read a book or use my tablet is to put a couple of pillows on my lap to raise and hold what I am reading. I can prop the book or tablet at a comfortable angle and let the pillow hold its weight. In a pinch if I am out I can use my purse or briefcase in place of a pillow.

Sitting at the kitchen table in the morning, if I want to read I use a simple bookchair.

A book chair like this can hold a book or a tablet in a much easier position to read comfortably.

Fig 2: A bookchair like this can hold a book, newspaper or a tablet in a much easier position to read comfortably. You can also get covers for your tablet that allow you to prop it up at a similar angle.

This habit of disrupting the head-spine relationship in order to interact with objects goes beyond reading.

Think about all the items that you bring up to your head in the course of a day. Here are some to start your list:

  • fork
  • spoon
  • an apple
  • glasses
  • toothbrush
  • earrings
  • coffee cup
  • water glass

I encourage you to add your own items to the above list.

What happens to your head-spine relationship when you are about to interact with one of these objects? Let’s take a fork for example. Do you leave your head balanced easily on top of your spine and bring the fork up to your mouth or do you push your head and neck forward (even just a little bit) toward the fork as it comes up and in so doing compress and shorten the front of your torso?

Pick one item on your list, say a fork or a coffee cup, and decide to observe what you actually do with your head-spine relationship when you interact with this object. And pick just one item. That is more than enough to start observing!

You may find it also very interesting to observe the habits of others. The next time you are in a restaurant or a coffee shop, sit in a place where you have a good view of the patrons and watch what they do when they lift their glasses and coffee cups. Often observing others is easier than observing yourself at first.

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3 Meet Your Nodding Joint

As far as your posture is concerned, the most crucial and primary relationship is the relationship between your head and spine.

The adult head weighs between 8-15 lbs.

Find something that is 10-12 lbs. A medicine or bowling ball will work. A gallon milk jug filled with enough water to weigh 10-12 lbs will work as well.

Hold your object in front of you so it touches your chest. Experience its weight. Now, extend your arms so that your object is away from your body. Experience its weight. If I asked you to hold your object for 10 minutes, where would you want to hold it? My guess is close in near your body would be your preference.

illustration of two parts of the head--skull and lower jaw

Fig 1: Your head is consists of (1) your skull and (2) your lower jaw

Your head consists of two parts (1) your skull and (2) your lower jaw. The skull balances delicately on the top vertebra of your spine right between your ears. Yes, that high up! The lower jaw is suspended in front from the skull.

The joint between the skull and spine allows you to nod your head up and down—to look down at your computer keyboard or up at that spider on the top of the wall. I like to call it my Nodding Joint or alternatively my Looking Up Looking Down Joint.

Take your pointer fingers and stick them in your ears so they are pointing towards each other. Imagine a rod connecting your two fingers. Allow your head to gently pivot around that rod so you look up and down a bit. That is where your head is designed to nod from. Yes, that high up!

Illustration of location of joint between the skull and the spine

Fig 2: The joint between your skull and spine is this high up!

Now take your hand and place it at the base of your neck in back. The seventh cervical vertebra is a little larger and sticks out a bit more so you can usually find it easily. This is where a lot of us mistakenly nod our heads from.

Imagine you are holding your smartphone in front of you and look down from that seventh cervical vertebra so that you are dropping the head and neck to look down. Now try looking down from higher up where you now know the joint actually is—between the ears. It should be a much lighter feeling (you might have to move your smartphone to do this easily…)

The difference between looking down from higher up at the actual joint, high up between the ears, and from the base of the neck is similar to the difference between holding your object close to your chest and then extended out in front of you. When you can leave the weight balanced more on top of its supportive spine instead of letting it drop in front of its support, it will be lighter and cause less strain on your body.

Take some time to explore where you are habitually looking down from.

Picture credits: Fig 1: How To Learn the Alexander Technique by Barbara and William Conable; Fig 2: Mind and Muscle by Elizabeth Langford