Monthly Archives: March 2014

7 Is Someone Pulling on your Ponytail?

Go for a walk around your room. Walk the way you normally do.

Now tighten your neck and pull the weight of your head down toward your spine. Don’t worry about doing it correctly. Just do it. While you maintain that downward pull go for your walk again and see what you experience.

How does your body feel? How about your breathing?

Tighten your neck again and pull your head down toward your spine. Maintain this while you go for walk but halfway through the walk stop pulling your head down. You don’t have to pull your head up or push your head up away from your spine (remember post 6?), just stop pulling your head down.

I am going to repeat that because it is important: You don’t have to pull your head up or push your head up away from your spine just stop tightening the neck and pulling your head down toward your spine. Your head will release up and away from the spine if you simply stop pulling it down. You do not have to do anything extra. See what you experience.

How does your body feel? How about your breathing?

I had you do this experiment so you could experience what it is like to compress the weight of your head down onto your spine. Most of us do this to some extent all of the time. However, because it is habitual we do not notice it. By exaggerating you get a feel for what it is like and how it affects your body underneath and your breathing.

One place in everyday life that is relatively easy to start observing a habit of compressing the head down onto the spine is to notice what you do when you stand up.

Sit down. Now stand up. Sit down again. This time place the palm of one of your hands very gently on the back of your neck. Don’t push the neck forward with your hand, but just have gentle contact. Stand up again and notice what happens with your head-spine relationship.

Did your head rotate backwards and downwards compressing your hand on the back of your neck?

If it did try standing up again without pulling the head backwards and downwards onto the back of your neck and hand. You might let your gaze drop a bit as you go to stand up, instead of looking straight ahead.

Remember that the joint between your skull and spine allows for a simple nodding motion. As you go to stand up from sitting you can let it very gently nod forward from between the ears (refer to post 3)

 

Going to stand up by compressing the weight of the head backwards and downwards onto the back of the neck. Ouch!

Going to stand up by compressing the weight of the head backwards and downwards onto the back of the neck. Ouch!

 

Standing up by letting the head gently nod forward at the top of the spine.

Standing up by letting the head gently nod forward at the top of the spine.

When you compress the head back and down onto the back of the neck when standing it is as if  you had a ponytail and someone were pulling on it. You don’t want to let people pull on your ponytail.

Observe what you and others do to the head-spine relationship when you stand up from sitting.

6 Balance Your Top Hat

In the past it was suggested to me to think of my head like a helium balloon on a string.

I don’t recommend this image for two reasons. First of all it is not a great analogy. The head does not exert a pull on the spine like a helium balloon exerts a pull on a string. You would need a muscle between your head and the ceiling that would contract to create such a scenario. Last I checked that was not part of the human anatomy.

The second reason I don’t recommend this image is that when you imagine it, it is very easy to start creating excess tension in your body so that you feel like the head is lifting off the spine. I invite you to go ahead and imagine the image of the balloon pulling on the string and try to make it happen for you. And exaggerate it. Where are you working? I can feel tension in my neck, shoulders and torso for starters. This will just create a sore neck, shoulders and torso…for starters.

A better analogy is to think of balancing your skull on top of your spine like balancing a top hat on the tip of a cane which in turn is balanced in the palm of your hand*.

Your skull rests gently on top of your spine and is moveable. It doesn’t press down on the spine. It doesn’t exert a pull up on the spine. As your body and spine move underneath it is free to respond and subtly adjust. Just like that top hat on the top of the cane in the palm of your hand.

Remember the talk about What is Posture? back in posts 2A and 2B? Posture is not a right position. Well, there is no right position for your head. There is a healthy relationship between your head and your spine that allows your head to adjust as necessary.

Experiment with thinking of the weight of your skull balancing on the top of the spine way up high above your ears like balancing a top hat on the tip of a cane in the palm of your hand. Try it when you are walking your dog, waiting in line at the supermarket, driving the car, working at the computer, wherever.

*I’d like to credit Los Angeles based Alexander teacher Brett Hershey with the top hat analogy.

5 Itty BITY

My last post was about how we disrespect the head-spine relationship by pushing the head and neck forward toward objects that we interact with—such as our book, fork or a coffee cup.

Each and every time you push (or drop) your head and neck forward toward objects you are encouraging what has often been called Forward Head Posture. The more up to date term is Text Neck. Take a survey of people texting on their smartphones today and you will see why this is an appropriate term.

If you are concerned that you have Forward Head Posture or Text Neck, you might look for some exercises to correct this (such as pulling your chin down and in and your head back and holding it for 10 seconds—repeat 5 times—this is one I have had students show me they have been taught) I am not necessarily recommending that you do said exercise.

Instead of adding something new to do (exercises) you might find it more effective and interesting to observe what you are already doing (how you habitually react to objects that you interact with) that is encouraging the posture in the first place and choose to respond differently (by bringing things to you).

Eve Bernfeld, an Alexander Teacher in Portland Oregon, has coined a wonderful phrase to remind you that you can….Bring it to You (BITY). You can read her blog about BITY here.

I have changed it slightly and call it the itty BITY principle. It rhymes and is easier for me to remember.

It’s a lot to pay attention to these things especially if you have not been used to it up to now. So start observing and choosing how to respond to one object and only one. I’d suggest your fork. In order to observe what you are doing and choose how to respond you have to slow down a bit at first. And slowing down and taking more time to eat has many beneficial effects for your heath.

As you get used to paying some attention to your fork you can move on to other objects. Take it slow. At a pace that is right for you.

What if I drop food on myself? I usually find that this is happening because I am overloading my utensil and trying to shovel the food into my mouth in an attempt to rush and finish my meal. Try putting 1/3 less food on each forkful. Slow down, enjoy your meal and BITY.