Saturday, May 17, 2008

Where is the Top of the Neck?

Correct understanding of this little detail can have a huge positive impact on your life. This is basic, functional anatomy that we should all know. If you think the top of the neck is at chin level, you are mistaken. Remember, the jaw just hangs from the skull like an appendage. The lower jaw is much lower than the base of the skull, or the top of the neck. Actually, the lower jaw is about at the middle-of-the-neck level, it is a long way from the top of the spine. 

The top of the spine (or base of the skull, top of the neck, same thing) is located exactly halfway between the ears. 

It is really easy to see this when a person nods their head "yes". The axis of rotation, the way of hinging, is as if there is an imaginary rod between the ears - not lower.  Even though we have all seen people nod their head thousands of times, still we did not figure out that the top of the neck has to be between the ears to allow this kind of movement. I'll confess that for the first 45 years of my life, I was like that. It took a Feldenkrais Training to straighten me out. It marked a turning point in my chronic neck pain, and my constant habit of "cracking" the neck. I could not even do that now if I tried, and I have, because my neck is so comfortable, so decompressed and relaxed - compared to how it used to be.

I know, it looks impossible that the spine actually goes up so high, to ear level. It seems as if that would put it right in the middle of the head. Again, that is because we are confused about the chin being part of the skull - it is not, it just hangs down from the skull. 

Of course, if you have had anatomical training you always knew where the top of your neck was. But, unless you have also been doing somatic or movement education work, chances are high that functionally your body does not fully understand it. Please see my prior post, from this same day, for an interesting side-light on that issue. 

If this comes as a surprise to you - congratulations. From this moment forward, you'll start to use your head and neck more intelligently. Lots of trouble can come from not being clear about this little detail. 

Just one example: People who meditate often concentrate on the spinal chakras, spiritual centers of life and energy in the spine. If their "top of the spine" was actually "middle of the neck" due to fuzzy understanding of the anatomy - probably they are not getting the results they could be getting. In my opinion, such an unfortunate misconception and faulty practice can result in an inability to experience higher or deeper states of meditation. If you spend half a lifetime practicing wrongly in that way, it is not such a little detail. 


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