Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Head Forward Posture and Perceived Skeletal Support

How tightly do you hold yourself? Can you relax from the inside? Can you stand and sit and clearly sense your soft tissue resting on your bony skeleton? If not, don't worry - not many people can. But it is easy to learn, and the benefits are outstanding and permanent. Once you learn it, you will shed years of turmoil, aches, troubles and tensions written in your body. You'll go through life with more power, poise, grace, more energy and better perspective. 

It involves many things - lots of private sessions or many group ATM lessons are needed, for most people. Although for some people just a few sessions do the trick. It depends on how fast you learn, how many injuries and surgeries you have had, how chronically your head is jutted forward of your torso, your psychological state, how adventurous you are, how much you can trust life and your own body to create beneficial changes. It is not so much about just relaxing as it is usually understood. You benefit most from working with movement and clarifying balance and surrendering to support while moving since those are the arenas where our habits of compression and tension reside. Have you ever noticed that after a massage you feel good for some hours, then it is gone? You did not necessarily learn anything about how to configure yourself, how to organize yourself and move in better ways, how to have more choices. You only learned, perhaps, how to relax on the table, and for a little while standing up. Many of my clients tell me that my Feldenkrais Functional Integration work lasts for days and weeks, they keep on feeling the changes. That is because The Feldenkrais Method works with movement, self-image and awareness - not just rubbing muscles, relaxing or stretching muscles, aligning bones or whatever manipulations however clever.  

Head forward posture is one catch-point. If you have this, it means you are doing lots of unnecessary work to hold up your head, which is not resting quietly on top of your spine (which you should know by now is exactly half-way between your ears). With head forward posture it is almost impossible to perceive whole-body skeletal support. There is too much work going on, constantly, with the neck, shoulders and upper back - all because of the head being forward. If you have lived with that for years, you have come to expect that life is hard, lots of effort is needed to get through a day, fatigue comes quickly, you have definite limits. All that can change, and quickly!  In my opinion, if you have this condition, you would be exceedingly wise to give high priority to correcting it as soon as possible. Yes, that is possible (in a future post I will be covering this topic in detail), even for an elderly person with dowager's hump - but for them the changes come more slowly, usually. Not many have the patience to continue with the process until there is a full resolution. At least, I have not seen it.  

If  you have this condition, any little improvements you can make will give you huge benefits. It is a lot of work for the neck, back and shoulders to hold the head up, when it is not lined up over the spine - and instead juts forward, however slightly. 

You'll feel cooler, calmer, the muscles at the base of your neck will not be as sore. You'll have better brain function, more self confidence, and a nervous system that knows how to be quiet. Best of all, you'll easily begin to feel the body resting on the skeleton. That's nearly impossible if the head is jutted forward.  Until you can feel the head resting on the top of the spine, this is very difficult. That is where it begins - to feel the body supported by the skeleton. We need to be able, at will, to sense the weight of the head resting on the top of the spine, which - again -  is exactly halfway between the ears. 

What is it like to feel the body resting on the skeleton? You have seen such people. They stand quietly. Their bodily movements are graceful, minimal effort produces just the movements they need. It is relaxing to see such a person, even at a distance. They are not holding themselves so tightly with their own muscles, internally. Most people do that, a lot. It is all wasted effort.  It communicates as body language power, grace, poise, efficiency, quiet responsiveness. 

Like so many other Feldenkrais-inspired transformations it affects the core of who we think we are. Most of us have accepted who we are, with all our limitations and quirks and strengths. And others have come to expect us to be that way, as well.   We little realize how much we can change, by working with movement and awareness, which is how our early self-image was formed. In my private practice, I usually see the transformation from tense-uptight-holding to resting-on-the-skeleton after 6 months to 2 years of regular sessions. Yes, it can take that long. A four year Feldenkrais Training Program would also definitely do that for you.

Chronic aches and pains go away, as well - since we are no longer holding our bones so tightly. Our movement is not so compressed - it becomes lighter, more flowing, with less compression. We feel taller, we begin to understand what it means to move into length. 

I'll finish with two hints, about how to correct head-forward posture. First, when you look down at your cell phone, or at a plate of food, or a book, while sitting, what do you do? Try it out, and be clear about what you are doing with your head and neck. If you discover that you are jutting your head forward and slumping down, that is useful information. Try out another way to look down: keeping the chin in, relax the back of the neck letting the head rotate on the axis-point between the ears, and use the eyes, rotating them downward strongly, instead of jutting the head forward and down. Let your eyes do most of the work, stay tall, be poised, keeping chin in (very important).  You may need to get new reading glasses, since you'll now be farther from the book. That is the first hint. 

Here is the second. Have you ever noticed that at a health club, lots of the veteran, bulked-up weight lifters all have their head nicely lined up with their spine? Almost none of them have head forward posture. Of course, they may have other issues. When I first noticed this (since I myself have suffered from head forward for many years, and while Feldenkrais ATM gives good relief, it takes many hours a month to maintain that relief. I wanted a quicker fix!) I recruited a personal trainer and followed his advice. Within about 6 weeks, my head and neck were better than ever, and it was permanent. It is mostly about strengthening  the upper back, back of the neck and shoulders. It involves a lot of rowing, pulling down, pulling in type movements. So, the hint is: find a personal trainer and follow his advice for at least 6 weeks. See what happens. Be sure to follow a balanced, whole-body program, not just a program for the upper back, neck and shoulders. But the emphasis can be on correcting head forward posture. 

If your trainer is competent, for sure he will at the very least teach you this: For most weight lifting moves involving the arms and shoudlers, keep the shoulders down and the chest lifted. (that advice, alone, is worth it's weight in  gold, if you have head forward posture). 

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