How often do we think about our necks when thinking of other things during the day? Quite possibly the answer may be only when we have a stiff achey neck, perhaps from having slept awkwardly, or more seriously perhaps experience the aftereffects of whiplash or something similar. We often do not even know where to start with bringing our attention to ourselves whilst performing everyday activities, although we may go to yoga, meditation, mindfulness sessions, acupuncture, chiropractors, or even book a massage and so forth in our attempts to bring our minds and bodies into an increased state of decreased tension and tightness. What then if we didn’t really need to do any of these (although we may still do yoga, meditation, and even indeed have a massage, but do these with increased awareness)?
The neck is of course crammed full of a whole host of different muscles, some of which it is useful to have some knowledge of if we are studying anatomy, but just the very fact of knowing that there is a ‘spaghetti junction’ of muscles in the neck can play a very important part when it comes to thinking about how much freedom we would like to have in our necks and what can bring this about.
If I mention the freedom in the neck to anyone, the reaction I frequently observe is one of tending to want to roll the head around on the neck, in an attempt to bring about increased freedom. Bringing our awareness to our heavy head balanced delicately on the top two vertebrae is another way of thinking about this and is in fact one based more on our natural inbuilt design in which one part connects up with another. A teacher’s hand on my neck also reminds me of where I am at that very moment, worrying less about other external factors with which I might have walked into the lesson, it also has the capacity to reassure anyone who might require this. I also like to think of it as a reference point when thinking about balance of the head, the widening of the shoulder girdle, lengthening of the spine, freedom under the armpit and the tongue in the mouth, amongst other things. Not coming up to our full height can in turn cause our neck muscles also to collapse as the rest of us collapses, with the possibility of causing all sorts of other unhelpful postural habits which in turn affect our well-being and health. A teacher works with a pupil to bring about improvement in how they think about their neck muscles, how often they think about this and gradually over the time the pupil find they are able to bring their awareness to this themselves.
Sitting as well as standing provides us with a perfect opportunity to bring our thinking towards how we would like our neck to be, allowing us the time to stop and think about this. It doesn’t matter how long this takes, but becoming aware of whether we are aware of any tension in the neck is the first step towards thinking about how we would like to release this. Thinking of the top two vertebrae and how the head rests on these and how nice it would be if the neck muscles released into freedom is helpful. Having experienced a lot of neck tension brought about after whiplash, I had numerous lessons in which my teacher worked with me, paying attention to my neck and shoulder area but also to how I moved in general. What we don’t necessarily realise is how intimately connected the neck and the shoulder girdle are until we take a basic look at our own anatomy.
“Neck free” is as good a direction as it gets in an Alexander Technique lesson. It does not ‘teach’ in the traditional sense of the word, but suggests, encourages, allows us to stop and think of a freedom we perhaps have not permitted ourselves to think about previously. The ability to develop and maintain a free neck is just what FM Alexander succeeded in teaching himself in his quest to regain his voice, but we too all possess the ability to wish for a free neck at our disposal if we choose to think in a similar manner of observation, enquiry and a wish to go up rather than collapse.
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