The Major Up & Down Forces: Part 3
What does Head Suspended mean?
When I talk about the head suspended, I imagine a string from the sky gently pulling the top of my head up towards the heavens.
Another metaphor I like is imagining your head like a balloon riding on a cloud.
Another way to achieve the principle of Head Suspended is by lengthening Up through the spine all the way to the top of your head and to relax the shoulders Down. When your shoulders are floating, curved or shrunk, they block the neck and head from lengthening Up. Relaxing and dropping the shoulders Down creates space and allows both the neck and the head the freedom to move Up.
4 Common Misalignments of the Head
The first mistake a lot of people make is extending their head too far forward.
1. Head too far forward
It could be that sticking your head forward is from intellectually thinking ahead and this intention manifests in the wrong position for your head. It could be that you were never taught correct alignment of the head in relation to your neck. You are probably not aware of sticking your head forward.
You could also be unaware that your neck is too far backwards.
Pushing your head too far backwards is the second common misalignment of the head and neck.
2. Head too far back
Years ago, in the 1980’s, I had the fortune of dropping in on a class with Marion Rosen during a break I had while teaching a Tai Chi seminar at the Omega Institute in New York. Rosen was explaining how traumas and negative emotions can be stored in our physical body which I also believe. One of the students volunteered to have Rosen demonstrate her technique by touching and massaging his neck and shoulders while he lay on a massage table. She felt that he had a lot of tension in those areas and he agreed and told the class that he had arthritis in his neck. As she massaged him with her warm, steamy hands she asked him a few personal questions about his past.
I know her hands were warm and steamy because at the end of class Rosen and I were the only ones remaining and, since she was in her 80’s and I was raised to respect my elders, I offered to help her navigate the long staircase. When she took my hand and we started walking, I felt a wave of warmth going up my arm and throughout my entire body. Many Chinese masters talk about this flow of energy but I had never experienced anything as strong as this before or ever since. Then she said to me, “This is a present for you, young man, for being so nice.”
It seems that she gave her volunteer on the massage table a present, as well, because as she was massaging him and they were talking he remembered his mom telling him “not to stick his neck out” and then we all heard a loud pop from his neck. He told us that he felt a huge relief and release of tension in his neck and he now felt much better. Rosen concluded that he took his mother’s words too literally and physically which manifested in the vertebrae of his neck for the rest of his life. The intellectual idiom “don’t stick your neck out” turned into a physical action of pushing the head back, creating stress and tension in between his neck vertebrae which, over time, lead to inflammation and arthritis.
The third misalignment of the head is tilting it either too far to the right or too far to the left.
3. Head tilting to the right or left
This sometimes happens because you do not realize you are doing it. It could also be from using your right brain more or from using your left hemisphere more, another example of mental activity manifesting as a physical action.
The right brain - left brain theory suggests that people who are creative and artistic are “right-brained” and people who are more analytic are “left-brained.” This theory is just a myth, though. Although it is true that the left brain controls the muscles on the right side of the body and the right brain controls the muscles on the left side of the body the two sides of the brain work together to achieve tasks and goals.
Tilting your head to the left or to the right could also happen because of physical issues in the shoulders or somewhere in the body. For example, at Dana Farber Cancer Institute, I have witnessed students who have gone through surgery for breast cancer. If the surgery was on the right side, over time they would shrink their right shoulder inwards and tilt their head to the right to create slack for the soft tissue in order to prevent pain. If the surgery was on the the left side the head would tilt to the left.
Another common reason for tilting your head to one side or the other is from a frozen shoulder. If your left shoulder is frozen, your head starts to tilt to the left in order to reduce tension and pain. Some people tilt their head towards their dominant side because that side is stronger and tighter from using it all of the time. It is amazing how the body can have a mind of its own which leads to behavior that can help or hurt - but that is a subject for another blog!
The fourth misalignment of the neck is dropping the chin forward.
4. Head dropping down
From my experience watching people and working in the field of mind-body therapies, I would say this is the most common misalignment of the head and neck. This behavior is encouraged by driving, looking down at your phone or computer, or from being tall.
These 4 common misalignments and other issues lead to physical tension in the neck and shoulders which can cause headaches and migraines which I wrote about in another blog.
There is also a great course on Udemy that uses principles and techniques from various eastern philosophies to help alleviate and cure headaches and migraines that are caused by physical tension.
Now back to the challenge.
Head Suspended Challenge
Sit on the edge of a chair or on the floor in front of a mirror or with a partner.
Check if your head is tilting to the left or the right.
Make sure your head is not extending too far forward or pressed too far back.
Find the center.
Check that your chin is parallel to the floor and imagine your head riding a cloud.
Lengthen up through the spine and relax your shoulders down.
Breathe deeply - in & out through the nose.
Envision your head suspended from a string from the heavens.
Empty your mind and think of your head as an empty balloon.
No thoughts. Reach & experience the nothingness.
I challenge you to sit between 3 and 30 minutes every day
We will continue to work on and practice the up & down forces next time.
Meanwhile, if you want more, go to Udemy.com for follow-along videos which teach you how to relieve neck tension and stress, how to practice meditation or how Tai Chi can help you achieve your health and martial goals.
Until then, Happy Stretching, Deep Breathing, Empty your Mind, Strengthen your Energetic System & Evoke your spirit!