Moving A-Head (workshop: Sat 8 Feb 2014)

Terrible name for workshop. So sorry. Time pressure.

But I have been working a lot both myself and with many, many people who come to see me for one- to-one (F.I) with this issue of the freedom of the head in order to be able to look around (obviously) but also balance better, move from one position to another better (lying to sitting to standing etc) or one point of balance to another  (one leg to the other), be able to use the arms for pushing, pulling, reaching, typing, playing an instrument – even punching. It can be so difficult to do these kinds of things without fixing the head by hanging on somewhere in the neck or right at the junction of neck /torso or neck/shoulders and so limiting possibilities and disrupting the very activity we wish to improve. And then of course there is tension and pain etc that can go along with it.

Its an interesting thing to try and work with because in some ways its topsy turvy: its hard to free the neck until you are have a good enough idea of how to use the rest of yourself to balance, find what supports or powers the arms etc so that you don’t end up compensating by holding yourself or your arms up from base of the neck, or tightening/fixing in that area – even trying to use it inappropriately to empower the arm in the absence of a better possibility. But at the same time if you never address what is happening in that difficult area of neck, top of the back, between the shoulders  then that part of the habit may not be fully addressed.

Here is an investigation to show you something of what I mean:

Sitting on a chair begin to move your head a little left and right. A small gentle shaking of the head as if saying ‘no’.  Keep it small soft gentle and not too slow. Find a rhythm that you can keep up. Now see if you can stand up and sit down without breaking the rhythm or stopping the movement at all. If you tighten your neck or fix your head at all the shaking will stop or the rhythm will be disturbed. You don’t need to use your neck to get up. You need to move your pelvis over your feet and unbend your legs and let the rest be carried. That’s all. But many of us pull ourselves up by our head, neck, shoulders and so on. If the movement is well organised you don’t need it – in fact it gets in the way.

You can apply that test to many things. Try it when you are reaching with an arm to get something, typing, playing the piano. Recently I have trying it while punching a punch-bag with full force or blocking a strike. Pretty difficult to keep the head free with that kind of impact unless the punch is really well organised from below and behind.

There are a number of reasons for the way we fix these areas – here are a few:

The head is very significant. It contains the brain, eyes, nose, mouth, ears. It is essential to life and to sensing the world around us. A big motivator for learning to move as a baby is to get that head up into the world to know what’s going on. So often when we think of moving from one position to the other we literally go head first. But the power for moving doesn’t come from there. It comes from much lower. The head needs to be carried by the rest. It can help direct the rest but it can’t pull the rest along. Babies know it, with such big heads, relative to the rest they have to find how to use themselves well to have a hope of lifting the head and it is embodied in many Feldenkrais lessons including the really classic ones about rolling up to sit – where if you try to lead with the head it simply doesn’t work, you can’t get there. Whereas if you find how the movement of the pelvis carries the head,  it suddenly works easily and smoothly. And people can often find that difference within minutes.

And then of course human beings stand upright with a high centre of gravity and a high degree of instability – great for speed of movement in many directions, but a constant challenge to balance and so if our system can’t find a good way to adjust feet, legs, pelvis and torso  for balance for one reason or another,  we often end up trying to hold ourselves up from the head, neck and shoulders instead. In addition, carrying the head upright is a tough job: weighing 4-6kg, if it isn’t carried well by the skeleton – is a little off this way or that or carried to far forward   – the muscles of the neck, shoulders, back and chest have quite a job to keep the head up and that effort makes adjustability not so easy as the muscles are already occupied with the basic job of holding the head.  Feldenkrais has a million lesson for learning how to relate the movement of the head to the rest of you and vice versa.

And then there is the startle response and other kinds of responses to stress , trauma – or simply a fundamental lack of sense of safety that  can freeze neck/chest/head along with many other places. Conversely the image of what using power is (eg in a push, punch or lift) leads many of us to tighten the jaw/mouth, frown, and clamp up in the neck and shoulders ironically reducing power.
(nice eg in this video clip: The Difference Between Tightening and Not Tightening (Inoue Yoshimi Sensei))
Feldenkrais knew a lot about the startle response from his understanding both of child development and from learning and teaching self defence and Judo – and of course the latter feeds into his understanding of how to organise for power. For me the sense of safety (not necessarily even conscious but something far, far deeper and more primal) is a major player to unpack in another post perhaps but it also links to something as simple as the ability to lose and regain balance. And that’s all in the lessons.

For all these and no doubt many more reasons we can lose both the ability to feel a functional connection of the head to the whole spine and pelvis and at the same time lose the ability to differentiate between the head, shoulders and chest in that complicated junction at the top of the back/chest so we end up only being able to use them as a sort unified block. Those sound like entirely different things but actually they go together in terms of functionality. In order for the head to adjust usefully the connection to the spine and pelvis must be clear so that there is sense of how it needs to adjust but to have adjustability there needs also to be an ability to differentiate between parts as necessary. Eg in walking the head needs to be able to adjust relative to the rest or it will have to swing about in the way the pelvis/chest/shoulders  are swinging (or restrict the movement of the shoulders/ pelvis/chest so it can stay looking forward if it can’t differentiate) and adjust to the left/right weight shift over the legs (or swing sideways through space if it can’t) but in order to do that there must be some sense that it is connected to the pelvis and chest in the first place and so how to adjust relative to them.

I could more accurately  have called this workshop something like‘7th Cervical’ or ‘Carriage of the Head’, except it is going to be about more than the 7th cervical and both sound kind of technical (though ‘The Seventh Cervical’ always sounds  a bit like a film to me – maybe a thriller or a Sci-Fi?). But I hope this gives some idea of what the issues are we will be looking at. Really it needs a whole week (or a life time) but we will broach it in a day and maybe you will come out looking like this tiger: everything is so adjustable under its head that it can float. Topsy turvy again – You could say the tiger is fixing its head – but actually its quite the opposite the head is totally free to float while everything else can move underneath.

WORKSHOP: Saturday 8th Feb 10.30-4.00pm Dharma Shala, 92-94 Drummond Street, Euston, London WC2 (see for more details)

4 Replies to “Moving A-Head (workshop: Sat 8 Feb 2014)”

  1. I would be interested in attending this workshop, as I have problems with neck and shoulder stiffness, which come I think from my head position. I attended one of your on day courses early this year at City Lit and found it really good and have continued to do some of the exercises.

    I do need to check my availability for that day.

    Regards – Jenny

  2. Controlling the direction of your opponents head in Martial Arts gives you control over the direction of his body for head/neck throws. It also works the other way round. When you perform a forward leaning lunge (jab) punch the head naturally turns to the side and rests on the inside shoulder. Some Martial Arts place considerable emphasis on this economy of movement. Sounds like an interesting workshop.

    Regards Robert.

    1. yes – and having watched some Brajilian Jujtsu and MMA recently, control of the other person’s head is pretty devastating. and yes I saw that movement of the head in the Wado Ryu Karate video you sent me – really interesting – GoJu Ryu Karate tends to separate the head from the punch as far as I know so far … to keep it out of the way of a counter attack but I can see that tucking it in like that could also do the trick. I fabulously walked onto a pretty pokey punch in one of my gradings because I didn’t sort my head out so I know how bad that can be first hand! But yes I hope it will be interesting. obviously we really need far more than one day but I hope to give a taste of some different ideas and ways we can play with the relationship of the head to the rest. (don’t worry any one else reading this, no head throws and no danger of being punched …… this time!!)

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