In the last post, I wrote about the health benefits of walking, not the least of which was consolidating learning from Awareness Through MovementⓇ and Functional IntegrationⓇ lessons.
In it, I hinted at a couple of things that make walking more graceful and effortless. Today’s post is going to quickly make those things clearer.
One thing was that walking better was connected to activating your anti-gravity mechanism better. I’ve written about the anti-gravity mechanism before in How To Find the Power & Strength to Move With Grace & Ease, Even if You Have a Back Injury.
Today I’d like to help you find something of the other thing I hinted at…
Exquisite Freedom of Your Head and Neck
Why? Because when you get this, walking will feel more like floating across the ground, and your sense of well-being will be improved enormously. It’s just a super lovely feeling, and I’d love to help you find that!
I’d like to make this blog post as short, sweet and to the point as possible. The depth that we could go into about the freedom of the head is unfathomable in some ways and I may very well write more about this topic again. But that’s for another time…
For now, let’s just see if you can start to get some basic ideas into your actual, felt experience.
One theme that inevitably will come up again, and again and again is this:
Pelvis is for power. Head is for orientation.
If you can wrap your head around this and start to feel this in yourself more and more, especially in movements you find challenging, you’ll be so much further ahead in learning to move with power, grace and skill — it’ll astound you!
Your pelvis and your head are not independent parts. The more organised your head on top of your spine, the more easily you’ll find the power coming from your pelvis. And…your head can’t be truly well organised on top you spine without the carriage of your pelvis being well organised.
You live and move as an indivisible whole.
Pelvis is for Power:
To bring home the point about how the pelvis is where all real power comes from, watch a great golfer drive a ball down the fairway. You’ll see that although they are holding a club in their hands, the power doesn’t come from their arms. It comes from their pelvis. It’s like the arms are an extension of the pelvis through the spine and rib basket.
The below video is an excellent example of what I’m talking about. In particular, watch his pelvis. After the shot is shown in general, the golfer’s swing is repeated a few times so you can get a really good sense of the movements. Watch some of the best…
You’ll find a bit more about this with a great example you can try in my post, Got Back Pain? Why Strength and Flexibility Don’t Cut it, And What to Do About It
It doesn’t matter if the movement is as mundane as opening a heavy or sticking door. Instead of pulling on the door with your arm, think of your arm as an extension of your pelvis and you pull the door from your pelvis….
You’ll almost certainly feel you’ve got more power. And you’ll take a lot of stress and strain off your neck, shoulder and arm.
So what about the head?
The Head is for Orientation:
The position of your head helps you clarify the image of yourself in space. In other words, the position of your head helps you know where you are and where you’re going/moving. This is orienting. And orienting well and clearly is crucial for skilful, effortless movement.
Being highly visual creatures, having the freedom to move our head and eyes easily and simply in any direction is insanely important. Everything about our anatomy seems to point to the fact that we’ve evolved this way specifically because it’s a huge advantage to have this very free head on top of a vertically oriented spine, high up off the ground.
It’s not only that it frees our arms to become available to do things besides locomote, like tool making and tool using…
The position of our head gives us a tremendous degree of mobility. It’s what makes humans so nimble and adaptable.
Imagine a stick with a 13-pound bowling ball at the end of it. Now imagine holding the stick horizontally. It takes a fair bit of effort to hold it. And, it takes a lot of energy to change the position of that ball. This tendency to not move the ball around a lot hints at the general level of stability of this system. It’s fairly stable.
Now balance that stick upright with the ball balanced on top of the stick. From here, I think you can see that it would take only the tiniest bit of effort to move that ball in any direction you like.
Well, your head weighs between about 13 and 15 pounds or so. And, when you’re upright, it’s sitting on top your skinny little neck vertebrae…
Incredibly unstable. But this instability has its advantages.
When your head is beautifully balanced on top of your spine, it takes next to zero energy to turn it right or left.
This is part of what makes us humans so unique.
We are incredibly adaptable. We can pivot, change the direction of our actions, change our orientation quickly and easily.
Having this big heavy head of yours balanced on top of you spine requires you to organise your spine and pelvis just so. This relationship between your head and pelvis, through your spine, is arguably one of the most important relationships of your life.
So let’s see if you can’t find something of this organisation…
A Little Mini-Movement Lesson For You:
Let’s look a little closer at the carriage of your head by learning a little personal anatomy…
Take a moment to sense your spinal column from its very top just under your head all the way to your tailbone (coccyx). Go ahead. Take a good minute or two to actually drop into your felt sensations — move your attention slowly along your spine.
Stop reading and do it now….
Ok. Now bring the part of your spinal column that makes up your neck to your attention. Actually sense the bones of your neck as best you can.
Is your attention on the back of your neck? The back of those bones that make up your neck?
How thick do you feel those bones are side to side? Front to back? Sense this as best you can. Take you time… I’m not going anywhere. 😉
Now, what if I told you that the front of your neck bones are as close to the skin on the front of your neck as the skin on the back of your neck. Surprised?
Try moving your attention along the front of your neck bones, deep inside the middle of your throat.
Now place your attention on the very top of the first bone of your spine, just under your skull…
And what if I told you that the joints (there are two, a left and a right one) where you skull rests on your neck are located between your ears and behind your nose? Would you believe me? Was that where you placed your attention?
Begin to play with placing your attention there — between your ears and behind your nose.
Once you find that, (and again, I’ll stress the importance of taking your time and truly practicing placing your attention in specific ways like this. It does require practice to manage your attention in this way, but it’s worth it!) begin to play with feeling how you can come to have an experience of letting your head float on top of that bone — so you’re not trying to jam, fix, hold or force it there…
Instead, your looking to get a feeling of letting go of any muscle contraction in the front of those joints (under you chin, in your throat, back of your mouth and soft palate area), or on the sides of those joints or in the back of those joints (muscles at the base of your skull).
Imagine getting more space all the way around those joints.
Look for a feeling of letting your head float there, perfectly balanced on top of your spine as if you didn’t need any muscles to hold your head up and it literally floated on a thin layer of oil….
What’s that like?
Feel your breathing as you let your attention go all around (front, back and sides), letting go of any holding and just letting your head balance vertically on top of your spine.
Take your time. Come back to this post when you’re ready….
Gave it a good go? Great! Let’s continue…
Now, begin to feel what you do when you think of turning to look a little right and left. Then do it — s-l-o-w-l-y. Do this slowly, or you’ll miss the whole show! (Read this post if you don’t understand why I keep encourage this slow, attentive, mindful quality of moving and using your attention to sense yourself).
Do you feel any “squeezing” of some part of the joints where your head rests on your neck because of the way you contract your muscles? Like the space you started to feel as you let your head float started to shrink?
How can you begin to look a little rightward with your eyes, with your head softly following — without feeling any “squeezing” on the side or front or back of that join? And how about leftward?
When you find it, it’ll feel as if no muscle work is needed at all. None. Zero. Of course, there is muscular work going on to move your head. But it will feel “as if ” there is none because you are so well organised, you’re not limiting movement in any way, and the movement is so efficient. This is an example of and related to the topic of “reversibility” I wrote about in the series on Quality Movement: The Antidote for the “Proper Posture Epidemic”: Reversible Acture.
When you find more of that feeling of freedom and “floating”, notice how much freer your shoulders and breathing feel. You might notice a change in the organisation of your belly muscles as well as your jaw and face muscles.
If you’re up for the challenge, begin to explore moving from sitting to standing without disturbing that floating feeling of your head on top of your spine. Go slowly! (Here’s the link to that oh-so-important post if you can’t wrap your head around this “slow” business).
Unless you’re very well organised, you’ll quickly feel how much you squeeze that joint (narrow the space between your skull and the top of that first vertebra of your spine) at some point as you come to standing. This is a sure sign you’re not using your pelvis for power.
This stuff is pretty simple, really. But it’s not easy!
Once you get to standing, can you find that floating feeling again? Take your time and see if you can re-establish it. Then feel, can you can turn your head a little left and right without any “squeezing” of that joint and with your head staying vertical, and your eyes scanning the horizon?
It doesn’t have to be perfect. Just explore making it a little better than it was before…
Now, begin walking in a way that lets you organise your head with that floating feeling present as much as possible.
What’s your walking like now?
Tell me of your experience below……I’d love to hear from you!
Joan Riches says
I have just done the floating excercise for the first time. I will work with it this week.
Into the 6th week post surgery. Lots of movement within my pelvis organising the sergical reorganisation. Floating head is a good reflection.
More later. Thanks. Joan
Gisele St. Hilaire says
That’s wonderful. Glad you’re accessing Feldenkrais work to help you along in your recovery. May it be swift!