Cars and computers are molding our bodies into shapes that would fit inside large cereal boxes. If our arms, bent at the elbows in right angles, were pressed against our sides by the front and back of the boxes, and if our legs were tucked at the knees and hips, we would fit quite nicely.
The trouble is: As we sit, so we think. With our bodies folded into semi fetal positions, our thoughts become like cereal, separate and crunchy, full of white flour and sugar, lacking in nutritional substance. We’re like horses harnessed to a cart, trotting down the road, with blinders preventing us from seeing what’s beside us or what we’ve left behind. Look straight ahead! Keep your eyes on the prize!
However, sitting inside a box can also be like resting inside the womb, a cocoon, safe, predictable, warm and comforting. I sit, therefore, I am secure. I drive my car, enclosed in plastic and metal. For a time, I am shutting out the world. The world is what’s happening outside my bubble, on the other side of my windshield.
At my desk, I control the world inside the box, my computer. With a click, I can enter a website, close the window, navigate anywhere I choose on the World Wide Web. Remain as long as I want. Safe, secure, predictable. The world stays inside the box, inside the computer behind the glass screen. I create my reality, my controlled environment.
Whether my hands are on a steering wheel, driving me around the physical plane, or on a keyboard and mouse, steering me around a universe of images and illusions, I am in control. Of course, it’s understandable that we would crave being in charge of our lives. Who wants to feel that one’s life is out of control? Besides, it seems our world is bent on achieving chaos. Tuning into the news gives us the impression that in every hamlet, terrorists are in our airports, mad gunmen are waiting to shoot us, and diseases are ready to sweep us and our loved ones into the graveyard. If we put a screen between us and the world, we will feel much safer. We will survive. Our actual body activity is very limited, but we feel just like we have freedom. We are free to drive anywhere we want and to look at pictures of almost anything, anywhere. Yet, maneuvering a car or flying through cyberspace are only two kinds of freedom. The price we’ve paid is to live in a prison of very limited movement.
From the time we enter a classroom, we are trained to confine our bodies to our desks. Sit still and be quiet. Face the blackboard at the front of the room. Only speak when called upon. Children are taught to rein in their impulses. They go from being these constantly moving, squawking little creatures to docile lambs, shepherded from room to room and idea to idea. Or not. Children who don’t stop wiggling and making noise are often labeled ADHD and given drugs to calm them down so they will Fit In. Inside the cardboard cereal box.
Sitting silently in rows, according to some historians and educators, is a means to ready the masses for passivity and acceptance of authority. The German, Hajo Eickoff, has contended that, “the chair is a sedative to create a docile population not inclined to criticize or become politically active.” In the last century, Rudolph Steiner and Dr. Maria Montessori counteracted the trend towards stillness in classrooms by advocating movement as a learning tool.
Chairs themselves do not reflect the natural alignment of the human form. Even so-called “ergonomically correct” chairs cannot compensate for the fact that bodies were made to engage in dozens of positions and to stay in none of them for long periods of time. We can sit cross-legged, stand, lounge, straddle, balance on one leg and squat, for starters. More than one thousand human postures were recorded by the American Anthropologist Gordon Hewes in the 1950’s. In many countries, people have only begun to use chairs recently.
In the semi fetal position, knees, hips and elbows are flexed. Arms and legs are pressed together. Shoulders are rounded. Head is forward of the body. A posture of obedience. Stay seated, please. Fasten your seat belts. In a car, our feet never touch the ground. Don’t stand up for your rights.
Forward Head, Forward Ho! To get ahead, be a go-getter. Best foot forward. Stick your neck out without rocking the boat. Time marches on, with or without us. Time is money. We must get ahead so we won’t fall behind and end up in the gutter. Push, don’t procrastinate. In a busy, busy world, we are all rushing to catch up. So much to do, so many places to be, so many people to meet. Hundreds, thousands of things we absolutely gotta do just to keep everything from falling apart. Our heads, figuring it all out, juggling all the details, become paramount. A nation of people, with heads jutting forward, is the result of a chronic reaction to our modern life, the tools we use and the pace at which we are expected to manage it all.
Forward Head Posture is like a brain leading a body around, kind of like an engine pulling a train behind it. However, when the head sits forward of the spine, the engine loses steam. The neck muscles tighten, squeezing the large blood vessels, cutting down blood flow to the brain. Our thinking becomes sluggish. We get headaches. We even become susceptible to stroke. With the back of the skull pressing on the brainstem at the top of the neck, the optic nerve is shortened, leading to nearsightedness. Indeed, the entire visual process, from focusing clearly on details, to seeing the big picture, to visualizing the future, is affected adversely.
When the head sits forward of the spine, the shoulders round, the chest collapses, the breath is restricted. And when one’s breath is suppressed, so are one’s emotions. Keep your chin up. Hold your breath. Smile for the camera. Freeze! Tight neck muscles constrict the throat chakra, the center that allows us to speak our truth, the bridge between our hearts and our minds. A tense neck can mean we don’t feel safe to express ourselves honestly. To experience true intimacy, we must take courage, relax the throat and speak from our hearts.
“I hold my tension in my neck and shoulders” is the number one complaint I hear in my practice as a counselor and bodyworker. And, when the neck is tight, the whole body armor is activated. A “stiff necked” person is self-controlled to the point of repression, cut off from one’s instincts and one’s spontaneous responses. No wonder. The reptilian brain, related to functions of survival, lies just above the brain stem inside the skull. Survival issues become control issues, where tensing up feels safer, and letting go feels dangerous. The Gallbladder (GB) meridian in Chinese medicine, which is called “The Governor” for planning goals and carrying them out, runs through the neck and is always tight on anyone with Forward Head Posture. Two spots just below the base of the skull at the occipital ridge, GB20, are powerful points for allowing the whole body to release tension. Relaxing the neck, realigning it over the spine, can help us surrender to the flow and bring us more fully into the present moment.
The Antidote to a Robot’s Life “Movement is Life,” says Meir Schneider. Founder of The Center and School for Self-Healing in San Francisco, Mr. Schneider has aided many thousands of people to overcome all sorts of physical ailments. He himself was blind at birth and, during his teens, gained his eyesight through a committed practice of eye relaxation and exercises.
As a student of Schneider’s, I have been most impressed by his philosophy that “external movement is our single most effective healing tool.” By consciously moving the body, we improve all our bodily functions. In addition, he proposes that range of motion (moving each muscle through its entire repertoire of possible movement) is as important as motion itself. Which means: Use It or Lose It!
Rather than sit still in front of a computer or a steering wheel for hours at a time, break up the monotony frequently and move your head, your torso and your limbs in all possible directions. Wiggling noticeably and frequently will shake up the status quo. So, shake, rattle and roll!
When I ask my clients if they stretch, they often respond with a no, a groan, and an admittance that they “should.” Stretching is more than just a physical activity, it is a way of life. When we stretch our bodies, we stretch our minds, but, if our bodies are rigid, our thoughts follow suit. After passively sitting for days or weeks or years, we need massage and stretching to loosen tight muscles and the fascia that surrounds them. Yoga postures such as the Cobra and Backbends also help reverse the problems associated with too much sitting. Imagine curling into a little ball and then reaching your arms and legs until you have stretched to your outer limits. Contracting all your muscles, then fully expanding them is liberating and feels great, too.
Simply stretching tight muscles won’t correct the problems of conforming to the cereal box. When our posture has stagnated into an unhealthy alignment with gravity, some muscles atrophy and need strengthening. Typically, the rhomboids and the trapezius between the shoulder blades need developing, as well as the deepest abdominal and low back muscles. Working with a good physical therapist can ensure that one is addressing exactly the spots that are weak. One physical therapist I know says she spends all day with her clients undoing the damage of too much time in the semi-fetal position.
Addressing only the physical manifestation of Forward Head Posture will not remedy the situation, either. We must be ready to Live Outside of the Box. We must climb out of that cardboard cereal box, no matter how sweet and crunchy its contents, no matter how many free prizes included, no matter how much it comforts us with memories of a safer, more secure past. We must get out of our cars and get up from our desks and stretch frequently throughout the day. The world is in a great period of flux, and being relaxed in our bodies will help us roll with the changes. An unbending tree snaps in the great wind.
Stretching as a way of life will enable us to practice our range of motion until we break out of the prison of conformity. We will not sit passively accepting the words of our leaders. We will Question Authority. We will wiggle and wobble and swish our tails with passion. We will speak up and express our heart’s distress at injustice and insanity. Instead of cowering in a posture of obedience, we will all stand up with the regal posture of kings and queens, and claim our birthright to be free in mind and body.
Alicia Swaringen created BodyWisdom therapy, a combination of bodywork and counseling, to help people unravel the messages of their bodies and integrate the information into their daily lives. Having seen clients since 1995, she is a Licensed Massage Therapist, Reiki Master and has a 2 year certificate in Process Oriented Psychology. She can be reached at 541-689-0430 or [email protected].