Head Forward Posture

"If you thought head forward was a simple issue, you may not think so after reading this.” -SH




What is “Head Forward Posture”?

In standing or sitting, the center of the ear should be over the center of the shoulder when viewed from the side. If your ear is forward of that, you have Head Forward Posture. Even a quarter-inch to an inch is a great stress on the neck and upper back.  Most people have Head Forward Posture most of their lives and don’t even realize it. 

If you thought head forward was a simple issue, you may not think so after reading this. I am tempted to tell you that you should take a four year Feldenkrais Training to get the full picture. But I won’t.  So many causes, so many avenues for improvement! And please notice – none of them involve simple retraction of the head using sheer will power. Please stop doing that, starting now. You’ll get here methods that actually work. I have seen, over and over, when people start doing the things listed here, it always brings wonderful results.

 

Please clear your mind of any idea that there exists some easy, quick cure for head forward posture.  It took years to acquire, your body has adapted to it, and it will take a little patience and repetition in order to start to get permanent improvements. Again, there is no quick fix so stop trying to push your head back! That is a big strain on the neck! It creates military neck (ramrod straight). It is body language for compulsive or neurotic repetition of an action that does not work but I’ll keep doing it anyway in case someday it actually does work. 

If there were a quick fix like that, as in just push the head back, or pull the shoulders back, nobody would be fighting with the issue of progressive “poor posture” as they age, with the head more forward and the back more stooped. Yet that is what we see in every American  as they age. Those who learn better ways, such as you are about to read about, don’t have this issue as they age. The posture starts to slowly get better.

Again, do a mental reset on this issue. It takes a little study, understanding, and skillful work over some years. Improvements are gradual and the approach here is multi-dimensional. As you see it has to do with balance, vision, physical self-image, movement habits, postural habits, breathing – and more!

 

The first thing to learn is about the four curves of the spine. What are they? They are the tailbone, lumbar, thoracic and cervical curves. The God-given, natural, “birthright” thoracic curve (or chest area) can be described as “slumping” and many folks spend their lives trying to ‘correct’ this natural thoracic curve. It is how we are born, with one big “C” curve, and in Feldenkrais we call this “the primal curve” since the other curves came from this. It is how we spent months in the womb; it is “home base” to the body. Yes, this is not what most people understand! It sounds like, at first glance, I am recommending that we all slump. You have to keep reading to understand that this is not so. What I am beginning to hint at is this: we should not demonize slumping. It is the only way to rest the spinal extensor muscles. We should not always stiffen the back to avoid slumping. There is a time and place to slump, just as there is a time a place to stiffen. There are skillful ways to sit up straight in a chair (and you see them on this site) and it does NOT involve stiffening the back.

You see, everyone with head forward feels guilty about it, and they keep trying to fix what they consider as “Nature’s Mistake” by pushing the head back, by lifting and stiffening the chest, and by thrusting the low ribs forward. All these are harmful behaviors, and we must discontinue them as soon as we can, if we are to have hope of implementing skills that actually work. I am putting first things first here; before we can fix the problem, we have to put down the tools we have been using, that did not work, that would ever work, and that are damaging us. Otherwise it is like trying to fix your car engine, when you have this demented mechanic hammering on the engine block, using a crowbar to move things around, completely idiotic behavior. You have to get him the hell away from your car before you can fix your engine. And by the way, if you’d like more information about why “thrusting the low ribs forward” is harmful, why we do it, and what it looks like, please Google “The Gokale Method Mercola Interview” to get the full picture.

So again, we need to remember that the back muscles can only relax when they are lengthened; this only happens in slumping, or forward bending etc. This is contrary to what most people think they understand! But when you curl up as you sleep, it is rejuvenative for exactly this reason. Likewise, as any child knows intuitively, to sit in a chair and slump is often a very good thing to do, for a time. It refreshes the back so you can then later have more endurance to sit up straight, if that is what you want to do.

Again, and I repeat myself because it bears repetition, one CAN have beautiful, functional, organic, “correct” and tall posture while still retaining the thoracic curve,as in slumping, as in what Nature gave us at birth, which most of us think is “bad” or “slumping.” Good posture does NOT mean getting rid of that curve by stiffening! That belief will perpetuate head forward posture; it has to go.

 

Instead, accept the truth that the heart and lungs are designed to be suspended elegantly from the inverted bowl configuration of a “slightly slumped” thoracic curve (chest level). And YES, that means if you continually stiffen and lift your chest, and push the head back, you are troubling and compressing and pushing against your own heart and lungs. This is not good!!

 What is needed is to keep the softness in the chest, keep the thoracic curve in a functional way, while keeping the head from protruding forward. THAT is real issue – how to do that. Yes, there are moments in life when it is proper and helpful to stiffen the chest (like when your boss walks into your office) – but not all the time!

Most people, in fact, who think they don’t have a “head forward” problem, really do. They just don’t know it because for their whole life so far, they have been stiffening the upper back, lifting the chest, and this artificially brings the head back to what appears to be “straight”. But if you look closely you will see the ramrod military neck. We are supposed to have a cervical curve.

When we finally release all that unnecessary constant tension, of trying to constantly, neurotically self-correct our own posture, we enter a realm of authenticity which is the real playing field: how to bring the head back over center in a more intelligent fashion.

 

To summarize this initial point, we are not working to stiffen the chest, to have a lifted sternum etc., as in “military posture”. In order to do that, one would have to continually tense the back muscles to stiffen and lift the chest. This comes with a very high price: lack of heart sensitivity,  compression of heart and lungs, tight and sore and injury-prone back muscles, compression of spinal vertebrae, poor breathing, a preponderant tendency to be violent, both to one’s self and others (which is why military training teaches “stiffen the chest”), heart trouble, a rigid spine, poor movement, labored breathing, compromised coordination, and much more!

So, the following exercises and insights must be understood in this context. I’d recommend working on just one per week for a few minutes a day -- then forget it. If the exercise has any merit your body will automatically incorporate at least some of that new behavior, no further effort is needed. Again, effective and permanent head forward correction can only begin to happen (and in fact it becomes a primary postural issue) when people first learn to not stiffen and lift the chest while sitting – since immediately the head goes shockingly far forward. That’s the point I’ve been trying to make up to now.

We have been “cheating” our whole life, keeping our head back over center by a stiff chest and tight back muscles. Here, what you are about to read, we learn a more functional, relaxed and elegant “stacked” posture, where the head, eventually, will naturally, all the time, be stacked without head-forward posture.

Many others will teach one or more of these methods to correct stooped posture or head forward posture. I have never before seen, however, such a comprehensive list as this. Once you learn them you can combine them, and do practically all of them at once, in just ten or twenty seconds as you stretch periodically during the day. You’ll love what these do for your posture.


The Best and Quickest Method:  “Inhale and tense” but be sure to first relax, fill the lungs slowly with as much air as you can comfortably, only THEN “tense”. The word “Tense” here means tense the entire body, including especially drawing in and up the belly and abdomen, in order (like a piston pushing air up) to expand the upper chest. The tension should also include strongly pushing shoulders down and slightly back, clenching the fists and tensing both arms like a body-builder showing off his muscles,  and drawing up the floor of the pelvis, including the sphincters there tensing. Perhaps it is better to say “Inhale THEN tense.” So when you tense, you draw in and up the belly and abdomen, which puffs up the upper chest. You’ll see the head immediately retracts where it belongs. If you tense too soon, or tense as you inhale, NO AIR can get into the upper chest, the upper chest will REMAIN COLLAPSED IN, and you lose all the benefit, and in fact the tensing of the abdomen and body will make the head go MORE FORWARD. The timing of the body tensing is crucial; do not ignore this point. That’s because tensing too soon tightens the upper chest, were we want to bring lung expansion; there has to be relaxation there to accomplish this.

By lifting the upper chest we bring the head back immediately. Conversely, a collapsed upper chest means head forward. Do this many times a day: 12 times would be a good number to get stunning results. Do six in the morning and six in the evening. Remember, as you inhale expanding the upper chest while keeping your shoulders pressed down (very important!) with the spine erect (don’t arch the back). Again, only after you have fully inhaled and expanded the upper chest ONLY THEN tense the upper torso strongly (and the whole body also as described) strongly.

 

Recap and Refinement

A refinement of this would be to keep the head slightly turned to one side or the other while pushing the head back (retraction) as you tense.  In this specific scenario, it is helpful and good to retract the head (as I have been telling you never to do) as it is turned slightly. That’s because we are working with the spiral nature of the spine, with head turned. We should remember there are NO vertebrae in the neck, or the spine anywhere, where the vertebra slides forward and back like stacked bricks. That is why straight-ahead-backwards retraction of the head is never going to help us. No, all the joints in the body are designed to work in a spiral fashion (including the knees, but that is a another story). As you tense, pull the head backwards at that slight diagonal. Do not let head protrude forward as you tense. Repeat twelve times a day. This strongly, quickly, corrects head forward posture and can greatly alleviate Dowager’s Hump.  It works quicker than any other method. If you had to choose only one method, this is the one. When you find yourself reverting (as we all do) back to the wrong methods, gently remind yourself to do this instead.

Please note the expanded chest does not mean bending backwards from the low ribs. Look at your low ribs, halfway down your torso in the front. Do not let them go forward during this exercise. Stay straight there, with erect posture as you fill the upper lungs, with shoulders down. The skin and fascia around the upper chest get contracted with age, and with poor posture and breathing. By forcefully expanding those ribs with air in the lungs puffing the chest out – and holding and tensing like that – we are stretching that tissue, making it possible for good posture to happen easily, automatically. Otherwise that tight tissue is always pulling head forward and stooping the posture.

When you finish your six repetitions, sit quietly and enjoy your new posture. Let your belly and abdomen relax normally, do not keep pulling them up, as some people do. Yes, we need some abdominal tonus, but not too much, and this tonus should come naturally, without our conscious help. When we deliberately tense our belly, as in drawing up our gut out of vanity (“flat abs” we think) we sabotage our gut-sense intuition, and we are practicing anxiety, poor breathing and we freeze the natural coordination of belly and low back. There is nothing worse for good posture than this. Flat abs comes from good diet, exercise, and colon cleansing, etc., not from neurotically tensing the belly 24/7. That has to go.

© Copyright 2015 Steve Hamlin  www.mybodycanlearn.com