How Long is Your Neck?

A giraffe in South Africa
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The other morning I was taking a walk with my one year old daughter strapped to my chest. She was facing me and I had my hands around her low back.

When she is not fast asleep she likes to look around to check out what’s going on in the hood. One of the things I have noticed about babies is that a huge percentage of their movements in the first year involve nothing more than just turning left and right to scan the horizon and take in visual information. I would guess that this type of rotational movement is a big part of their early movement education.

So, being the movement nerd that I am, as I walked I was feeling my daughter’s spine and ribs to sense the movement there as she turned. What I found was so interesting that I thought about it for a few minutes, forgot it for a week, and then remembered it and decided to write a blog post about it this morning. Here’s what I noticed.

As she turned from side to side, the vertebrae in her spine all the way down to her low back and pelvis were very active in making rotational movements. I found this very interesting because she can probably turn from side to side quite easily by moving just the vertebrae in her neck without any involvement from the lower parts of her spine. (I can do this and you probably can too.) But instead, the movement involved her whole spine, and even the pelvis. This reminded me of a central principle of the Feldenkrais Method, which is that optimal movements are often distributed over as many joints as possible.

Movement is a very much a team game, and the more body parts that participate in a movement, the less work each part has to do in getting the job done. For example, in a well organized spine, a rotation of the head will start with movement of the neck vertebrae, but will quickly recruit lower parts of the spine for assistance. So the whole back helps the neck, making the neck effectively as long as the spine.

For some reason, many people seem to lose mobility in their chest as they age. This makes it very hard to recruit any vertebrae lower than the neck in moving the head. Try turning your head left and right a few times and sense how far down the spine the movement travels. Don’t do the movement with a certain outcome in mind, just do it in way that allows you to discover how you would do this move habitually, as you actually do it every day without thinking about it. You can put one hand on your back to help sense what parts of the spine participate and which don’t.

If the rotational movement of the head stops at your neck and doesn’t really reach the chest, then the movement in the neck will probably feel a little stiff, limited and awkward. But if the movement naturally flows down the spine to the pelvis, the movement will probably feel integrated, smooth and easy. In other words, you will be taking full advantage of the fact that you actually have a very long and powerful neck. Just like my daughter.

By the way, if you want to lengthen your neck, I have a free audio lesson based on the Feldenkrais Method which is designed to improve spinal rotation.

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9 Responses to How Long is Your Neck?

  1. Perhaps an undergraduate degree in exercise science/kinesiology/human kinestics would be of some use when discussing movement instead of speculating or offering theories that are not supported by science?

    It’s not that I have any particular issue with encouraging movement and physical activity in general, but unsupported claims really tend to grate on me.

    “By the way, if you want to lengthen your neck, I have a free audio lesson based on the Feldenkrais Method which is designed to improve spinal rotation.”

    Say that again? …”…if you want to lengthen your neck….”???

    • Finn,

      We have been through this before on Facebook. If you have any specific criticisms of the substance of the post, I would be happy to hear them and address them. But I won’t respond to vague accusations that the post is not supported by “science” or wrong in some undefined sense. I also won’t respond to objections about the process that was used to write the post, such as whether I went to a certain school prior to writing it. And as to the “lengthen the neck” sentence, I think the meaning was fairly clear given the context.

  2. This is the first article I’ve ever read by Mr. Hargrove. A professional colleague on Facebook linked me here. (We both work in hospital wellness centers: post rehab training, mostly).

    There is an OBVIOUS play on words in using length of neck to describe the entire spine creating the rotational movement to track a field of vision. To then criticise the use of “lengthen the neck” when it is (again, OBVIOUS that) the author is speaking of recruiting the entire spine rotationally instead of just the cervical vertebrae, is just mean-spirited nitpicking.

    I found the conversational, observational tone intereresting, engaging, and refreshing.
    It’s amusing to me that the negative comment inspired me to write. Maybe the author should encourage Finn to comment often, like a personal Statler & Waldorf, the balcony curmudgeons from The Muppet Show.

  3. Hi Todd,

    Interesting observation however the movement of the baby is not necessarily the same as for the adult.

    There is some really fascinating work on the progression of development and movement in babies. Their muscular system is very undeveloped particularly with movements that involve extending the spine and neck (in utero, the muscles are in a flexed pattern). A lot of work on observing development in babies has been done by the likes of Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen and Linda Hartley.

    • Eliza,

      I agree that there are many differences between babies and adults. I’m not trying to argue that we should can or or should move as they do. The main point is that distribution of effort is good, and my baby was using it.

      Thanks for the references on baby development I will check those out.

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