Do you ever take your work to a coffeehouse? Maybe you’re at one right now, or maybe you’re at work and several people are within view. Scan the posture of those around you — how many of them do you see with their heads in front of their shoulders? If you had a snapshot of yourself at this very moment, would that be you?
For most of human history, screens and handheld devices were not a contributing factor in daily posture. Nowadays, with our seated jobs, car commutes and constant attention to devices, our heads often travel in front of our shoulders, predictably wreaking havoc on many sensitive organs and systems.
While our bodies are highly adaptable, craning our necks forward to see something up close all the time can lead to long-term changes in several ways:
Blood supply to your brain depends on vessels in your neck. Some of the veins and arteries close to your spine weave through its stacked vertebrae, and when your head is inches in front of its natural position, that can lead to poor circulation, migraines and damage to the vessels themselves. Think cardiovascular health. Think brain activity. Then think: head straight.
Play with this one yourself. Place your head in front of your shoulders, and take a deep breath through your nose. Now tuck your head gently back to where it’s balanced effortlessly on top of your shoulders, and try again. Did you feel that fuller breath? Breathing mechanics are optimal when the airway is straight and open. Better breath means you get more oxygen, more concentration and more peace of mind. This also means no leaning forward in spin class if you want to give it your all.
NERVES AND BALANCE
Your balance, hearing and vision depend on the optimal positioning of your eyes and ears relative to your body and to the ground. Cranial nerves enable your sense of smell, proper gland function, speech, balance when walking and even how your fingers translate your thoughts to your keyboard. The next time you’re wondering why your productivity at work is suffering, you may want to check your head.
MUSCLES AND JOINTS
Who doesn’t have a stiff neck and upper back at the end of a work day? Your head weighs 10–11 pounds. When it’s postured over the shoulders, the weight gets shared among the spine, pelvis, legs (if you are standing up) and all their supporting musculature. Move your head forward, and the muscles of the upper back need to clock in extra hours and effort. This accommodation results in aches and pains, stiffness and possibly wear and tear on joints.
If you’re not sure whether you have the tendency to go into “turkey head” mode, the best way to check is to have someone take a picture of you while you’re writing or using your computer. (It’s best when you aren’t expecting it.)
OK, now that you’ve seen the picture and know you have “turkey head,” it’s time for the easy part. Time to do something about it. It’s a simple exercise called head ramping.
- Take a seat with your spine tall.
- Tuck your chin so that your ears are straight above your shoulders.
- Inhale deeply through your nose, then exhale slowly out.
- Treat your neck as if it were made of something precious.
- Bring your head back so your ears are above your shoulders, with the least amount of effort necessary. Never force it.
Easy, right? But now you have to remember to do it, so set a reminder on your phone or computer to check your neck position every few hours. Try this for a week, and notice how much easier it is to hold the healthier position.