During the anatomy class, we talked about the skeletal system and how today’s digital habits have impacted our posture. The class that had the strongest impact on me was the one talking about the cervical and the forward head posture in particular, also called by the teacher “the digital disaster”. This syndrome affects the cervical, the upper part of the spinal column, composed of seven vertebrae, the ones that are the smallest vertebrae, most mobile and with the less stability.
In our everyday life, we usually spend too much time leaning forward on our phones or computer screens, resulting in a poor posture. The head eventually ends up being misaligned from the rest of the body. As well as being unattractive, it can lead to further problems such as chronic pain, numbness in the arms and hands, snoring and headaches. The head seems much heavier since it is not properly supported on its axis.
I happen to have that “chicken neck”, “texting neck”, “sofa neck” or “forward head syndrome”.
The picture on the left shows how my head tends to lean and hunch forward. My ear is misaligned with my shoulder. The picture on the right shows how my head should stand, giving me that oh so lovely double chin!
(That hopefully should start disappearing as I practice the exercises and stretches to place my head back to its natural and original position, the skin and muscles should readapt.)
In this article, I will go over how to check if we have the forward head syndrome, then very briefly talk about the kind of exercises to practice to improve the condition, and finally how starting to practice them has amazingly improved my life and yoga practice.
Diagnosing a forward head posture is fairly easy. The first method is to stand our back against a wall, chest open. If your head is not touching the wall, you probably have that “texting neck”. The second method is to use two pens to check if the ear lobe is well aligned with the tip of the shoulder. If the ear lobe is much in front of the shoulder, then you should start working on the stretches!
The exercises to place the neck back on top of the shoulders are simple. They really felt uncomfortable and caused “sweet pain” in my whole back when I started to practice them. The internet holds so many resources and descriptions of exercises, videos and pictures on this topic. It’s definitely worth the research. All the upper body muscles (neck, shoulders, chest and back) should be thoroughly stretched and strengthen, also the core muscles in particular should be strengthened to help support the straightening of the spine. I’m doing a lot of chin tucks, neck stretches as well as self massage of the neck and shoulders area.
Since I started the stretching and exercises to bring my neck back in line, I’ve noticed some rapid improvements. The biggest one is related to my breath. I definitely noticed an improvement during the Pranayama Yoga Teacher Training Class. It feels like my respiratory system is better aligned when I push my head back to its natural position. My breathing is effortlessly deeper and flows a lot more easily. My sinus magically unblocked themselves. When I started breathing with my head pushed back and chin slightly tucked in to be parallel to the floor, I realised how enjoyable it could be to just breath and observe the breath. Chanting the mantras and Om also feels a lot different, they now feel more powerful and vibrate better in my whole body.
I also noticed more strength when practicing some asanas. For example, in chaturanga, I really feel a difference when I let my neck hang or when I activate it to push it back to its initial position and lengthen my spine. I find that I have more strength to flow into the postures.
Maintaining this awareness of my neck during the flow of the practice has been challenging and also felt very good. Observing the breath as well as the sensations in my body, trying to release the tensions in my shoulders as I tuck my chin in has made me a lot more present during the practice.
I’m so grateful we had that anatomy class and this great teacher. Thanks to this experience, I realised the importance of checking the posture of the students in class during Samasthiti. If a student as a forward head posture, it will be so beneficial for him to become aware of it and then to suggest some stretches and exercises to realign the spine. I hope I will be able to help other people who suffer from this forward neck posture. In the meantime, I’ll keep rocking my double (if not triple) chin until my neck is realigned and the stretched skin readjusts itself.