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Welcome to Week #2 of the Healthy Habit Challenge! Each week I’m picking a common movement habit that’s not helping your health. Then I’m challenging you (and me!) to spend the week focusing on 1) noticing when you do it, and 2) changing it to something that’s better for your body.

This week, we’re moving north to focus on the head and neck. Some members of our Facebook group mentioned that they’re hoping to use this challenge as a way to be healthier at the office – this one’s for you!

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Habit #2 – The Dreaded Chicken Neck

Texting, computers, sitting, driving, cycling – all these activities contribute to some really wonky head positioning. Instead of floating lightly on top of our necks, most of us have our heads sticking way out ahead of us.

Why It’s So Bad

This habit leads directly to headaches, TMJ, & fatigue. It increases the risk of neck pain, joint degeneration, disc herniation, fractures and osteoporosis in the vertebrae of the neck. It also increases your risk of choking, and messes up the blood supply to your brain as well as interfering with your endocrine system (did you know your thyroid gland is in your neck?). Not awesome.

What The Problem Is, Mechanically Speaking

The angle between the head and the neck gets smaller as the neck moves further forward. This lets our heads stay upright but at the cost of pain and tension.

The angle between the head and the neck gets smaller as the neck moves further forward. Lifting the chin lets our heads stay upright but at the cost of pain and tension.

When we move our heads forward, two main physical things happen. The cervical (neck) spine moves diagonally forward in space. Then, we lift up our chins by hyper-extending at the very top of the neck. This crunches up all the tiny muscles where the head attaches, creating some really sore spots!

I like this picture because it was taken of me while I was talking, at a party. Which means this is the true angle my head is normally at. Suddenly my headaches and TMJ make a whole lotta sense....

This picture was taken while I was talking at a party. Which means this is the angle my head is at when I’m not paying attention. Suddenly my headaches and TMJ make a whole lotta sense….and I am definitely at risk of needing the Heimlich Maneuver someday!

How to Get Your Head Back 

In order to reverse the head forward/chin up positioning, the trick is to lengthen the back of the neck as you move the head back and up in space. This is known as head ramping.

WARNING! This may be the most unattractive exercise ever invented. Best to practice it when no-one is around. The good news is that the double chin we are about to create for the purpose of the exercise will actually help you avoid having a real, full time double chin.

Also on the plus side, you can do it anywhere, anytime. I’m doing it right now while I’m typing.

Step One

Start wherever you are:

This is about where I hold my head all the time. I get frequent headaches and have TMJ, so there is clearly some work to be done here.

This is about where my head lives when I’m trying to take a photo of myself from the side.

Step Two

Moving slowly and carefully, rotate your head down to give yourself the most double chin you can create, while gliding your entire head back in space. I find it helps to imagine myself with a cheerleader ponytail, and pretend that a giant wants to pick me up by the ponytail.

Notice how much more length I have in the back of my neck now.

Notice how much more length I have in the top & back of my neck now.

Hang out here for a minute, then relax, but try to maintain some of the length you just created at the back of your neck. In fact, my favourite way to think about this is with the acronym, BOTNL – Back Of The Neck Long.

My amazing colleague, Janet, has made a video of this exercise – here it is with more detail on how to ramp your head and lengthen the back of your neck.

NOTE: This exercise is not where your head should be all the time – please don’t try to keep it this far back consistently. Your regular position should be with your head back a bit further and your neck a bit longer than you usually have it – over time, it will lengthen more and be more naturally further back. Eventually ears, shoulders, hips and ankles will all line up – but not today 🙂

The Challenge This Week

1. Keep going with the timer – set an alarm for six times a day to do a check in with your head carriage. Each time it rings, start by taking note of where your head is in space. Then, ramp your head for one minute.

2. Put a sticky note with the word BOTNL on your computer screen and on your car dashboard. Each time you notice it, check in with where your head is, and if needed, ramp your head back.

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3. For extra points, chant the word ‘BOTNL’ out loud whenever you type, text, drive or bike 🙂 and let that help you remember where your head needs to be. Also check out other drivers (only when traffic conditions permit) – you’ll be amazed at all the crazy head and neck positions!

Good luck this week! I’ll see you on Facebook!

Want More?

For the purpose of this challenge, I highly recommend working on only one habit at a time. It’ll stick better, and be easier to fit into your busy life. But if you want more help on this week’s habit, my colleague Barbara has collected some excellent resources on the big picture of fixing forward head position, including a couple of great Yoga Tune Up sequences.

And just like last week, if you haven’t already signed up for the bonus video, you can get an extra exercise delivered to your inbox by joining the mailing list.

 

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