health booster 607: get your neck feeling better

Purpose: When done properly, this exercise refreshes the circulation in the information pathways of the neck through a combination of stretching and twisting energies. Benefits include potential for reducing the risks of eye strain and neck-shoulder-upper back problems (a.k.a. tech neck) that can develop when the mind and eyes habitually stare at a single object for extended periods of time over weeks, months, and years. There is also a mental “refresh-reset” that occurs by taking the eye muscles through different movements.

Method:  The eyes trace a circular idea, and the head and neck are taken through various movements as a result. The basic idea is this: the mind thinks “look there” (described in more detail below); from the thought, the eyes follow, then the head and neck follow. 

It is like a locomotive (mind) with two rail cars (eyes and head/neck) attached to it. All move together, yet it is the locomotive that initiates the activity. It’s not the case that two rail cars move independent of the locomotive.

Quick aside: proceeding to read the remainder of this blog post means you agree to the terms of our Health Disclaimer.

Preliminaries 1: Four “cardinal directions”

Remember: the mind thinks, then the eyes follow the thought, then the head and neck follow from there. Minimize movement of the body from shoulders downward, as this will diminish the effectiveness of the practice.

1) Think to look up and behind you. As a result, there is a stretching sensation in the throat. Feel clearly the light exertion of the eye muscles upward. This is north.

2) Think to look over your left shoulder and behind you. As a result, there is the light engaging-energizing of the neck muscles twisting to the left without any clenching or excessive tightness. Feel clearly the light exertion of the eye muscles to the left. This is west.

3) Think to look over your right shoulder and behind you. As a result, there is the light engaging-energizing of the neck muscles twisting to the right without any clenching or excessive tightness. Feel clearly the light exertion of the eye muscles to the right. This is east.

4) Think to look down at the top of your sternum, or breastbone (safe money says you’re not going to actually see it, but that doesn’t matter–just think it). As a result, there is a stretching sensation in the back of the neck. Feel clearly the light exertion of the eye muscles downward. This is south.

Practice a few times, then go to the next set of steps.

Preliminaries 2: Four “corners”

Use the same thesis of mind thinks → eyes follow thought → head and neck follow from there. Feel clearly both the exertion of the eye muscles and the stretching feelings described below.

5) Think to look up and to the right, and behind you. As a result, there is a gentle stretch of the neck muscles under the left corner of the jaw. This is northeast.

6) Think to look up and to the left, and behind you. As a result, there is a gentle stretch of the neck muscles under the right corner of the jaw. This is northwest.

7) Think to look down and to the left, at the pit of the shoulder just behind the left collarbone. As a result there is a gentle stretch of the neck muscles in the right rear “corner” of the neck. This is southwest.

8) Think to look down and to the right, at the pit of the shoulder just behind the right collarbone. As a result there is a gentle stretch of the neck muscles in the left rear “corner” of the neck. This is southeast.

Practice a few times, then go to the final exercise.

Almost home!

Final exercise

The final exercise consists of two components: moving the mind and body through a circular idea in one direction, then moving the mind and body through a circular idea in the other direction.

9) Practice connecting the eight “compass points” together in a smooth, circular movement. Look north, then proceed to northeast, to east, to southeast, to south, to southwest, to west, to northwest, back to north.

10) Proceed in the other direction. From north, look to northwest, to west, to southwest, to south, to southeast, to east, to northeast, to north.

Feeling/Image:

> As this is a head/neck exercise, minimize any movement from the shoulders downward. That is, do not twist the trunk when looking to the left/west and right/east. Do not bend the spine forward nor backward when looking down/south or up/north. 

> The entire movement is smooth, fluid, circular. It is not the case that you stop at the eight points in an octagon-type idea.

> practice with a spine that is upright and solid yet free of stiffening

Dose: One circle in one direction, then in another direction is one set. One to three sets daily spaced out over a few hours is a general idea. Might you need more if you’re spending long periods at seated computer work? Possibly. Suitable for combining with other self-care practices.

Discussion: It’s a fact of modern life that we spend up to several hours a day looking at digital screens from more or less the same distance, without much movement variability in the spinal column nor muscles of the head and neck (including the eyes). This becomes a silent occupational hazard relevant to many jobs but especially of “knowledge professions” such as accounting, IT, human resources, administrative assistants, management/operations, etc. where an insidious progression into disease states can occur.

By the way, self-care is not a luxury but a necessity. Disrupt the thesis that essentially says ‘’let me neglect myself in the name of ‘productivity’”. Introduce the thesis that recognizes the importance of balancing self-care with handling work-family-social business.

Caution/contraindication: You may hear some snap-crackle-popping, especially if you’re new to these exercises &/or there is significant stiffness in the spinal column. As long as there is no pain, this is generally not a problem. Avoid clenching and straining that comes from unskillful forcing. Discontinue immediately if you feel the worsening of any of the following: persistent pain on practice, dizziness, blurred vision, numbness/tingling . Proceed with care in cases of chronic neck disease.

Modifications: you can turn this into a qigong-type practice by synchronizing the breath with the movement in the following way: 

> from the normal resting position with eyes looking forward, inhale as you look upward,

> exhale as you proceed from north to south on the one side, 

> inhale as you rise up from south to north on the other side, 

> then exhale as you retrace your steps on the downward movement. 

> Inhale on the succeeding upward movement, 

> and breathe out as you return to resting position.

The rhythm of the body and the rhythm of the breath should go harmoniously together. If you find that you are holding your breath at any time or that the rhythm of the breath becomes erratic, that is the wrong method. Smooth rhythmic inhalation and exhalation synchronized with body movement is the right method.

Hope this helps you in your quest for better health and well-being!

Copyright © 2021, Justin Jaucian

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