One day back in the last century, I was practicing my taijiquan at a friend’s summer house in upstate New York. After a while I noticed my neck was tense and stiff. From experience I knew this might lead to a headache unless I did something to alleviate it. When I tried to relax, however, I found my range of motion pretty narrow.
This was puzzling. I had been doing taiji for a few years pretty regularly and had overcome a bunch of bad habits. So why were my neck muscles so tight?
I noticed that my chin was raised slightly, jutting forward, exhibiting the ever so fashionable “turtle head” posture. When I brought my chin down and could feel the pull on my muscles from the base of the skull down to my lower back (trapezius). I felt this impulse to lift it again. Why?
It dawned on me that my vision was slightly out of focus when I lowered my chin. The lenses of my glasses then were pretty large and the focal point was pretty low. That meant I had to lift my head to see clearly. I wear my glasses all the time and for years had been making unconscious adjustments to see better. Over time, my neck muscles shortened to compensate.
Epiphany! The solution to one problem (poor eyesight) led to another problem (tight neck muscles and headaches). I was throwing my whole structure outa whack. So I consciously began to adjust my chin down and in. I did yoga postures like Plow and Shoulder Stand to lengthen the tissues.
I also changed my glasses. When I told the optometrist I wanted the focal point raised to the top third of the lenses, he thought it was a cockamamie idea but reluctantly complied. A higher focal point meant my default line of vision would be perpendicular to the ground. I still have to work at it, but it’s a whole lot easier now. More important, this adjustment led to a whole trove of discoveries I wouldn’t have made otherwise. I haven ‘t had a headache in years.
My situation was triggered by my glasses. Other people may develop similar problems due to their height (having to look up all the time), injuries to other body parts, or poor posture. How many of our difficulties are created by reversible movement or holding patterns? We’ll take a look at other ways to iron out the kinks in future entries.