Rush slowly: The bending of the head

There’s this lesson by Moshé Feldenkrais for improving the bending of the head to the right and left. It’s called, “AY#1 Bending the head to the side when sitting.”

By all means, a great lesson. I myself I can touch my right ear to my right shoulder, easily. On the other side, my left ear to my left shoulder? Not so much. If I were a little bit more concerned about this, or if I would see the promise of substantial gains in wellbeing or chronic pain issues, I would quite surely try to improve the side-bending of my neck with more determination.

The main focus of this lesson, however, is not just on the bending the neck, but on the involvement of the hips and the entirety of the spine, and how these movements ultimately improve the movements of the neck.

But wait. The bending?

What is the bending? Don’t we tilt our heads to the right and to the left, rather than bend it? Let’s look at these two different motions:

Bending refers to the act of curving or flexing something, usually along a specific axis, or at a joint. For example, bending a metal rod, bending an elbow, bending a wire back and forth in the same spot until material fatigue occurs and it breaks.

Tilting refers to the act of inclining something from its current position, often without a pronounced curvature. For example, tilting a container to pour its contents, tilting a camera for a different angle, or tilting the head to one side.

Now I have two different ideas of the neck:

A stiff neck, it can only bend at a point in between the shoulders, and at one point in between the ears. This neck feels like as if it was made from one big, sturdy bone, with a ball joint on each end. It can tilt, and it can turn a bit.

A flexible neck, it’s made from the segments of a spine. Each segment can bend a little bit, and in sum total the neck can bend along its spine, beautifully, proportionally, a well distributed bending that can extend further down the spine and even involve the torso, lumbar area, and the hips.

In the English translation of Moshé Feldenkrais’s lesson there’s these funny sounding instructions concerning movement quality: “Do not rush. Do very light movements. Make not push the body and try to do a lot.” When I stumbled on these rare, raw, golden nuggets, they dug into my brain like a stuck tune. Thus I decided to spend a day (or two) to turn these words into word graphics, and to write this blog post.

In this Feldenkrais lesson you don’t force your stiff neck to bend. Instead, you invite it to participate, you invite it to join in with the bending of your torso, the movements of your ribs, the vertebrae and joints of your spine, and your pelvis. You don’t crack your joints, you don’t apply force, but you act as if your whole body was one structure that’s all connected, and can gently be brought to move harmoniously and proportionally well distributed, as one, at once, as a whole person.

You are actively creating very light movements, a perceivable lightness, you apply a sense of agency to consciously produce movements that are light in nature. Like this, the bending will come easily, gracefully, safely, in its own time but soon enough, don’t rush.

You suggest rather than demand, you explore rather than direct, you enjoy rather than suffer. With a mode of easiness you lead yourself to greater enjoyment of the process, that is your life, and to the light of a better day. Rush slowly, my friend.