Tutorial #3044

Head and Neck Mechanics

35 min - Tutorial


Take a look at the mechanics of the head and neck with this tutorial by Colleen Glenn-Wilson. She focuses mostly on flexion of the cervical spine, sharing techniques that will help you strengthen the muscles you need to lift your head up during Pilates work. She explains the anatomy of this area so that we can understand how it is designed to move, then offers simple exercises that will work the neck against gravity using the proper muscles.
What You'll Need: Cadillac, Reformer Box

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Jun 04, 2017
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I'm uh, calling Glen Wilson and I'm going to talk to you about nec mechanics and head mechanics, particularly about flection and lifting your head up while doing the piles work. And with me today is Kara. I've known Kara for a long time. I'm very pleased to have Cara here with me today. So go ahead and sit down a second, Cara, and I'll sit to a minute. Um, one of the most curious things to me is we say in philosophies that you lie down and work out, right? And then what is the first thing that you're asked to do? Okay. Lift your head, Chin to your chest.

And I started thinking, I think, you know, [inaudible] reportedly listened to, I mean, uh, observed, uh, babies, infants, animals and nature. And so some things like this for his studies and his technique, and I imagine watching a baby, he knew that that baby couldn't lift its chin to his chest, right? It took development. It took development in all the planes they had to get their extensors and their flexors and their transfers. They had to get, they had to get strong and they'd do all that moving and kicking and all this. So they had to get something else strong to lift their head.

And then you fast forward and we're adults and we go lift your chin to your chest. But the problem is today, appallingly, we're kind, Kinda like infants have of us. Like most people don't have the trunk and the strength to lift their heads. I mean, it's very interesting to me, but it is one of the first things that we're asked to do, like in the classical thing, you know, lie down, lift your head. So, um, I've had a lot of success with some of the things I'm going to teach you today. Uh, and um, I hope that you can apply them and they'll just be a little bit anatomy as we go. Go through it, but really get the idea, uh, get the picture of it, see what Kara's doing, see if you can apply it to yourself. Um, and don't do it too many times because the neck muscles, while we have a connection, a series of muscles in the front of the neck, the anterior lateral neck muscles, um, and they're primarily responsible for, you know, flexing, uh, turning the head side to side and things like that. And they're like guidewires and they're very small and they go in these different directions and that opposition is what helps you move your head.

But the muscles are here, there's, there's not that many and they get really fatigued very quickly. And that is one of the reasons why people do Palase and they go, oh my neck hurts, my neck hurts. But of course their orientation was in a large group mat where they could easily just throw their head up and you know, teacher can catch it or not or doesn't even understand how they're supposed to lift their head. So people can injure themselves and get neck strain and stuff when large group classes, cause they're really not ready for that large group class. So you have this part in the neck and these muscles only attach here.

They don't really, there's no northern muscles down the center of the spine except for some your, your hip flexors that attached to some main bodies here. So in the front of the spine, we have muscles that attach here and here and the core lay down the back of the spine there all the way down the back of the spine. And um, interesting enough you have more muscles on the back side. Obviously I just said that 17 or so and only about four or five that actually flex your head. So you can see how that correlation that, that imbalance. So when a baby's on it's tummy, the first thing it really learns to do is to lift its head from a prone position, not from a supine position because it's developed on this, we have more muscles back there. So when, when plot, he said he did all this study and the studies and then it's like that, I'm thought, well why don't we start in our committees and lifter bodies that way first with the way our world is today, that would probably be pretty good idea on the right. Nonetheless, we gotta learn how to lift our head from the, from this, this position up. So, um, we're just gonna play a little bit here on the Cadillac and with some props and see what to we get going on and see. Let you see a few things.

So I'm going to walk around back here. Care. Go ahead and lay down. I know on your back. So one of the first things I like to do is when someone lies down I, and I say lift your chin to your chest. Sometimes I just say that cue at, it's my information about how their body's working, right? But most of us have already seen a lot of different things and we know when they walk in the door because what affects the neck could be your feet, your ankles could be a funky knee, could be your hips. Obviously something in your spine could be something in your shoulders.

There is a myriad of things that affect the position and movement of the head. And there's no way in my scope of practice, I'm going to figure that out, but it's going to show up through the work. So the one of the first things I do is I'll have someone lie down in a constructive rest position like this. Um, and if they were at home, I might even have them put their foot like in a chair or in applied studio. I could put a box here. All the pressure's off the spine. So there we go. Well it can be a little higher, but for today we're like, so how are you feeling?

So one of the first things I look at is I look at this, um, uh, where this line is on the ear. And I don't know if you can get a close up or not and see it, but you can, you can see the neck position and most everybody, Kara has this little lines. It's really kind of the folds of the skin. But basically if that line isn't straight, then I understand that, um, the fluid in the ear is a little displaced and fluid is responsible for your balance mechanism. It tells you where you are straightened space. And that's why some of us can be like this. And we're like, I'm totally straight. And you know, you straighten them up and they're like, I'm not straight. Cause the fluids changed. The little hairs, the little signals they get are not correct. So one thing I'll do is I'll see that and if that is like lift your chin up this way Kara. No, no. I mean like chin, like they're, you know, they're really have maybe a kyphotic spine in their heads like this because they're doing this. Then I put, I put, uh, I put things here until at some point that this, the neck gets lengthened out and we'll go over that.

And of course a lot of us do that. But what happens when we lift the head up often then our shoulders too are tighten the front. Actually we'll hit that in a second. So this one of the things I would do, so, um, today I taught a mat class and we did some things to like kind of open up the back and I want to talk about that. Let me see. That's pretty good. Get a nice long straight neck. Um, so I think I'm just going to go on this end. We're going to go over a couple things. So Kara's head weighs anywhere from, you know, I don't know, eight, 10, 12, six pounds. It's, it's, it's heavy.

And so one of the things we're going to talk about is these anterior, uh, neck muscles, not the lateral ones, the SCM and how to get those a little bit activated. So I have my hand, I'm going to go here, I have my hands on her, turn your head on the, on the cranial base here. And I just gently take them and just gently kind of lengthen it out just to get, and I put my fingers in there and I just kind of feel what's happening up here around this ridge, but mainly, you know, you can feel tension, but I just kind of gently pull it out and I can see if there's a springiness are not into her neck and some people have really tight next. They, they, uh, they don't have a springiness like she has here. And then I gently asked them to pull their chin toward their throat or button it up, just lightly, not lifting. And then I just kinda guide them in that. So there's a fundamentally do we call it head nods and it's Kinda like this what she's doing with the exception of then I would have her lift your Chin a little higher and down.

And so it just gets this movement through the head on the neck. Now the neck is a bridge between the thorax and the in the head. So the strength of it and how we move and how we perform in our head is, is uh, it's pretty big. So we stay then with the chin down toward this rope. And then Carrie, you stay completely still and I'm going to lift your head and then bring it down and I'm protecting myself. So I'd let her draw and she really let me lift her head.

Often people will not let you let them hit their heads. They just cannot let that go and it comes down. So she's pulling this in one more time and then I hold it here. Now in this position about 30 degrees, I'm going to ask her to hold it there herself and I'm going to slowly offload my hands. And then you can see what happens even with Cara is that the chin came a little forward and down.

Do you feel it go forward and a little bit? Yeah, it's deep. Yeah, it's tough. So there's a little, we call it the neck. There's a triangle of muscles here that need to get strength, but before they can get strong to hold their head like that. And it's hard to just hold it like that. Sometimes we have to get some length up onto the other small group of muscles, the backer triangle up through here, which are stopping sometimes the head.

Now a lot of things will stop you from lifting the head up like we were talking about. But right now we're just addressing this. Okay. So this part of the next guy to get stretched in, this guy's gotta get strong, just like a lot of other muscles. So we will have her draw her chin down and button it in and I will lift it up again. And, and now I'm going to offload and we're going to ask her to do that again. And then slow. Keep Your Chin towards your throat more. Don't go higher. Just Chin to your throat and now lay your head down.

So what we're doing when she lays her head down from her chin in, as we're doing any centric loads, we're kinda loading these deep, deep muscles in the neck and having her lie down with taking my hands off. So it gets strong. Do you feel it through here? A little bit. So there's been people, I've done this with students, teachers as well, who they said their neck was really sore in here. I'm like, good. That's all right. All right. A little soreness there is not bad enough. We did this too many times. Her neck would get so fatigued.

So we'll just do one or two more. And then you have to think, well, how do I get to use your resources? How do I stretch? Or how do I let go of these muscles and the back? And there's a lot of different techniques to do that. Um, whether you go somewhere and have someone help you or in the studio with different prompts where we can learn to release that or over time just by strengthening the front or getting this feeling in the neck is really good too, isn't it? So the first 30 degrees of that neck lifting up is these deep intrinsic, um, a lot of the intrinsic, uh, interior neck muscles. Now we start to go higher. We do some of the lateral neck muscles, but what happens is from that position up to position and PyLadies go there.

Ah, that was better wasn't it? Did you? Yeah. Huh. So to go from there, don't, don't go out. To go from there to all the way up. Takes a lot of other muscles. So what are those muscles and how we get them strong? Why I love that the, the hundreds is because it's an isometric contraction of almost all the abdominals. You know that wrap around your back to lift your head up past that 30 degree angle takes a little bit erectus and it definitely takes your external obliques and those guys aren't going to work if your loan's not stabilizing.

So doing the hundreds, you know, can prepare you to keep your neck up longer. You can keep your head down. Just get this strong. So, um, back to that rest position here is that what happens is if she was up a little higher, the knees were up like this, the spine would let go and eventually the back of that neck and some of this would just kind of relax and let the tension out so that she had access then to maybe activate the front of the neck better. Cause sometimes we can't activate muscles because they're, they're uh, tonic and they'd been so tight for so long, they're inhibited and they won't fire. So if you can allow them to release or like I put my fingers on there and kind of massaged her back, putting blood flow in it, they can kind of let go, relax. Um, and then they might build a stretch out a little bit. I mean, just doing this for a lot of people is great, isn't, it's like, oh my God, the spine goes down and these ribs, so we just got through talking briefly about these abdominal muscles.

So a lot of people have these really tight ribs and they're up and they're a little bit tight in their back. And if they cannot get these ribs down, they're never going to lift their head properly. And they're most generally always going to have struggle and neck pain because keep your ribs up, but don't do this very hard and try and lift your head. I mean it's like almost impossible. Right? And we see that often. So then they can't lift it this way. I'm going to do this cause I want to hurt you, keep your ribs up.

They can't do it this way. So then they got to get that chin to their chest, dammit. So the push their chin forward and that way and that, that still helped her pull her ribs down and that's exactly what we don't want. Right. So I'm going to have her put her hands here. So circle back around to we have the, the length of the neck. We have this even, I'm gonna pull her down one more time and I'm going to lift her head. And now I want you to button your Chin towards your throat. Keep that, keep it.

Now let your shoulders relax. And now from here, press your breastbone toward the mat a little bit and not your shoulders. You guys see the shoulders go on and now let your obliques kind of work and lift your chest up. Not forward, up, up, up. Now you see her head is come back. Is following this, the, um, the spinal movement. Did you feel that like that? So often in [inaudible] we have this, it's one of my big things. Now we have this really strong lat and we need lot work.

Don't get me wrong, especially down lower, but we press it down too hard and then it over tightens and puts tension into that upper trapezius. And it hurts like boogers to lift your head, right? So I want this totally relaxed. This time is Kara. And I'm going to help you. Isn't it nice to have somebody lift your head doing bladder? It's like, oh please hold my head up. Alright, so we're here. 10 n let the shoulders relax completely. Yes. And now from here, breastbone down ribs.

Funnel a little forward and then your heart lifts up to the ceiling. And now that's good enough. Now bring your eyes towards your belly, not your head or your chin or your chest. Your eyes. And I'm going to let go. And you're going to hold that in the back of your neck here. Think soft and long. Soft and long there. Now can you lift up and go to your shoulder tips? Yes. With your body.

Again, think long here. So you can think two things. Button up here or length in there. Perfect. How are your shoulders? Good. That was good trek. All right, so how did that feel? Yeah, great. Very good. So would she have the abdominal, the abdominal neck endurance to hold that for a hundred times? Maybe you do pretty well with it, but a lot of us don't. And then the head starts going forward. So when our head goes forward, we all know it doesn't feel good, but what happens is the more superficial muscles that attach up here and, uh, in these areas actually start taking over and they get, you get this pulling sensation forward and then the chin actually goes forward and you actually reinforce really, really tough, um, poor patterns already there. Right? So, um, so how, if it was, so I'm in this position, if I took away the distance of gravity, that would probably help me.

So she didn't have to lift her head from so far up and it was already kind of partway there. Then she would have less distance to work and she could strengthen and that range and then eventually worked down. So in some cases, I really, really do that. And um, we'll, we'll, we'll demonstrate that. And then when they exhibit that kind of toughness to lift their head up like that, there's a couple of other things I'm always going to address and that is course gonna be the, um, strength, but also the flexibility in the body in different areas depending on the posture. So if you have someone who's really weak in the upper back and their shoulders are rounded forward and there's a lot of tightness through the front, you know, I'm going to be using, um, barrel work, I'm going to be using all kinds of things to like open the front and strengthen the muscles in the back that are weak so the head can be free to access the muscles that needs to, to lift the head properly. Makes Sense, doesn't it? So that that just takes time. But if you really know what you're looking for, you can cut that time Oh, and down a lot.

So another thing I'll do is obviously I'll keep the head down for hundreds and I don't ask them to keep lifting their head through a, an individual session. Um, and you know, doing it inappropriately, I just don't do that. Um, one of the thing I like to do is when the shoulders are forward and the muscles are really tight, is I will stick something, I'll use this as a little bit of example. This is, this is too big, but I'm only gonna use the end of it. Like that. Say if I had two tennis balls and I put one here and it put one here and actually had them on the reformer. So while this is here on this left shoulder, carer can probably attest that what's happening is the front of her shoulder is starting to relax and then that relaxing the tension to here. So when they're this tight and then there's no space here, the muscles in the front of the neck and here and you have some major plexes here, nerve flexes that affect blood flow to the brain, eyes and everything.

So when this is tight, it's, it's a, it has a big effect on the body in a negative way. So I would put two things here and they might run through a nice reformer workout. I might leave them here for a little bit and do some lower abdominals. And then this will start to let go because when you support the muscle and that tightness, it's just a really simple concept that let's go. In fact, Kathy grant was, was the one person that really taught me so much about that. She used so many balls and cushions and she'd get me all propped up and below. All right.

And then I'd be like [inaudible] and she had asked me to get one muscle and move it. But everything opened up cause she supported muscles and a, there's all kinds of modalities like that today where you do that. But we can do it really simply just doing that. So then I would take that away and then often the shoulders, even in one session I can get the shoulders opened just by doing that technique and then I can help them a lot more with their neck. So we're going to take the shape that Kara has. Um, uh, also I think before we go more and just kind of put that pattern through, um, exercises. I want to do the, I want to do the same thing in extension cause you know, we can lift it up this way, but how do we lift it this way? And we'll just hit both of those two for today and start looking at them, you know, in movement. So, um, why don't you do it one more time.

I want the arms here, like you're going to do the hundreds and now I don't have to say button up your chin. There's, like I said, you can think long in the back of the neck or you can think but not the front of the tin and lengthen to hover. Use the muscles that come up about 30 degrees and then start letting the rectus is important and the ribs. But don't think forward. Think up and lift your chest and diaphragm a little up and then bend in the upper back. So let's just try, so now lift your head off the match and towards your chest and that. Nice. Yes. Look at that. That would just bring you up if this wasn't here. Wasn't that, that was beautiful. Yeah, that was even different than in the class. Yeah.

So I think you guys can probably catch that. It was like, Woo. There she went. So the heads heavy. If it's offered a little back when you're going forward and when you're going back, it throws off the whole movement. You can, you can work so much more at ease. Now we didn't say going back then we'll do the extension. So let's take this down. So you have your rest position.

You might have to stay there for 20 minutes for that neck releases, right? So then I'll put this down. Um, so, so here, lift it again. Yes. Now keep straightening your legs for me, Huh? And then just do a roll up. Good. We're watching her chin right now. [inaudible] now she goes forward. What do most of us do? Drop the head. Well you get, that's good. I don't mind this. That's fine. In fact, get there and flex your feet. But what I don't want is that head going forward.

Can You keep your Chin in line with the bending of the spine from here? So if you're going to bring your head to your knees, do it from here and do it from there. And then your head and arms and shoulder follow the bending of the spine. Yes, that feels different. Doesn't it now she would have rolled back. She has to keep her head. I think of that Mama Kitty cat right here. Right.

Keep this head now that's all. That's a true chin to your chest and see then her seventh cervical bones really sticking out. Right? So the bones of the neck are more rectangular and they, they're a lot more mobile than the rest of the spine. And that's the biggest spinus process we have. So it's okay. I mean it is designed to move. However, I don't want you to, uh, when you, when we're moving backward, we often let the head hang, which does, these are spine sheers, the spine.

So can you stay round and keep your head in line with the spine? Arms in. So roll back, keep it here, there. Keep rounding to the spine, but keep the chin this pulling back a little bit more and ready? Try it again. So she's gonna to go in. Yes, she's really bending here. Like go the neck. Just keep it in that shape. That's beautiful.

And now she'll back keeping. Yeah, I it will be some maybe pull this back. Pull this back. Yes. You get an actual longer curl, like a longer bone by bone. So one more. Yes. She's already done a million of these today. Right there. Stay there second. That's it. So start here and then think of this lengthening to there.

Just keep pressing gently into my hand as you round the spine. More round the spine. Yes, there it is. You feel the difference now? Yes. Maybe the camera caught it, but it was a, it was much better. And actually you did more abdominals and it carried you right through. Totally different. Can you do it yourself?

I don't know if [inaudible] Chin towards your throat a little bit towards your throat. So the image of length through here. Yep. There you don't have to come up. [inaudible] yes. This pulls into my hand. A Little Chin to your throat. Chin to your throat. Button it in. This pulls back as better. Alright, so we get the idea. Maybe we cut that person. That was good though. Then it moved much smoother.

Do you feel the difference? Yeah. So that's forward. And so what are the exercises we do where we round forward and roll back or stay in a rounded position like it's, you know, in the beginning with a Romanos mothers, teachers, we were always taught that, well, you know, you work into the center first and saw this head forward and so, you know, it's fine, we can do that. And we really got to get that head. So one way to support this kind of movement, as I said before, it's like, well what if we bring it up a little bit? Now I know there's some schools I've seen, I actually worked on, when I worked with a, um, Elizabeth Jones was there, talked about, and Ellen heard me, they actually have slant beds like this. So you start to roll up and you don't have to lift your head so far from gravity. And so we can use like a, this kind of a cushion or we can use a, uh, a ball, which I'll show you how to do.

And you can start with your knees bent or straight. And that's not the important thing. Now, can you draw your Chin in? I first need to see, yeah. Not so hard, but we first need to see volume, right? Yeah. And then keep moving it a little bit. Boom. Chin in towards your throat. Keep coming. Keep coming. That's far enough. No, go back. Keeping that shape. Yes. Keep going back. Stay right there. And this end here brings you back up. Two inches. No head, no neck or your shoulders loose. Good. Come up, come up, come up, come up, and then go back from your rib cage. Nice. And come down. Right.

So let's go. We need to do this and a few other exercises, but let's go onto your stomach for a second. Now we're prone. Go ahead and put your forehead down. So just that little bit of the little fundamental neck. Now that we didn't, didn't the B we just did and we kind of rolled up through so beautifully. I just want to touch on that position on your tummy. Uh, just briefly. So here's the same area. And um, why don't you put your hands down by your side. So I know it's kinda tough sometimes in the nose. So where she's gonna uh, just button her chin a little bit toward her, just a little, and then hover your head up. So here we are, and now to do extension to start it and it's a whole nother chapter.

Um, we actually start here and lift the chin forward just to there and then come back. So this is that fundamental head nod that we did when we were supine and is the beginning of our extension. But it's important to actually do that sometimes and then come down from there. She could use her eyes and use your body and come up. But I just wanted you to see that when you're lying on your back and you're doing this, you're actually, you can actually kind of bending into there and then lengthen it one more time.

And then we're gonna finish with a few of that beautiful neck movement in some other positions and gravity yourself. Yes. So you reached the chin forward and long. Nice. And come down. So how did that feel as who they are? Carer? It felt strengthening, didn't it? Good. Alright. So sit back on your bottom and so that you can actually see as well.

And we'll hit that another time that that can be the beginning of your, uh, your backbend. All right. So we're just do one or two things just in a different shape in space, which would be, why don't you kneel right here and turn around. I know you're warmed up. Uh, and uh, I was thinking of a, a thigh stretch and then pull the bar to your chest and then now we're loading it. So once you get the neck position, you're going to load it with springs in different places and gravity, building strength and challenging that position and movement. So it's a, it's a hole. It's a whole neuromuscular party. It's like, whoa. Okay. Only if you're a pilot geek though. All right, so you're kinda along, I don't know that I will end up using this after all. So, so we get everything connected, right? Tailbone, pubic bone lift.

Uh, you can keep your chin towards your throat for now. Go ahead and lean back, bring your bottom towards your heels. Go, go, go, go, go. Pull the bar to your chest, dive your rib cage forward. That's it. Go. This is not even very nice cause that's really heavy. And then come up, bring your neck with you. Bring your neck with you. Yes. All right. So you know all the springs, you know it's, it's challenging way where you are in gravity, all that kind of stuff. So you get two more tries to see if you can work it but not kill it.

Right. And get that shape back. You go hamstrings to your calves. Lifting bar to the chest round. Yes. Right through there. Get it, get it. Get it. It's very hard. Come up. Lift this with you. Yes, yes. Whew. Of course. We're requiring a lot of these. One more time. Breathing in. Exhale, breathe it. Breathe it. Oh and come up. So that was a real, yes, that was a real, that was a super challenge. How about do a roll up with the bar? We've already done it, but we'll do it here. [inaudible] good.

And I think you can, yeah, go ahead and just roll back. Now you have the supporting you. So just do a few this way. Yes. Kara, let the spine bend and the head and neck will go with it. Yeah. Chin it a little more. Yeah. [inaudible] all the way back. One more time. Bend. He lifts. Let the spring. Yes. Chin towards his road long. You actually, you've got a beautiful, keep it going. Keep it going. So that's like a roll up, but you're actually using this to kind of help you do that. That's enough. They can see that shape. Um, and then what about one more? We were going to do a big one.

Okay. We just got to do it. Jumping, jumping over and then we'll be done. Jumping the Leia. This. All right, so you're going to do, um, a pull up and here when you get your feet in here, tighten that up. Yep. We're just gonna do it. When you get your feet up and you hang and then you curl that pelvis up, you're going to be getting this position. And then I want to see this lift and then that upper neck Reala, you know, just do the deal and see if you can focus on your neck. Right? So bring your feet up. Sit down first.

Give me three Ben knees in a little teeny curl one [inaudible] without letting this come forward so much. Yeah. And to now, press out heels down. Start curling here. Keep your head where it is. Straight legs now straight legs curl up. Keep your eyes on the prize as you come up. Chin in.

Stay there as long as you can. So you get the stretch. Now extend, pull the back forward, let the chest go. Then eventually lift your chin. So you get that and then this Benz of the head can finally go back. Now come forward and pull three times. Pull one pull to pull three and that will strengthen the neck and come down. Bend this knee and put it on the mat if you can, the whole knee.

And then step off that leg off toward the floor. Maybe. Yes. Thank you for that beautiful demonstration of that pulling up and hopefully you have a better idea of how to work that neck from gravity flexing forward into your work using the proper muscles. Thank you.


1 person likes this.
Loved this tutorial. Already using some of these concepts but so nice to see progressions of where it can go.
3 people like this.
Thanks Colleen. So clear and concise. Great to see your hands at work.
2 people like this.
Voting this the most valuable Tutorial I have viewed!
Patty Hafen
Loved, loved, loved this. Thank you for sharing your knowledge in such a clear way.
1 person likes this.
Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge. I appreciate it.
1 person likes this.
Great! Loved it too. So many people have tension when doing 100. Thanks for sharing Colleen.
Thank you Avishag for your comment, let me know how it goes for you as you apply this knowledge. So glad you got something out of it.
Hi [Kathleen,
Wow, what a thing to say with so many, many posts available for education. I am honored, let me know how it goes as you apply what you have learned.
Thank you Kathleen!
Great video! Lovely explanations/cues and so pertinent for so many clients! Cannot wait to try this with my client tomorrow!
Wonderful, drop me a line and let me know how it goes. Really.
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