One of the most common postural challenges that I see affecting clients’ backs when they commence private Yoga sessions is “forward head posture”. It starts small but can lead on to shoulder & neck pain, headaches, upper back stiffness, and can also make us more susceptible to lower back injury.
Forward head posture, as the name suggests, means that the head sits a little too far forward, sometimes with the chin lifting. Over time, if not addressed this tends to worsen, putting a greatly increased load on your spine and creating a great deal of tension in your back and shoulder muscles. And when the upper back gets stiff and tense, the lumbar spine and hips eventually end up suffering with unnecessary compensation patterns.
Often accredited to the habit of looking at screens or phones, forward head posture can also happen as a result of a kindly, receptive, listening nature; I’ve known a couple of people who just habitually move their chin forward in deference whenever they’re interacting. But for me personally in my younger years I gained a forward head posture partly by unconsciously copying my father’s posture, by constantly reading music over a guitar, and just by being short and having to look up at people!
Forward head posture eventually ended up straightening the natural curve of my neck and created a lot of upper back and shoulder tension. Upper back stiffness meant I had to compensate with unnecessary effort in my lower back.
As well as learning to re-balance my posture, I used a restorative neck support to help return my posture to normal. These days I find I still have to keep a careful eye on my head posture, especially when driving or when I’m tired, but I can vouch for the benefits!
There are various ways to start re-balancing a forward head posture.
Ideally, you’ll feel the back of your neck lengthening and your head moving gently back while your chin comes parallel to the floor.
Try these and see what works best for you:
- Imagine a friendly soft hook, just under the the back of your skull where your neck becomes the back of your head, gently lifting you up tall through your whole spine.
- Feel the curve of the back of your jaw on each side, and gently draw those curves backward
- Take the patch of skin at the top of your front throat (where your throat starts to join into your chin) and gently draw it back.
Of course, doing this just once or twice won’t get you used to it. You’ll need to spend some time doing this as often as you can, ideally every waking moment, until it becomes normal for you.
It’s also very helpful to spend some time resting with the neck roll, to help soften the neck muscles and encourage a natural healthy curve in your neck.
You can use a rolled up towel, or anything similar as long as it’s even and soft. It shouldn’t feel like the roll is pushing against the back of your neck, but rather just filling in the space behind your neck.
You’ll need your forehead to be just a little higher than your chin, with your eyes naturally dropping downwards, so for many bodies this means using a folded blanket under the back of the head for a while, too.
Careful placement is so important in Restorative Poses such as this, since you can stay and rest for 10 minutes or more and let gravity transform your posture. Remember to use long, full exhalations and keep your breath unhurried and smooth.
You can use the neck roll along with the 3 Easy Restorative Yoga Poses for Back Pain Relief, which I describe here.
Resting on the neck roll, or in any of the Restorative Poses is a great opportunity to listen to a Yoga Nidra recording so that you can really relax your muscles and your nervous system and maximise the benefits of the pose. If you haven’t already downloaded my free Yoga Nidra Deep Relaxation recording, you can click here to download it from my post about Yoga Nidra.
I once had a fascinating conversation with an orthodontic surgeon who said if he could just get people to work on realigning their head and jaw posture, half his workload would be eliminated! Forward head posture can even negatively effect your thyroid and your sinuses. Notice how “aged” the forward head posture looks.
Also notice how it feels emotionally to lift up tall and light through the back of your head, rather than with your chin. When I stand tall in this healthy way, I always feel light, strong, and energised. It really is well worth spending some time to rebalance.
A video to go with this article is included in my Healthy Happy Back E-Course, which offers manageable step-by step techniques that you can choose from and slowly incorporate into your daily life. It’s completely suitable for beginners and anyone willing to slow down and take a gentle, easeful approach to rediscovering a healthier, happier back. Delivered via weekly emails for 12 weeks. Click here for all the details.
If you’d like a custom-crafted, individually tailored Yoga practice for your posture, including Restorative Poses adapted specifically for your body, click here to find out how to work with me in person or via Skype.
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