Stress and discomfort seem to affect the neck more immediately than any other area. This is one of the key insights of the Alexander Technique. An important insight for Pilates teachers too as neck tension creates tension in every part of the spine. Theodore Dimon suggests that the level of tension in the sub-occipital muscles, a set of deep postural muscles at the base of the skull, informs all the extensor muscles of the spine. So a tense neck suggests a tense back.
A tense neck might also affect our mood, at least according to Doug Keller. In Ayurveda, “Kritatika” are two marma points just underneath the occipital bone on either side of the spine. Doug Keller suggests that apart from a postural role, these points bring “contentment and lubrication to the brain”. I can certainly vouch for the fact that they “bring contentment”. Whenever I work with these points in class, my clients seem to release tension almost immediately, not just in that area but also in the rest of their bodies – and possibly their minds, too, judging by the blissful look on their faces.
Lying down on their backs, I often start class by asking my clients to gently massage these points on their own necks. I then ask them to keep their thumbs on these points whilst placing their other fingers on top of their heads: A perfect position to gently move the skin of the scalp. They gently slide the skin forward, like a hood, towards their foreheads and noses, and then massage it back in a circular move, as if washing their hair. Remind them that this same skin is also covering their necks and back. This focus on the whole body usually immediately relaxes everyone’s shoulders and backs. We follow this self-massage with slow, active movement of the necks. Slow – moving like lava – so that we can still focus on the skin stretching. We flex and extend front to back and sideways. At the end we finish with some free movement, as if “untangling a delicate gold chain that is stuck between the bones”, an exercise from Anita Boser’s excellent book on undulation. I often repeat this whole sequence at the end of class and finish by letting my clients imagine that their eyes are gazing backwards at the Marma points as Doug Keller points out that some muscles in this area are also involved in the movement of the eyes.
For my clients I can certainly say that this sequence brings instant contentment – everyone relaxes immediately, however tense and stressed they were! And it affects the spine, abdominal muscles and posture so is a great preparation for class. A great sequence to release stress after teaching a class too – even for us teachers!
Recommended books: Theodore Dimon: The Body in Motion, Its Evolution and Design; Doug Keller: Yoga as Therapy, Vol One; Anita Boser: Relieve Stiffness and Feel Young again with Undulation.