Recently, I have had a lot of neck tension, probably from carrying a heavy backpack through the busy streets of New York City every day, as I dodge and weave from one audition to the next. I was at the pool yesterday, and working on releasing some of that neck tension as I did my back crawl, using Alexander Technique to free my head forward and up. Trying really hard to release my neck muscles.
And then it hit me: the neck is a huge-ass muscle. Why was I trying so hard to relax it?
As an actor, I have taken a lot of movement training and have been taught to stretch by many a person. I have been given hundreds of methods and techniques to free and relieve tension. When I take a yoga or barre or dance class, instructors always say to avoid overusing the neck, to support the head, to reduce neck strain. I’m sure all of these things are accurate and necessary, taught by professionals who know what they are doing. BUT: the result was that I was conceptualizing my neck like some weak little new born baby that I needed to protect and take care of, as if it were a strand of hair or an ancient preserved violin string that could snap at any moment. I wasn’t envisioning it for the truly badass boss group of muscles that it is.
My Alexander Technique teacher, the great Debi Adams, refers to the wrists and ankles as the second and third necks. But what about seeing the neck as a third wrist? As I started to imagine my neck as an arm, with the palm of its hand at the base of my skull, and its fingers spreading to support the back of my head, my neck completely relaxed and I felt my skull come into balance. I realized that I was trying to use my head to relieve neck tension – what a fool. I should know by now in my Alexander training not to use my head.
So, I began turning my head from side to side. Wait. Stop. No. I began turning my neck from side to side and allowing my head to follow. Result: FREEDOM! I began to use my neck as a neck. Revolutionary. Instead of reaching my head away from my body, trying to stretch and free my neck (ultimately causing strain in my neck since the head doesn’t actually have any muscles in it to use to reach it away), I let my skull rest atop my neck and I let my neck take control.
As the great Lainie Kazan says in My Big Fat Greek Wedding: “Let me tell you something, Toula. The man is the head, but the woman is the neck. And she can turn the head any way she wants.” …So pretty much patriarchy had worked its way into my anatomy and was fucking with me.
Bye patriarchy. Get outta my head… /neck.
ps. In my research for this article, I discovered that giraffe necks only have seven vertebrae, each around 10 inches long, and the neck alone can weigh up to 600 pounds – wow!