Several recent clients have been surprised by how tender the muscles at the base of their skull felt when we worked there. I also noticed this part of my anatomy on the last few miles of a recent ride on my road bike. I started feeling my neck getting stiff.
The muscles in question are the suboccipitals. There are four of them and they connect your skull to the spine and are also connected to your eyes. They help tip your head toward your shoulder, among other actions. When the suboccipitals are tight, you could experience headaches, neck tightness, or even back pain.
Common posture habits can contribute to issues with the suboccipitals. Typical culprits are forward head posture or habitually tipping your chin up (to look through bifocals or at a computer monitor).
Note how this rider’s head is tipped up to see the road.
To reduce tightness in the suboccipitals, some options to try include these easy things.
- Pay attention to your posture (Rolf Line) – if your head is forward, bring it back into alignment.
- Confirm that your computer monitor is at an ergonomic height. Usually, this means the top of the screen is at or below eye level.
- Notice if you tend to tip your chin up and bring it back to level.
- Make sure your glasses are properly adjusted.
- Avoid holding your phone between your head and shoulder.
For more relief, you can also use 2 tennis balls in a sock to massage the base of your skull. For instructions and photos, refer to this post by Strength on Demand.
Do you meditate, practice yoga or tai chi, or do another mind-body practice? If so, you have probably noticed that these types of activities help reduce stress. Recent research from Coventry University has identified one way that such mindfulness practices help your body.
This study is from the Brain, Belief and Behaviour Lab in Coventry University’s Centre for Psychology, Behaviour and Achievement. Lead investigator Ivana Buric says,
These activities are leaving what we call a molecular signature in our cells, which reverses the effect that stress or anxiety would have on the body by changing how our genes are expressed. Put simply, [Mind-Body Interventions] cause the brain to steer our DNA processes along a path which improves our wellbeing.
People who practice a mindful activity experience changes in their bodies. These changes benefit health by decreasing the production of proteins that cause inflammation. Inflammation is useful in the short term to boost the immune system and fight infections. However, chronic inflammation is linked to a higher risk of some diseases and mental health conditions.
Are you ready to experience the physical and mental benefits of a mind-body practice for yourself? Community education, faith communities and online resources are all ways to access classes and videos to guide your efforts. You may want to try several options to find the activity that is right for you.
Does your brain produce a lot of negative internal chatter? If so, it may be because the part of our brain that is the center for emotions, the amygdala, uses about two-thirds of its neurons to detect negative experiences or threats. This can result in our focusing more on the negative, even if we are experiencing as many – or more – positive things. This tendency is part of the human condition. While it still has usefulness in modern life, for many of us this system is over-active.
Our inner critic is looking for problems. However, we don’t need to listen to it. Being nicer to ourselves is a good strategy to improve our well-being and reduce stress. We can learn how to do this even if it is not our natural tendency.
Dr. Kristin Neff, a researcher who specializes in self-compassion, says it has three parts:
- Self-kindness: “Self-compassionate people recognize that being imperfect, failing, and experiencing life difficulties is inevitable, so they tend to be gentle with themselves when confronted with painful experiences rather than getting angry when life falls short of set ideals.”
- Recognizing our experiences are part of the shared human experience
- Being mindful or non-judgemental
Learn more tips, watch videos and find additional resources at Dr. Neff’s Self Compassion website.
Negativity also has an impact on the people around us. For tips on how to counter this in the workplace, see this blog post from Psychology Today: Are We Hardwired to be Positive or Negative?
I studied with David Davis when he used to teach at the Guild for Structural Integration. He is a gifted practitioner and instructor. Here, he talks briefly about integration, gravity and its effects in the body.
A strong set of core muscles in your torso helps keep your back happy and allows you to do the movements and chores of daily living. I’ve written before about the importance of the transversus abdominus muscle as a key to your core support.
Many people can benefit from core work – such as office workers, new moms, and athletes. For example, I discovered that I could do certain yoga poses better after I took up Pilates. I thought I wasn’t flexible enough but it turns out I wasn’t strong enough.
This set of exercises recommended by coach Timothy Bell will help build your foundation for balanced core support and strength.
5 Fundamental Core and Abdominal Exercises for Beginners
The first session in a 10-series of structural integration has a focus on increasing “vital capacity.” One element of that is working with the ribs and lungs to allow a person to breath more fully and freely.
Recent research has revealed another key role played by the lungs. Scientists at the University of San Francisco, using a new kind of imaging, found that the lungs of mice are a significant partner in producing components of blood. They learned that the lungs produced over half the platelets circulating in the mice’s blood. Platelets help the blood clot when you have a cut. Additionally, the lungs of the mice had a store of blood stem cells. The same could very well be true for people. Take care of your lungs so they stay strong and healthy, not just for strong breathing but maybe also for your blood.
UCSF News Release
Wanting to achieve a goal can be useful to get us motivated. However, “keeping your eye on the prize” does not give any clues about how to get to that goal. Whether it’s completing all 10 sessions of structural integration, walking 10,000 steps per day, or accomplishing results on a project, the path to success is often a more gradual process rather than one eureka moment.
Making a plan is an effective way to get to the eventual goal. Identifying steps needed to get to the goal and some milestones along the way is a good start. Thinking ahead about how to get around roadblocks that might come up and establishing routines for your project can be really helpful.
Obviously, things will occasionally come up that put us off track. No need to give up, just return to the process. Some advice I received is to follow the plan 80% of the time and ask for support or assistance when needed. I try to keep that in mind, be patient, and enjoy the moments on my way to the eventual goal.