How to get rid of text neck without getting rid of your iPhone

As I said in my last blog, just telling people how they should stand with a so-called ‘neutral spine’, does not mean they will be able to do it. This is because how we stand, sit, walk or run etc. is the result of a lifetime of learnt habits that engages our brain and whole nervous system in a certain way.

For example, when we first learn to ride a bicycle, we are all attention with our nervous system on high alert – keen, of course, not to fall off! But once we’ve learnt the skill, our brain takes over the unconscious control of this skill and we are then able to ride without thinking about it. This frees us up our conscious brain to be engaged in doing lots of other things. Imagine if we had to think precisely about every action before we did it – human civilisation would scarcely have got off the blocks!

The good news is that, irrespective of age, our brain is a work in progress. We can rewire our brain to rid ourselves of bad habits (like text neck) and acquire good ones instead.

We do this simply by activating the brain through learning. When we are learning something new, MRI imaging shows the whole brain alight with the effort of paying attention. Once we have mastered or memorised the new skill, the surge of electrical activity diminishes as the brain creates a pattern of synaptic connections. It is as if the brain has downloaded the new skill into a memory template that can be re-activated whenever we need it and without our consciously thinking about it.

This is the genius of the Feldenkrais Method®. Everything we do involves movement somewhere in the body – even the act of thinking. Using slow, small and gentle, movements allows us to bring our attention to how we are currently organising our body to sit, stand, read, listen, run, do computer work etc. Slow and small is how the brain is best able to learn. And gentle movements, because we cannot learn when using unnecessary effort or in discomfort and even less so when in pain.

Once our brain is on alert, we need to pay attention not only to what difficulties we are experiencing but also to what works easily without any pain or discomfort. We are then sensing our own bodies – not being told what to do or imitating someone else or doing repetitive exercise without awareness. We are aiming to find out our own individual good position or posture – and not somebody else’s!

In fact, Moshe Feldenkrais took the view that there was no such thing as ‘perfect posture’. What was important was neutral posture – that is, a posture that enables you to take any action you want to from that position. So if you are threatened, you can quickly flee. If you are sitting, you can easily stand or move position and perform some other task without having to re-arrange yourself first. It is about learning to function more efficiently and with less effort.

I am convinced that only a recovery of this brain-based somatic (body) awareness amongst the general population will do anything significant to address the public health concerns of Dr Kenneth Hansraj[1] and others. Text neck is just the tip of the iceberg.

– Alan Cameron ©

[1] Assessment of Stresses in the Cervical Spine Caused by Posture and Position of the Head, Kenneth K Hansraj.