Please forgive my lapse in blogging for the past few months, I was busy giving birth. Twice. First, I had a beautiful daughter named Lilah, who is now 2 months old. And secondly to my first book, The Roll Model, which will be published in September.
These “projects” have been filling my head and heart simultaneously for the past year, but I am happy to say, I can now share some of my newer ideas again!
The first idea hit me hard on the head (relatively speaking) yesterday. I picked up a 15-pound bag of dog food for my puppy (oh yes, I also “birthed” a puppy recently too!) while out running errands on foot. I was carrying Lilah in her carrier, and had very few options in terms of how to walk the quarter mile back home carrying the sack of food without squashing Lilah. So I hoisted the bag of food on top of my head and voila!
The puppy food had just enough yield to slightly conform to the shape of my head, which made balancing it relatively easy. The bag of food was not light — 15 pounds is not like wearing a beret — and my neck and spinal muscles had to do quite a bit of dynamic stabilizing in order for that bag to not fall. They also had to inform me of their position so that I could avoid overloading one area of my neck over another. By the time I got home, my core felt worked out and my posture felt better than ever.
One step a-head
I forgot how great it feels to carry things on my head. I actually have a long history of walking with things on my noggin. During high school, I was obsessed with posture. I had read that sitting with good posture helps you remain more alert and minimizes falling asleep. The falling asleep part piqued my interest, as my first-period Physics class was so boring, I would actually fall sleep during class. A lot. So I needed some solutions other than coffee to help me perk up, and posture training was my bizarre way to keep up my straight A’s.
So I started to walk with books on my head, then my backpack, shopping bags, anything that made my spine and neck pay attention. Of course, my yoga practice benefited from all of this help, as did my balance and coordination for dance.
The long-term effects of head-carrying are that the larger and smaller muscles of the neck and spine activate in a different way than they typically do. Think about it: unless you are a breakdancer or perform regular Headstands, you are probably not placing any pressure on your skull that requires the motor and sensory mapping of your tissues from this vector.
Your body and brain thrive on novelty, touch and movement problem-solving. Most head and neck muscles are held for epic periods of time in one position, fastened on a computer screen or texting device. Your neck muscles strain to hold your heavy head from falling into your lap over the course of the day. For every inch forward your head hangs, it adds an additional 10 pounds of stress to your neck support muscles. This leads to aches, pains, headaches and more.
I highly recommend adding some head-carrying into your daily routine to strengthen those poor computer muscles and activate your deep core far away from your computer.
Use your head: Like daughter, like mother
Lilah is hitting new milestones daily, and right now, she is teaching me so much about how to hold her heavy head. For the first time in her life, she is able to hold the weight of her head perfectly balanced, just as I am attempting to master balancing dog food. Her body’s development is pristine and naturally novel. As her mama, I have to remind myself to use all the parts of me that are so easy to forget…
I should definitely continue to use my head before I lose it. A great parenting tip for us all!
[Reprinted with permission from Gaiam Life]
Read more about strengthening your neck muscles
Discover solutions for neck pain
This is absolutely what I need! Been struggling on how to fix my forward tiled head.
I love balancing things on my head to help build proprioceptive feedback to the verticality of our midline. However, books and buckets of water are tricky starting places and not practical when sitting at a desk for a while. An easy way to make a weight for the head is to get a strong ziplock bag – maybe the freezer version with thicker plastic, fill it 1/2-3/4 full will rice or beans or some mix of the two and seal the bag. Place the first bag in a second ziplock bag. (Basically, double bag it so if one bag breaks, you don’t have rice or beans all over your floor). Once you’ve found the right proportion of beans or rice in your bag, consider sealing the bag(s) with tape so as to minimize the risk of the bag opening and making a mess. If you tried to place the bag on your head now, the plastic would be too slippery to have it stay in place and it would fall off. One solution is to wrap the entire bag with something grippy but not too sticky, like tennis racket grip (found at a tennis store or a sports store like Big 5).
The next time you’re sitting at your desk or computer, place the bag on top of your head, ever so slightly posterior to the crown of your head in order to engage elongation of the posterior aspect of your neck and head. See how long you can keep the bag on your head before it falls off or you fatigue of the pose. Work at this regularly and see if the feedback from the bag can help you build your good posture endurance over time.
This is very interesting and something that isn’t common in our culture. I see how the weight allows for strengthening and can provide feedback for the muscles. Now I need to try this out!
I do this sometimes when I bring back heavy bags of dirt of compost from the store. It feels so good to have something to lift up into. Lengthening through the crown of the head is a common type of cue in a yoga class but this feedback actually teaches what that feels like.
What a fantastic blog!
It brought back the image of my mother, who is now 84 and lives in Spain, carrying the laundry on his head. She made a cylinder with a towel placing on top her head and the big laundry basket on top. 40 years ago in small villages in Spain , there was not washing machines, and the laundry was down in big pools outside the village. My mum walk like that every day… Now I know what she means when she said ” do some house work and stop all this exercises that you do!”
This is a great example for me to see the practical real life application of ‘closing the chain’ – how closing the chain gives the body more information – and in this instance – weighted resistance that would seem to be harmful to the neck – i was under the assumption that the neck was more delicate than this so I am thrilled to know that the muscles of the neck are so strong and can actually benefit from this exercise. I think of how elegant the photos are of women carrying baskets on their heads with such poise and grace.
I appreciate being reminded of how the body thrives on novel movement that engages problem solving skills coupled with the incredible power of touch.
Thank you for sharing this Aha moment of your life. It makes me think of Africa, where these women would walk for miles and miles carrying 5 gallons of water on their head every day.
Wow, super interesting that carrying items on your head can increase the strength of the neck muscles. I guess that is essentially what is happening in a headstand, just inverted.
If you are reading a lot try to keep the book straight ahead so you’re not bending the head down. I remember back in school, if I was studying a lot, I tried to put my book up on a book end. (those are the things at the library that hold up books on the shelf.
As far as putting much weight on your head, I wouldn’t. An old modeling trick to get one to maintain good neck posture (use a neck pillow), was to do that. I don’t think they do that anymore though…
This is such a simple way to work the often neglected head and neck muscles. It is even more applicable the 21st century with constant texting and/or working at computers all day sitting at a desk. This is a great alternative to doing headstands and other yoga poses that involve the delicate neck muscles. We can learn so much from watching babies develop in their first years! Thank you for the great article!
What a simple way in everyday life to give those often neglected head and neck muscles some love and needed attention! Holding our heads high positively affects our breathing, digestion, heart rhythm and nervous system. I enjoyed this article and love that we can learn so much from watching babies develop through the many milestones they encounter in their first years of life!
I have never thought about carrying things on my head before I read this article, but it makes sense. Being someone who sits at a computer all day, this will be a perfect thing for me to take the time to do. No special equipment needed. I’ll also take the extra time to be aware of my posture and re-position when I need to.
I have never thought about carrying things on my head before I read this article, but it makes sense. Being someone who sits at a computer all day, this will be a perfect thing for me to take the time to do. No special equipment needed. I’ll also take the extra time to be aware of my posture and re-position when I need to. Thanks, Jill
I don’t feel comfortable practicing headstand, but would like to improve my neck strength, what a great idea! I think I will experiment carrying things on my head too…. starting with a freezer bag full of rice!
Congrats on additions to your family! I enjoyed reading readers’ comments. I also did some research and found out that head-carrying is a controversial topic from the health perspective. Some research shows that women carrying weight on their heads suffer from neck pain and would rather avoid carrying anything. Nevertheless, I think I can give it a try to carry a single book or a saucer on my head to work on my posture!
This sounds like a great alternative to headstands, especially for someone whose body size may put their neck at greater risk. And as many others stated, women in third world countries do it all the time.
I have visions from old TV shows of young women walking around with books on their heads. I always associated that had to do with leaning proper manners, never did it occur to me that they were strength training their poise. Now I can see how the ability to balance something on our head can directly relate to our ability to maintain and use an organized spine. I think this practice will make an appearance in my home now.
My grandma always made holding books on my head to have the royal posture and look like a princess 🙂
But what really helped me to improve my head position which is YTU exercise BlockHead
Love this. It is also a reminder that actions and movements that come so naturally ( or out of necessity) in many areas of the world are sometimes forgotten by ‘Western’ society. Just like squatting instead of sitting, carrying loads on the head naturally wake up parts of us that have dozed off! Congratulations on motherhood ( both child and book!)
I read this whole article with a bag of dog food on my head! I feel great and I will definitely be trying this some more. This would be easy to incorporate into the sitting and breathing at the beginning of class too.
Looks like I’m going to start unloading my groceries while I engage my core and neck muscles ! Thank you for sharing your creative ideas Jill !!
I think I have become complacent about neck pain. I work sitting at my computer for emails/reading reports/writing reports/ etc. I sit watching tv, I sit talking to someone across the table, I text, look at my phone, I read my kindle… my neck is forgotten during this process. It is an eye opener that however that every inch of flexing the neck adds 10 pounds. I gotta remember that, for my neck’s sake.
I like the idea of balancing something on your head to put posture to the test. I am constantly telling clients how much strain we put on our bodies by having our heads forward, but this is an accessible way to put those theories to practice. I’ll definitely be trying this with my dog food at home!
Jill, I enjoyed your article. I did some training with Esther Gokhale a few years ago. Thanks for the reminder about caring some items on my head! Thank you for all the knowledge you have shared with us this week!
A few years ago I started feeling discomfort in my neck. I dismissed it because when I felt stuck I’d just turn my head a few times and it would pass. I’ve also had headaches for a long time. I have focused on the health of many parts of my body, but for some reason, never gave much attention to the my neck with which I seem to have a long distance relationship. Since starting the YTU training I have realised that I have awful neck position, with my chin jutting forward all the time like a chicken. It has never been so clear to me. In fact, just thinking about it, my head feels as heavy as bowling ball and it’s uncomfortable. I am looking forward to rolling out my deep scaliness, upper traps and SCM, to release the tissues and embody better neck position in the future.
Reading this article brings me back to India where women carry heavy containers of water /wood and walk for a long distance. I was so impressed by the daily chore performed by the women even though what they are doing is probably out of necessity. I can only imagine the concentration, balance neck strength and proprioception. Our bodies are truly fascinating , highly adaptable and teachable machines.
Thanks for this tip! Now that I get a break from studying, I have been trying to examine and adjust my neck and upper back alignment. This will be a useful tool to use!
What an honor to meet your adorable daughter today, Lilah. I remember reading this blog before teaching a posture workshop and how much it inspired me. I put a bolster on my head and felt the significant difference of lifting verses forcing my neck back to be aligned. I still use this in my yoga classes with the 3 B’s : blocks, blankets, and bolsters.
Congratulations on additions to your family. Forward head posture is very common these days. I agree stimulating the level 1 muscles of the cervical spine to better perform dynamic stabilization is necessary, I would love to know your ideas on the proper approach. Is there a standard corrective exercise protocol one should approach to help ensure that they are strengthening there neck muscles in long term sustainable ways?
5 years ago I took my posture very seriously and after about six months of really working at it I felt as though I had great proprioception and therefore perfect posture. Then, I thought I could stop working at it. Now I’ve just realized that my daily dizzy spells and nausea are caused by my super hypertonic upper traps, splenius capitus, and suboccipitals, which is all attributed to my crappy posture. I’ve, since realizing this…again, started to work on my posture. This article came at a great time. Thanks! And congratulations on your beautiful miracle 🙂
I took dance lessons from the time I was a little girl and all through college. I too was obsessed about posture….lot’s of books and other such items were often perched atop my head! Fast forward to today….computers, driving, cell phones, fast paced lives creating a vortex of blind non-awareness, flexed spines, zombie heads, and internally rotated shoulders! As a YTU teacher, my eyes are so open to seeing it not only in others but in continually catching and correcting myself, a practice in creating proprioception, alignment and ultimately creating a new normal for not only myself but for all I teach. That is the gift of the practice you have given us and continually do so through your insights and sharing. A special thank you to Lilah who helped mommy create this wonderful post.
Holding weight on my head has scared me for quite a while since repeatedly injuring myself when attempting headstands. I’ve been told I have a rather large cranium, and I know my neck strength could be better to support all of that weight. After learning more from your articles and YTU training, I look forward to applying YTU techniques to this movement. Dog food today – Salamba Sirsasana in the future. Thanks!
Especially in this age of constantly looking down to our phones, there seems to be more strain on the neck than ever before. Since in our culture, we dont have to carry heavy buckets of water on our head and travel for miles, iIt makes sense to find ways to strengthen the muscles around the neck and upper spine.
Currently in my first yoga Tune Up training and loving every bit of it. Tried putting 10lbs bag on the head and walking. neck muscles.felt good while doing and after I took the bag off. Thanks!!!
Congratulations on becoming a Mom! My daughter is one of my best teachers. I had no idea that for each inch your head hangs forward it adds 10 more pounds of stress. No wonder everyone has neck issues. I noticed reading the article I had my head forward. Even pulling my head back in place, I can feel the muscles working. My daughter just got a cell phone and I will pay more attention to the placement of her head. I will also make a game for her and her friends to start balancing stuff on their heads! Thank you!
Congrats on the baby!!
I will totally remember this when I am multitasking with limited available limbs.
First of all: I’m really looking forward to your book!
Second: You always have such great information in your blogs….knowing that the head in a forward position can add 10 lbs really provides a lot of motivation to keep good posture, sitting and otherwise.
Third: carrying weight on the head? Hmmmm, I don’t know. I have a scoliosis that although mild, provides a constant challenge to keep my muscles in balance and my awareness. Now I’m not complaining as it has taught me things about my body I probably would not have learned otherwise but I’m thinking that putting weight on the head would cause those imbalances to creep back in automatically trying to compensate. Does that make sense?
I have been painting walls and cutting in ceilings for the past two day. Since I wear bi-focal and have to bend back to see the cut-in line, needless to say that my neck and shoulders have felt the brunt of this work. I have been sleeping without the aid of my pillow for the last two night and have noticed that it has helped with the tension. After reading you blog adding weight at some point during the day may be a wise choice, I love headstand but do not really practice it often and adding weight and walking would help to strengthen those tiny neck muscles. Thanks.
Wow! An extra 10lbs for every inch of anterior head carriage. No wonder so many people have neck pain and headaches – including me. I love how you continue to come up with new and novel ways of caring for postural imbalances. Inspiration is everywhere!
Hi Jill! First, congratulations on the birth of your beautiful daughter! Wonderful blog post; while reading I was recalling being in India, and watching women working construction in long cotton saris hold metal bowls with concrete and rocks balanced on their heads. Trip after trip they would carry heavy loads with elegant posture from one spot to another. They were not, however, also carrying babies. I’m looking forward to the release of your book. All the best.
Since the yoga tune up training last week I have been unber conscious of the position of my head. I catch myself pulling it back in place and look forward to the day that this becomes a natural state of posture. I also no longer sleep with a pillow. It has been all of 3 nights and I actually do feel a difference already!. Next new thing to add to my list is the weight on the head challenge.
I love putting things on my head, the pressure actually does feel good. Carrying things on your head is common in other places of the world as is walking barefoot. It was considered better than carrying things on the back or shoulders for efficiency, It is certainly a great proprioceptive tool for assessing the spine!
I am reading your blog on my laptop sitting in a hotel lobby. My head is in a terrible position. And, the really scary thing is that I hardly noticed until I got to the end of the post. I am definitely going to spend more time noticing where my head is placed! Thanks for the reminder and congratulations on your beautiful daughter.