When clients come to me with neck and shoulder issues, I can relate. A few decades ago I had three whip lash injuries in a row. The proverbial icing on the cake happened when I took a plane trip to Hawaii and a bag from the overhead compartment fell on my head.
My neck was messed up; for a few years in fact. My shoulders would spasm, sometimes the right one, then the left.
Through a skilled chiropractor, bodywork and gentle yoga my neck and shoulders today feel pretty good actually.
Though I am easily able to practice a head stand in the middle of the room, I have opted to let go of this pose.
Lately in my bodywork practice I encounter increasingly younger clients with significant neck and shoulder issues.
I contribute it to a syndrome that bodyworkers are starting to refer to as iNeck.
It prompted me to conduct a covert photo project. I started snapping pictures in coffee shops, on the street, the Muni, pretty much wherever I went. Sometimes people would look up perturbed, far more often their attention on the small screen was so intense, that I became largely invisible.
The weight of the head is heavy: the skull, the brain, the muscles and connective tissue and now you are looking at over 11 lbs. Each degree we bend forward adds more weight to the equation.
It was fascinating to see the amount of neck flexion my photo subjects would assume. Sometimes almost a full 90 degrees for an extended period of time.
It made me wonder: is this what I do to myself when I get absorbed in yet another useless article or check my Facebook feed?
Adding more stress to this posture, when we look intensely at the small screen, the eyes are working very hard and the breath slows down to a bare minimum, depriving the already strained muscles of needed oxygen. Often we have to squint and make an effort with the eye muscles, going from iSquint to iStare , leading to iSolation.
Do I need to trademark these applications now as they keep growing in popularity?
Looking at it more broadly, what are the psychological implications?
Way back when I was studying hypnosis, we used the presupposition that humans go in and out of trance states all day long. It’s an essential part of being human. During these states we stare in the distance, gazing really, the eyes become soft, we kind of day dream.
These states are healing moments that can in-spire us. New ideas often sprout up out of perceived boredom.
Our devices enable us to largely avoid these states and trance out at the screen instead. Staring and squinting rather then gazing.
The word for gaze and focus is the same in yoga : “drishti”.
Usually practiced as a soft gaze over the horizon line as if looking at a sunset over the ocean. It relaxes the eyes and calms the mind.
You may recall that your yoga teacher directs you, for example in Warrior 2 pose, to “gaze softly over the middle finger while noticing the breeze of the breath flowing in and out of the nose”.
In that sense yoga offers a temporary reprieve from iNeck.
Ironically even during a yoga class at least one phone will start to buzz. A reminder that iNeck is waiting, right around the corner.
Being totally honest, of all the addictive behaviors I have struggled with over a life time, phone addiction ranks first. I’m talking head and neck above shoulders first! I know this rationally and still can’t seem to break away from it.
The monthly respite I’m lucky to experience happens when I go to Wilbur Hot Springs. It’s a place where I’m completely off the grid and my phone doesn’t get reception. I’m privileged to have a work visit every month for about four days. As I’m taking a break from iNeck, I observe the guests benefitting as well, even unknowingly. In fact newcomers are sometimes annoyed when they find out there is zero Internet reception.
Later in the day I’ll work with some of them. Inevitably they will share with me that they experience most of their stress in their neck and shoulders. It has become almost a predictable refrain. I ask the questions while anticipating the inevitable answers.
I will gently open their bodies back up and they’ll soak afterwards. Then they’ll gaze quietly at the stars when the night falls.
Instead of being a pest and lecturing about iNeck, especially given my own addictive iStruggles, perhaps all that still needs doing is putting this photo collage in the treatment room.
Not just to remind them, but especially myself.
Great observations. It takes a concerted effort to refrain from constantly checking our phones.
Thanks for this reminder, Robert, and I am thinking that it is time for me to have another therapy visit with you. I am still up in Marin.