Monday, June 13, 2011

Kicking the Habit? Look Both Ways - and Free Your Neck

Today Oli Wiles, Feldenkrais® practitioner, questions the idea of kicking the habit and shows you some quick Feldenkrais tricks for releasing your neck.

Habits are a hot topic in Feldenkrais, and I've been thinking about them a lot as I've been cycling around Wellington this week.

Downtown, several one-way streets have recently been converted into two-way streets. The change has been front-page news, mostly because it hasn't gone smoothly. Many people have found it hard to kick the habit of looking in only one direction to cross those streets. A few have been hit by buses.

Check out the Stuff article: Blood on Wellington's new bus lane.

Replacing compulsion with adaptability

And maybe look left too . . .
Obviously, the habit of looking in that original direction - be it right or left - still has its place, and we shouldn't be aiming to kick it altogether. Otherwise, we'll just get hit by a bus coming the other way. Also, it's too easy to replace one limiting habit with another that may leave us equally unprepared for the next change.

Not all habits need to be eliminated. Many simply need to become less rigid or compulsive and more adaptive. We need to build a new awareness on top of them.

Good or bad?

Labeling a habit as "good" or "bad" can also be unhelpful. Things aren't always that clear-cut. For example, running every morning could get you fit - or it could wreck your knees. Drinking coffee obviously doesn't benefit your adrenal system - but it may get you through an important meeting.

The labeling may just send us into denial or make us feel bad. That's because our habits are often bound up with our sense of self.

Choice through awareness

So how does all this link to Feldenkrais?

The Feldenkrais approach to changing movement habits that cause pain or limit performance is to first slow our movements down. That way, we can become aware of - and accept - how we currently move. We can then explore other options from that starting place.

We look to expand our movement choices rather than replace or correct. After all, aping the "correct" way to move or stand, or using mindless repetitive exercises to elicit change, can often overlay tension on top of other tension or result in another compulsive habit.

Look both ways - and free your neck

Assuming that you're sitting at the safety of your desk right now, away from any moving traffic, let's begin a small exploration. Check out the movements in the video below.

A few weeks ago, I suggested similar movements to a woman who'd come to me before yoga class with a crick in her neck. She had woken up like that two days before and had not been able to turn her head to the right at all since. After less than four minutes of doing the movements, she had restored around 70% of her turning ability in her neck and was on a much faster track to full recovery.

You don't need to have such an extreme restriction to feel some benefit. Try out the sequence to improve the quality of movement in your neck and upper back and to relieve tension.

Obviously, this sequence is not intended to replace medical advice. Only do movements that feel 100% comfortable and safe. Go slow and easy - and enjoy!

Find out more about Feldenkrais at


Tim said...

Feels great! Thanks

Nicky said...

Hi Oli - this has been really useful in freeing my neck...thanks and hope to have a feldenkrais session with you soon! Nicky (friend of Pete & Browse)

Oli said...

Thanks Tim and Nicky, I'm glad it's helped you!