neck muscles

neck muscles

Postby Louis Swaim » Mon Dec 01, 2003 6:38 am

Greetings,

One thing that I’ve found helpful in studying the taijiquan classics is to approach them as records of experience. The authors of these documents may not have had the benefit of modern systematic research methods, but their findings seem to have been empirically based. To be sure, the taijiquan classics are often laced with poetic turns of phrase, and allusions to philosophical, cosmological, and self-cultivation traditions, but I think that at their core, these texts reveal the experiential insights of masters who devoted hours and years of intensive training to their art.

Some time back I was doing some searching on the Internet on some subject (I’ve forgotten what), and I came upon a number of leads regarding research into the role played by the suboccipital muscles (at the base of the skull) in, 1) the tonus of the lower body, and 2) the body’s proprioceptive ability. Proprioception is one’s ability to sense one’s position in space and gravity, the relative movement and speed of torso and limbs, and the amount of force appropriate to perform a given task.

Some recent research has shown that the lengthening and relaxation of the upper neck muscles have a notable influence on the flexibility of the hamstring muscles in the legs, and in the resulting greater range of motion in the hips. Here’s a link to just one abstract of these findings:
http://www.somatics.de/NeckAndHams.html

By and large, this modern research seems to be geared toward therapeutic ends. That is, because people, say, with neck injuries, have trouble maintaining their balance, it has been found beneficial to prescribe therapies that relieve tightness in the neck muscles to help resolve the balance issues. The proprioceptive capacity of the suboccipital muscles seems to play a major role in the body’s ability to equilibrate.

What strikes me about these findings is how closely they seem to resonate with classical taijiquan postural requirements. The formula, “xu ling ding jing,” is notoriously difficult to capture neatly in a succinct English translation, but it clearly has to do with an upward lifting sensation at the crown of the head, and a concurrent “emptying” or loosening and lengthening of the musculature in the neck. (The fact that it also evokes an “unclouded mind”—xu ling bu mei—makes it all the more efficacious.) Yang Chengfu specifically says to avoid stiffening the muscles in the neck in his explanation of this requirement in the first of his Essentials. The related formula, “ding tou xuan” (suspend the head), in like manner calls upon an image grounded in a sensation one can identify and repeat. These are experiential formulae, not abstract or far out theory. Modern researchers seem to think their findings about the importance of these small muscles in the neck “extraordinary.” But early taiji masters noticed the significance of “xu ling ding jing” long ago in the optimizing of equilibrium and in increasing dexterity.

Take care,
Louis
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Postby JerryKarin » Mon Dec 01, 2003 7:32 am

My apologies for accidentally deleting the previous incarnation of this thread in order to solve another problem.
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Postby Michael » Mon Dec 01, 2003 8:07 am

Louis,

I will be getting back to you with a response from PT friends.

Michael
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Postby Wushuer » Tue Dec 02, 2003 5:49 pm

OK, I will try again. Last time I responded to this thread, my reply got posted as a whole new thread. I'm only guessing, but maybe I replied as Jerry deleted. I didn't have time that day to look into it, but it all seems to be worked out now.
Anyway....
What I said, in brief, is that I can personally attest to the problems of trying to do TCC with a bad neck.
I have cartiledge loss between C5 and C6, if I remember my Cx's correctly, that causes a constriction of the nerves, which causes sever pain in the left side of my body, numbness in all my extremities and an almost total loss of co-ordination.
The damage is job related, my old job fortunately my new one doesn't have the same risk, and I didn't notice the problem until after I had stopped practicing TCC for a couple of years.
When I realized I was losing my co-ordination I started back to training TCC, my old Wu style, on my own.
I did get a little better, but not much. I started training YCF style, did get some better, but again not much.
In the end, I had to seek out an Orthopedic Surgeon. Fortunately I got a good one, who decided that surgery was not necessary and who sent me to see a PT.
The PT was great and after much therapy my problem was greatly relieved, though not cured. I still get occasional flare ups, mostly due to very cold, or cold and wet, weather.
My PT is convinced that it was my continuing practice of TCC that made my recovery nearly complete and in the shortest time he said he's ever seen anyone recover from such a severe problem.
When you have problems in your neck, you have very little balance. It becomes difficult to stand up, much less in anything resembling a normal way. You can barely walk and then it's not in a straight line. Moving anything hurts, badly. Even the parts of me that were numb seemed to only be numb to everything but pain. Pain I could still feel.

Now, all that said, it was TCC that kept me from having the problem until I did, I'm sure of it. I worked in the CCTV industry for most of my time at Wu's TCC Academy and had no symptoms of neck problems. I never thought twice about working over my head or tipping my head back to watch while I pulled wire. Never had a problem.
But after I stopped training...
Man, the problem reached out and whacked me in jig time.
It was TCC that eventually lead me back to recovery, as well.
Emptying the neck, keeping the head top suspended, and while I know the Yangs don't advocate it I still tuck in my chin as well, as the Wu's taught me to do and my PT said was the single coolest thing he'd ever seen for someone with neck problems.
My PT now teaches all of his patients with neck problems to do these things. He says his patients have been reporting almost immediate relief from pain and faster recoveries if they do these things.
My PT now wants me to teach him TCC. I have given him my instructors card, don't know if he called him or not.

So listen to your teachers when they tell you to "empty the neck, suspend the headtop" and I will add the Wu caveat of "tuck in your chin". Which means to empty, suspend and then keep your head perfectly still, then move your chin down towards your throat using only the "hinge" at the base of your skull (your headtop will rise up when you do this, you can feel it). This further opens the spine and neck and, especially if you have neck problems, it keeps your head in the proper position.
Gives you a hell of a double chin if you've got a few extra pounds on you, like I do. So if vanity is a problem with you....

If I can now perform TCC with some level of accuracy after all that, imagine what you guys can do if you just keep healthy in the first place......
Take care of your neck!!!!
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Postby Wushuer » Tue Dec 02, 2003 6:19 pm

Oh, one more thing. It's quick, I promise.
Do you want to know if you're standing correclty? If your neck and spine are straight?
Sure you do.
Then find a nice, flat wall, one with a minimum, or total lack, of molding along the bottom. Stand a half step in front of the wall with your back to it. Now get into preperatory position, don't forget to bend your knees, don't forget to suspend and empty (tuck too or this won't work I hate say).
Now, take that half step backward to the wall, make sure your feet are flush against it and your body is as flat against the wall as you can make it.
Is your neck flat against the wall? Is your spine flat against it all the way down? Is your waist even and flat against the wall?
If not, you're not straight, your head is not suspended and you are not tucking in your hips well enough.
Try to flatten yourself against that wall a few times every day. Relax what needs relaxing, tuck in what needs tucking to make that back and neck flush against the wall.
Remember that feeling of straightness when you get there and try to do that all the time.
My PT did this for me, unknowlingly giving me the exact same test the Wu family used to let us know if we were were using proper posture.
If I'd have kept this up instead of getting lazy, I wouldn't be in the mess I'm in.

[This message has been edited by Wushuer (edited 12-02-2003).]
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Postby psalchemist » Tue Dec 02, 2003 7:09 pm

Greetings Wushuer,

I attempted the experiment you suggested.
I can see what is to be acheived by this position, it's purpose...
But myself, am completely incapable of aligning my neck with the wall.

Everything else seems alright, but the neck...forget it, I don't think I could ever remedy that 'defect' completely...something to do with my personal build, I guess, don't really know. There's a prominent curving space in between the occipital band behind the ears to the top protruding bone at the base of the neck, enough to slide my hand under.

Do you think this can be remedied?

Thank-you,
Best regards,
Psalchemist.
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Postby Wushuer » Tue Dec 02, 2003 9:22 pm

Psalchemist:
This is normal.
Don't worry about it, especially as this will make you more tense, causing you to have a greater curve.
Not too many people get there completely, especially on the first try. It took me a year the first time, then it took about three months after my injury to get my neck completely flat.
How I fix this is to first relax, relax some more, then relax some more.

You're still not relaxed enough, you know.

Now, get as flat as you can against the wall again, and rather than concentrate on raising your headtop, concentrate on "tucking in your chin".
I put the quotes on that because this is how I was told, thousands of times, to do it. I don't know another way to say it.
My YCF instructor says, "raise the headtop", but didn't know what I was talking about when I asked if we should tuck in our chin as well, and he doesn't seem to, so I don't know if the Yangs do things this way. When I look at pictures of YCF, YZD, YZJ, YJ, they all seem to have their heads in this position, though maybe not as deeply "tucked" as their Wu family counterparts.
Now, I (me, myself, and the whole of WTCCA) get to that same place more easily by "tucking in the chin". I don't think it's anything but a battle of semantics, because we're going to roughly the same place when we're done.
I don't know why, but I do know that it works easier for me if I empty the neck, raise the headtop AND think about tucking my chin in closer to my neck, all at once.
My PT will attest to the fact that when I do this I open and extend my neck and spine from below my shoulder blades (sorry guys, that's as technical as I can get, I didn't study anatomy) to the base of my skull.
He worked on doing this himself until he got it right and now he shows his patients this as well.
All I know is it works a lot better if you "tuck in your chin". For me, my PT and all his patients, at least.

Now, for the caveat....
If you don't want to do this, don't.
I am in no way trying to say it's necessary or vital for YCF style TCC.
What I am saying is that this is how I learned to "raise the headtop and empty the neck", and my PT thought enough of it to learn how to do it from me and now he teaches his patients to do so as well.

I get flat, my neck, my back all the way through the waist, right up against that wall.
I do it by "tucking in my chin", "tucking in my hips" (let's not go there on the "neck thread"), opening my spine, rounding my chest and relaxing my "waist" and lower back.
That's how we used to test for straightness at WTCCA, that's how my PT tested for it when I was in PT.
It may not be the same in YCF style. They may emphasize the head at an entirely different angle. It may even be advised against.
I don't know.
If anyone does, please let us know.
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Postby Louis Swaim » Tue Dec 02, 2003 9:34 pm

Greetings Wushuer,

Thank you for the excellent feedback. Your personal experiences clearly speak to the importance of the neck muscles in equilibrium, and the efficacy of taijiquan postural prescriptions in monitoring and adjusting the optimal position of the neck.

I’m aware of the added prescription in the Wu tradition of tucking the chin, and have found it to be useful. However, I would caution against exaggerating the tuck, which itself can result in too much tension in the neck. The way my first sifu demonstrated the alignment was to grab a bit of the hair precisely at the baihui point at the crown of his head and pull upwards. The chin falls into place in a tucked position as a result of the upward lifting at that point. So I see the chin tuck as being a result of the lifting of the crown, rather than the method to lift the crown. This is kind of a subtle distinction, I know, and the sensations involved are subjective. Basically, there is a “trick” to getting it right, and the notion or imagery of the head top being “suspended,” while physically not real, seems to help generate exactly the right setup so that everything falls into place naturally from there. Some people, by the way, make the mistake of imagining the “crown” to be the center top of the cranium, but it’s actually a bit back from the middle:

http://www.acuxo.com/meridianPictures.asp?point=GV20&meridian=Governing%20Vessel

I’m also not sure I agree with you that the head should be held “perfectly still” as part of the xuling dingjin requirement. This too may unconsciously contribute to tension in the neck. In fact, in doing the xuling dingjin setup in the preparatory posture phase, there are occasionally some very slight involuntary left-right swings of the head as the muscles move toward optimal tonus.

I have similar reservations regarding your wall exercise in which you attempt to flatten your neck against the wall. The spine has natural curves, including at the neck and at the small of the back. An injunction to hold the spine “absolutely straight” is not only impossible, but also attempting to do so could be harmful. There may be therapeutic value in the wall exercise on its own merits, but I would disagree with the suggestion that it’s a good test for whether you’re “standing correctly.” In taijiquan posture, the spine is elongated, and to some extent the curves are softened, but it is never “straight.” I learned and practice a similar exercise, done on the floor, called a pelvic tilt. In this exercise, you tilt your pelvis to facilitate the flattening of the small of your back against the floor. In taijiquan posture, this area, the mingmen, is relatively “filled out,” but it is not absolutely flat or straight. Individuals, of course, have different physiques, so the natural curves vary from one person to another, but in no case should one try to achieve a “straight” spine without its natural curvature.

Take care,
Louis
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Postby psalchemist » Tue Dec 02, 2003 10:20 pm

I note that the G-20 point at the crown of the head coincides with one's "sworl" of hair(I think everyone shares this same location?)...Is there any explanation why ones hair grows in such a distinct, habitual, common pattern at that particular point, necessarily?
Or is that one of life's little mysteries?

Unusual as usual,
Psalchemist.
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Postby Wushuer » Tue Dec 02, 2003 10:37 pm

Louis,
I do know what you are talking about with the "natural curves" of the spine. That's why I mentioned "tucking in the hips", which I have no idea how to relate to a YCF perspective. This helps to keep the natural curve of the spine, even when it is elongated and as straight as possible.
In YCF style I have heard my instructor say basically the same thing, but in a different way. You'll have to forgive my not remembering exactly how he says it right now, I'm a bit scatter brained.

By pressing your back against the wall you're not going to achieve a perfectly straight spine that lasts a lifetime, not by a long shot. Your body is pressed against the wall for a short time, so you keep the "natural curves" you are speaking about, well... naturally.
Watch what happens to someone when they step away from the wall. You will see them automatically curve their back again. It happens every time they step away, they won't be able to stop it and shouldn't.
The idea of using the wall is to get you into alignment, and give you a guide to what you're trying to achieve, not to make you as stiff as the wall forever.
You couldn't fight like that, you would topple over.
It's a way to test your alignment, not a way to be for life. If you can get your body into this position on the wall, you are relaxed enough in your muscles and tendons to be standing as you should when not against the wall. If you can't, then you're too tense or have some serious alignment problems.
Does this make better sense?

I only said "perfectly still" to illustrate the point for that moment, not for all time. If someone wanted to keep their neck "perfectly still" all the time they would not be able to move in any way that I know of. What I meant was not to move any part of your head but the hinge point on the base of your skull while you tuck in your chin, not to try to keep it that way for all time.

Yes, I can personally attest to how difficult it is to remain balanced with a neck injury.
Ask my YCF instructor if you don't believe me. He should be easy to find, he's the only one in my area.
He can tell you how badly out of alignment I was when I started, and not just because of that Wu lean I have. I was seriously out of whack and am just now getting back to any kind of accuracy in my forms of either style.
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Postby Louis Swaim » Tue Dec 02, 2003 11:03 pm

Greetings Psalchemist,

You do have a knack for unusual observations. I’m not sure that everyone has a whorl pattern in their scalp hair at the same location, and even less sure it has any correlation with the baihui point.

It’s funny, though; that immediately made me think of the “coriolis effect” I learned about in physical geography. There used to be a sort of urban legend that because of the coriolis effect (an inertia effect associated with the rotation of the earth), toilets flushed in a counterclockwise pattern in the northern hemisphere, and in a clockwise pattern in the southern hemisphere (or was it the reverse?).

Evidently, that’s not true.

Take care,
Louis
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Postby psalchemist » Wed Dec 03, 2003 12:03 am

Greetings Louis and Wushuer,

I think you both convey worthy remarks, simply stemming from different angles, as you seem to resolve.

<There may be therapeutic value in the wall excercise on its own merits, but I would disagree with the suggestion that it is a good test for "standing correctly". In Taijiquan posture, the spine is elongated, and to some extent the curves are softened, but it is never "straight".> Louis

<I learned and practice a similar exercise, done on the floor, called a pelvic tilt. In this exercise, you tilt your pelvis to facilitate the flattening of the small of your back against the floor.> Louis

<In Taijiquan posture, this area, the mingmen, is relatively "filled out", but is not absolutely flat or straight. Individuals, of course, have different physiques, so the natural curves vary from one person to another, but in no case should one try to acheive a "straight" spine without it's natural curvature.> Louis

I too learned a similar exercise, done on the floor. I don't know the name, if there is one.

You lie flat on your back, placing your feet flat on the floor, and then draw your heels in towards your buttocks. This movement creates the similar result of flattening the small of the back against the floor. Eliminating somewhat the 'natural' curve in the lower spine.

The source I learned this from although a Taijiquan text, suggests this exercise as alleviation for stress and tension in this location, for therapeutic reasons.

Therapeutic practice is not necessarily only for treating injury, but also for removing defects and problems which develop over years of neglect and abuse, which most of us inflict upon our own bodies unknowingly.

The interesting point that was made concerned the fact that young children are lacking this particular 'natural' curvature, and do not experience these problems of lower back tension, therefore lack the curve/defect which accompanied it.

It is not really a 'natural' curvature, but usually an exaggerated problem we create in ourselves, as adults, through years of tension created by bad postural habits. Adults curvatures are usually grossly overemphasised and quite unnatural, and perhaps should be remedied through therapy...many are never aware of this growing defect until there is a serious problem causing pain and/or incapacity, usually at a critical point.

Maybe, if I 'fix' the 'curvatures' in my neck and spine through therapeutic practices and exercises, I will indeed achieve more of a "chinese straight" in my Taijiquan standing posture.

Similar in fashion to learning Qigong breathing techniques to improve "quiessence"(10 Essentials Yang Cheng Fu) in Taijiquan movement.

Thanks both for presenting your views.

Best regards,
Psalchemist.
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Postby Louis Swaim » Wed Dec 03, 2003 12:11 am

Hi Wushuer,

Thanks for your helpful clarification regarding the objective of the wall exercise. It makes great sense, and the exercise sounds like a good one.

I kind of see the advice to “tuck the chin” in a similar light as the advice to “contain the chest.” They are both essentially negative prescriptions. That is, many people, when told to “stand up straight,” will assume a sort of soldier posture, with the chest puffed out and the chin slightly raised. So the advice to tuck the chin and contain the chest addresses this tendency, enabling a more natural alignment.

I’ve seen references to another version of the taijiquan head/neck alignment idea as a prescription to make sure the back of your neck “touches your collar.” The problem with this, of course, is it depends upon what kind of shirt you’re wearing, or whether your clothing has a collar at all. I think this, rather than being a reference to a literal physical phenomenon, is a helpful image, just like the notion of the head top being suspended by a string is a helpful image.

The best approach, I think, is to experiment with the xu ling ding jin prescription until one can learn to identify and zero in on the right alignment and orientation. Even then, you can’t just “set it and forget it.” You need to constantly monitor and regulate the alignment in order get the benefit.

Take care,
Louis
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Postby psalchemist » Wed Dec 03, 2003 12:14 am

Greetings Louis,

Just got your post above, after posting mine above.

Thanks for the whirl at the whorl. Image

I find it very funny that you mention "flushing-toilet water-direction"...that thought had also crossed my mind.

Not true? Really? Everyone I ever spoke to about that peice of trivia said they'd tried it and it actually worked,(I myself have never made the attempt), and neither can I, as you, recall the presumed trajectory it is supposed to take in which hemisphere. Where did you hear it was not true?

Oh well, neither question will disturb nor impede my sleep tonight, for sure.

Best regards,
Psalchemist.
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Postby psalchemist » Wed Dec 03, 2003 11:52 am

Greetings Louis,

Along similar lines...
Edgar Allan Poe, in one of his great works, eludes to commomn deduction effects such as you describe above...

In the opening scene, the main character (a brilliant Sherlock Holmes type sleuth) is discussing his case with his 'sidekick' partner as they walk along the street to their destination.
At one point, the main character halts and turns to his partner and proceeds to "read his mind"- and tells him exactly, precisely, what his partner thinking.
The partner, in utter astonishment, asks the famous sleuth how he could possibly know what he had been thinking.
That is when the author proceeds to present the most fascinating passage in "logical deduction" I have ever heard!

The Purloined Letter...I believe...but it's been a very long while since I've lost my copy of E.A.P.

Best regards,
Psalchemist.
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