What's Your Neck Saying?

By Heath and Nicole Reed
[Savvy Self-Care]

Neck pain is one of our clients’ most common complaints. As fascia detectives, we are curious about the contributing factors of neck “projects,” such as history of injuries, lifestyle habits, and anatomical corollaries.

From a holistic perspective, we also like to wonder about the impact of thoughts and feelings, and how these energy forms are being expressed or resisted. When we give attention to the emerging impulses of our mind, heart, and body sensations, we begin to embody the transformative power and mobility of perspective afforded by the neck. Discover how to release the pains in your neck as we reimagine, move, and express this area.

“The longest journey you’ll ever take is from your head to your heart.” —Gary Zukov

Both physically and metaphysically, the neck may be described as the intermediary between what is above and below it: the head and the heart. It houses the organs, tissues, and bones related to communication and expression. The neck is home to the most highly movable vertebrae, and the cervicals give us the capacity to see from many perspectives. Symbolically, the neck is related to our ability to express what is in our heart and what is on our mind.               

Imagine your neck as the garden hose of your expression. If the head and heart are in conflict, the hose may become twisted and barely drip, be cut off completely, or be on full blast. If there’s a kink in your hose, you may experience yourself withdrawing, going silent, biting your tongue, swallowing your feelings, or grinning and bearing it. If you’re overriding feeling in favor of thinking, or vice versa, you may notice feeling disconnected and voiceless, or you may swing to the other end of the spectrum by exploding or lashing out. When thinking and feeling feel disconnected, you may notice your neck tighten, become limited in its vast range of motion, or simply hurt. How do you organize the flow of your expression?       


One way to balance the flow of our experience and expression is through the skill of matching. Matching is the ability to describe or name what you feel, sense, and/or notice, without adding or taking away anything from your experience. You can change and shift the pains in your mind, heart, and body (particularly in your neck) by expressing what is fundamentally true. It is an integrity move to match your inner experience with your outer expression. When our inner and outer worlds are mismatched, we often feel stuck, cut off, or twisted up. The type of matching we advocate does not require explanation, justification, or even a goal of improving how you feel (although this may happen as a happy side effect of matching). Matching is simply the practice of being with the emerging sensations around your neck and describing these as precisely and nonjudgmentally as possible.

Your Neck’s Voice

Bring your attention inward. In other words, presence all the sensations you are currently experiencing in and around your neck. Allow a moment of generous breath to invite your awareness into this part of your body. From a place of presence, become curious and open yourself to discovery as you inwardly or outwardly say, “Hmm …” Maybe write down what you notice. Let’s explore.

If your neck had a voice, what would it sound like? What would it say? Can you imagine your neck expressing as a color? A temperature? A texture? Or can you describe specific sensations on the surface or in the depths of your neck? What is the mobility of your neck: Does it feel easy to move? Do you feel free and responsive or tense and short?

Notice what happens as you become willing to be with and express the sensations you are experiencing. Oftentimes, our relationship with a specific area changes as we connect to it. What surprises you about your neck? Notice whether you’re moving toward or away from your neck’s inner expression. What does noticing your neck remind you of? What kind of stories do you tell about your neck? Is there something you can appreciate about your neck? With repeated practice of matching your experience by describing without explaining, you may even notice new sensations in other places; a softening, or perhaps a wider sense of aliveness.

Maybe the pains in your neck are simply the result of poor body mechanics or holding patterns and can be resolved with a massage or an adjustment to how you are holding yourself. Check in with how you hold your head when interacting with digital devices, watching television, walking, or driving. Notice whether the pillow you sleep on is too firm, soft, fluffy, or squishy. Maybe your neck project comes from a previous fall, injury, car accident, dental trauma, surgery, or something congenital. In our experience, it is rare that resistance is caused by one singular event. Rather, painful projects often present themselves with a combination of symptoms and intermingling preexisting conditions. Are you willing to open yourself up to all the possible ways to support your alignment and heal your neck?

To be a holistic health-care provider and educator, it is our goal to look at, consider, and address injuries, pain, and resistance from a 360-degree perspective. Becoming fluent in all the languages of the body and being able to presence, face, and acknowledge what’s emerging in the moment facilitates deep healing. The following exercise is to support your awareness of your head position, create length, and foster healthy alignment and physical integrity. 

Lengthen and Strengthen Your Neck

A common cause of neck projects results from shortened and weakened muscles along the anterior bodies of the cervicals, especially the longus colli. This is a simple and potent way to reclaim cervical alignment and reoccupy the regal length deserved by the neck.

Place the fingers of your right hand on your chin and gently retract your mandible; that is, slide your lower jaw gently toward your throat without dipping your chin down. Enjoy a deep inhale and, as you exhale, see whether you can gently slide your mandible further posterior and superior (backward and up) as you aim to line up your ears with your shoulder joint and keep the back of your neck long. Repeat for a few more breaths. Each time you inhale, see whether you can lengthen your neck, like a turtle coming out of its shell. And on each exhale, notice whether you can retract your jaw and hyoid bones closer toward your throat. Take a transitional breath after a couple repetitions and open, close, or circle your jaw to relax any lingering effort or strain in your neck. Consider practicing this mandibular retraction hands-free by pressing the back of your head gently into the headrest of your car or lengthen your neck when you’re massaging or doing everyday activities.

If you’d like to add another layer to this practice, bring your right fingers back to your chin and place your left hand on the back of your skull. Inhale as you imagine inflating your neck to elongate it. On your exhale, maintain the length and mandibular retraction as you nod your chin down. Inhale, center, and elongate; exhale, retract, and extend your head up. Use the gentle assistance of your hands to encourage greater length and strength in all the compartments of your neck as you repeat 3–6 times.

There are a multitude of physical and psychological variables that determine whether we experience a happy body, heart, and mind. It’s essential we give attention to the structure and form we live in and express through. And it is equally valuable to integrate all the related or seemingly unrelated sensations, thoughts, and feelings arising in the moment to support our integrity and felt sense of wholeness. Matching inner feelings and outer expression reinforces a physical and metaphysical scaffolding that allows for a free body, clear mind, and open heart. And, consciously moving and caring for your body releases the noose of tension around your mind, heart, and body. Choosing to see yourself and your clients as a miraculous whole, rather than a bunch of parts sewn together, opens the faucet of our expression and allows for the free flow of life energy to support your ease, wellness, and creativity.

Heath and Nicole Reed are co-founders of Living Metta (living “loving kindness”) and want everyone in the world to enjoy the experience of befriending their body. The Reeds lead workshops and retreats across the country and overseas, including Thailand and Bulgaria, and have been team-teaching touch and movement therapy for 17 years. In addition to live classes, the Reeds offer massage therapy and self-care videos, DVDs, and online trainings, which may be found at www.livingmetta.com.