Why Do Westerners Tend To Go Through Life With Their Heads Tipped Back?

If your head is tipped back, even half an inch, as opposed to resting on top of your spine in a poised even position, your mobility and sensory awareness will be seriously effected.

There are more joints in your neck than any other part of your body, so when you tip the head back and consequently compress the neck, this act sends layers of compression rippling throughout the body. As a result, movement, speech and breathing becomes more difficult.

On page 118 of the second volume of his book, The First 43 Years Of The Life Of F.M. Alexander, Jeroen Staring summarizes an important part of his first volume:

This habit, this tradition, this attitude, of tilting the head back and down is unconsciously learned by children in ‘Western’ countries. It is an unconsciously learned ‘mannerism’ and it almost becomes a second nature to people in ‘industrialized’ countries to permanently bear their heads tilted back and down, once they grow to maturity. This ‘mannerism’ is closely related with the use of artefacts while eating. At present, almost everybody in ‘Western’ societies uses forks at the table. Not using them is called ‘uncivilized behavior.’ In case we see somebody eating with his fingers, we get feelings of disgust, or worse. We teach our children to eat with forks, and while we have forgotten that the fork originated as a symbol of distinction we tell our children that it is not hygienic to use fingers instead of forks. In Consuming Passions: The Anthropology of Eating, anthropologist George Armelagos and science-writer Peter Farb draw attention to a physiological and functional anatomical consequence of using forks at the table. They state that gatherers and hunters use their front teeth less as cutting tools than as clamps. The bite of gatherers and hunters, “both today and in the past,” is one where the upper and lower incisors meet edge-to-edge, “like a pair of pincers.”

…When we use forks at the table as from the time our parents or caretakers teach us the ‘civilized’ way of eating, we do not have to use our incisors while eating, and our mandibles will not be ‘stretched out’ time and time against at every meal we take, because we do not tear off small parts of food from bigger parts. …Our incisors do not wear therefore, but our molars do not wear too. Our molars do not wear because we do not eat hard food, or raw and unprepared food. We do not have to substantially grind our food, and our molars are not used as a kind of ‘third hand’… The fact that the mandible gradually develops a retracted, retrusive position, while it is almost never ‘stretched out’, is a consequence of the ‘civilized’ way of making use of all the muscles which are put to use when we are eating, swallowing and when we are speaking. In fact our ‘civilized’ ways of using these muscles affect the ‘levels of sensory awareness’ of the muscle spindles. .. All this will — as a matter of fact — influence the pharyngeal space. This space, important for breathing processes, will narrow, more-or-less, and more, or less, when circumstances of activity differ. As a result we, unconsciously, reposition the hyoid bone forward and upward, and we tilt our head back in order to counteract the ‘negative’ breathing consequences. During dentition and after that time we gradually develop the habit of repositioning the hyoid bone forward and upward, and we develop the habit of tilting the head back during many physical activities… Tilting the head back involves muscles between head and cervical (and also thoracic) vertebrae, and between head and shoulder-blades. In a way the head will habitually be more or less firmly attached on the atlas… This…will influence our posture and every movement of the body as a whole. When the head is held firmly on the atlas by somewhat contracted muscles which have one ending at the basis of the head, we can imagine that the muscle spindles of the first intervertebral muscles cannot help optimally in operating a movement of the body as a whole…

The most important physiological phenomenon connected with this habit of tilting the head back and down is a tendency of deranged kinaesthetic ‘sensory appreciations’. People who are ‘afflicted with’ the habit of tilting the head back and down continuously show inefficient movements and inefficient patterns of movement; they even show inefficient ways of thinking…

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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