During my recent trip to teach in Berlin, I realized again while working with a group of singers, that many of us think we need to hold our head on to our body. This is not to say that German singers or those living in Germany have a particular habit unique to themselves. It sounds odd to say this, as the head is obviously attached to the spine and body, but it does seem to be the case that many of us are subtly holding our head on to our body. This literally holds us down by pinching the cranial nerves (to the eyes, ears, face etc.) as well as restricting our breathing and adding weight to and compressing our entire structure. And, in the case of the singers I was working with in Berlin, it compressed their sound as well.
It also seems that when people think of keeping their neck free they mainly think of the back of their neck, the part that can be touched and seen, and they forget to keep the front of the neck and spine free up in front of the ears and behind the nose at the back of the oral cavity. Remembering the three dimensional spine and neck helps keep the natural curve in the spine and neck that are necessary for cushioning, shock absorption, and overall mobility of the body.
The first of the classical Alexander Technique directions is to keep the “neck free” which lets the head go and releases any holding of the head on the spine. It also lets go of any urge to “fix” or “position” or “hold” or “clamp” the head on the neck. Once the neck is free, we can direct the head up and slightly forward off the spine and the whole body can easily follow.
This discussion was particularly critical for the singers I worked with in Berlin. When they understood that keeping the neck free included the front part of the neck up inside the body, their sound instantly changed. It allowed their air stream to come up behind the tongue and gave a sense of the air coming up behind their eyes. Their sound was clearer, more focused, and less forced. Their whole head was vibrating and participating in the sound production.
Keeping the neck free and taking the pressure off the body is critical for all of us, even if we are not singing. It can change our speaking voice and also opens the connection between the head and the rest of the body, allowing for better oxygen and blood flow and less restriction and pressure on the nerves. It allows for more range of movement in the neck and for more possibilities of experiencing the body as a whole organism responding to gravity.
Experiment with the direction of “allowing your neck to be free” and see what happens. Give yourself the direction and then after you have your first response repeat the direction so you let go more and more and more. Notice that when your neck is free you will sense the ground underneath you more clearly. And the ability to give a gentle upward direction of the head comes very easily and is a natural response to letting the neck go.
• What image comes to mind when you think of your neck?
• What have you been considering your neck to be?
• What have you been thinking when you give yourself the direction to allow your neck to be free?
• Are you remembering that your spine and neck come up behind your jaw?
• What happened when you think of keeping your throat free?
• How does your tongue fit in to this thinking?