If the ground is too wet to sit or kneel on comfortably I’ve got to stand up and bend over. Or, sometimes I’m on my way to the car and a weed jumps out at me. When that happens, I usually bend over without giving it a whole lot of thought and yank the offender out of the garden bed. Weeding from a standing position changes everything, and usually not for the better.
Recently I’ve been consciously putting some of my attention out there on the Alexander Technique concept of “Head lead, body follow.” I find when I pay attention to my use according to this model, I’m less sore the next day in my neck, shoulders and low back. You may ask, “What is head lead, body follow?” Unlike a lot of Alexander Technique jargon, this one means exactly what it says. Our heads weigh about ten pounds. They are heavy! The way we tilt our heads is the way the rest of the body follows behind, because the head sits on top of the spine, which connects the entire torso from head to pelvis. Try it yourself. Walk around, and then tilt your head over to the left or the right. What happens? Tilt your head backwards. Do you want to walk that way, instead? Now stop walking. Tilt your head forward like you are looking for a weed. What happens?
Here’s another thing to think about – when you tried this experiment, what part of your head always went first in the direction you asked it to go? In Alexander Technique, the answer is the crown of your head. That’s on the top of your head – where the fontanel is on a baby’s head. Put a finger there and repeat your experiment. See how the crown of the head actually goes first? That’s because the crown of the head is just above the top of your spine. Sure, there’s a brain in the way – but – imagine that because the spine is pointing up to that part of your head, the crown is leading you.
I find that for me, it’s easy to feel the crown of my head leading when I’m playing around tilting my head in various directions. It’s less easy when I’m upright and walking. I used to think that my eyes led me everywhere. (I think I used to walk like it was my nose, or my chin leading my forward. Look around – you’ll see people moving like this.) Thanks to my Alexander training, I can imagine that my head is a unified whole – having a back as well as a front. I can imagine my whole head, happily riding on top of my spine, getting somewhere all at the same time when I use the crown of my head to get me there.
How does this help me with weeding? I can choose to look down from the place where my head balances on top of my spine, instead of bringing my eyes closer to the ground by drooping my head. I can squat when I weed, which puts me in the optimal position for a good head/neck relationship. If I do this instead of bending at the waist, all of me will say “thank you” the next day. Some days I can’t do a full squat, so getting into Monkey and at least bending my knees to fold over my thighs helps a lot.
If you garden, try some of these ideas next time you’re out there, and then tell me what you think!
The peonies are blooming, and my husband Dave Marcus took these fabulous photos with his new camera. Enjoy!