THE ANATOMY OF DIRECTING
Part of the Da Vinci Project, this series of posts will clarify anatomical points for the purposes of functional mechanics and directing. If you’re new to directing, check out this post, or the book, Neurodynamics: The Art of Mindfulness in Action. Click on any image to see it in full size.
Part 6. The Throat (Forward & Up Part 2)
A unique part of our anatomical design that plays a central role in the forward and up direction of the head is the musculature of the throat. In books on movement and anatomy, the throat is often overlooked because it is not considered to be part of the movement system. This is partly true, since the throat is mainly concerned with movements of the jaw, speech, and basic life functions such as eating and swallowing. But we must remember that, as part of the flexor sheet on the front of the body, the throat is involved in many everyday movements, not to mention speech. And because it is connected with head balance, it also profoundly affects the larger movement system and comes into play as we direct, which is why we have to know something about how it works.
We saw in this post that, unlike the muscles in the back of the body that lie close to the spine, the rib cage and abdominal contents lie in front of the body with the flexor muscles wrapping around these structures. In a very general way we can say this of the throat as well, since the larynx and esophagus, as well as the muscles of the throat, hang from the skull and lie well in front of the spine.
But where exactly is the throat located? We often think about this in a very misleading way, from our point of view, by imagining the throat as the back of your mouth, or where the doctor checks for inflammation when looking down your throat. In this scenario, the throat seems to be around or below the larynx (or Adam’s apple) when, in fact, the throat includes the areas above the larynx and right up to the level of your cheek bone at the base of your skull–areas that are more or less invisible to the eye.
The muscles of the palate and larynx, for instance, suspend from the base of the skull in front of the spine; so does the hyoid bone, which forms the base of the tongue. Even the jaw, which is a bony structure and not part of your throat, is linked in with the hyoid bone and with muscles that attach to the base of the skull so that, for all intents and purposes, the jaw functions as part of the throat musculature. All these structures are directly linked with the base of the skull; as such, the throat includes not just your larynx and the area below it but all the structures hidden from view that lie above the larynx and attach to the base of your skull, including your soft palate.
Why is this important? We’ve also seen that the muscles on the nape of the neck pull the head back, and that the structures in front of the body, which ultimately attach to the mastoid processes of the skull, also tend to pull the head back and down. The throat also hangs down from the base of the skull but, unlike all the other muscular systems we’ve discussed, it is weighted in front of the spine. As a result, it can drag the skull down and forward, contributing to shortening in stature and preventing the head from going up and the spine from lengthening. These structures are so intimately connected with head balance, in fact, that unless they are released and free, the head cannot go up and the PNR system (the postural neuro-muscular reflex system, or primary control) simply can’t work. In short, the throat must not tighten and drag down upon the skull but release and hang freely from the skull as part of restoring our full front length.
Which brings us, once again, to the “forward and up” balance of the head. We know we must release the shortened muscles in the back of the neck to allow the head to nod forward at the AO joint–this, again, is the “forward” referred to by Alexander. But the head must also go “up”, and this is where the problem comes in. If we direct the head forward as though it includes the throat and jaw, the throat and jaw will drag down on the head, and it cannot go up. For the head to go up, we must understand that the structures of the throat are not part of the skull and instead should hang freely from its base. The head will then be able to go up even as it goes forward.
Again, being conceptually clear on where our body parts are located is a necessary part of being able to direct the parts effectively.
Exercise: Rethinking forward and up
Step 1. Sit in a chair and be aware of the full length of the front of your body, from your hip joints right up to the base of your skull, at the level of your cheek bones.
Step 2. Place a hand right under your chin with your thumb and index finger wrapped lightly around your throat, at or near the hyoid bone.
Step 3. Drop your head forward and down onto your hand, depressing the throat and larynx.
Step 4. Now, allow your head and jaw to come up off of your hand, creating room for the throat to hang freely from your skull.
Step 5. Allow the head to nod forward at the AO joint, but in such a way that you do not put your head down onto your hand. If your forward direction brings your head down onto your hand, you’re confusing the throat with the skull.
Step 6. Removing your hand, spend a few minutes directing your head forward (but not down) and up (but not back). Does this change your conception of forward and up? Please comment!