Many of my clients have joked over the years that they’re going to come in and tell me they have an ache in their shoulder, and I’ll rub their pinky toe or something to make it disappear.
It’s not untrue.
Our medical system perpetuates a separatist model of the body — one in which each part or piece is reduced to its smallest elements. Specialists study different systems within us: hearts and brains and ears and eyes.
One client recently went to a scapula specialist. I had no idea there was such a person.
I’m not as opposed to this taking apart the body as you might think. It serves its purpose. Like the periodic table of the elements, dissecting the body helps us map the constituents of ourselves.
But, similarly, the parts are not the whole. Hydrogen and oxygen are not water; they only form water in a precise combination.
Your bones and your muscles and your heart and your blood — these things are not you. They only form you when functioning synergistically.
And like a woven sweater with an unraveling thread, if you distort one part of you, interrupt one system, it can warp your whole being.
Your body is not a thing that is moving badly, but rather a movement that has become disrupted.
And that disruption might not be happening in the place where you feel stuck or restricted because your body is a system, an integrated organism.
Neck pain is probably the most common complaint among modern humans. Even those people who tell me their necks are pretty okay, when I put my hands on them and test passive range of motion, they’re pretty darn stuck.
And the majority of people know it.
I meet a lot of resistance working on people’s feet when they tell me the problem is in their neck. Because feet are so far away. They have no influence on a delicate structure so near to your precious brain.
Or so the common wisdom goes.
Personally, my neck always pops and releases when I open the bones and tissues in my feet, so I’ve experienced this connection first hand.
But why? How come feet — which merely carry your beautiful brain from place to place — influence your neck?
I could trace the anatomy for you, drawing a train track of fascia through your core, along the spine, demonstrating an irrefutable connection from the bottoms of your soles to the base of your skull.
But I think there’s a bigger question at play here, and that is:
What is a neck?
I suppose we could say that your neck consists of its seven cervical vertebra, the very top of your spine.
But those vertebra connect upwards into the cranium and down into your thoracic spine — your torso.
And your torso has ribs, and below that, the lumbar vertebra of your aching lower back, your sacrum wedged between the flaring bones of your pelvis, and, further down, branching into the two stems of your legs.
When you turn your head to the side, your neck vertebra rotate (or should), but that rotation continues on down into your thoracic spine, too.
And all this doesn’t take into account the tissues. If we look purely at musculature, we can see that the muscles of your neck are also the muscles of your jaw and face. Many of them connect to your skull, or down into ribs or along your clavicle.
Since your clavicle is part of your shoulder girdle, does this make them shoulder muscles or neck muscles?
One client asked me during a session if the structure I had my hands on was part of her ribs or part of her shoulder.
I could only answer, “Yes.”
We haven’t even talked about fascia, that filigree network that weaves together your body. It refuses to stay within the confines of the anatomy books, and when you trace its webbing, you find that it also won’t keep to compartments and body parts.
The fascia of your leg is also the fascia of your hip, and then it travels up to your torso. It snakes three-dimensionally through your body, shaping you.
So yes, your feet matter to your neck. Metatarsals that are bound tightly, making stiff feet like 2x4s that smack the ground with great impact at each step, an ankle joint so clenched that the bones can’t open and spread and allow the joint to crease, shins and calves on lockdown inhibiting the shock absorbing properties of the space between their bones, these qualities influence your whole physical structure with every step.
And let me just say as well that guarding — muscular armoring of the body — isn’t necessarily a localized phenomenon. A person who is guarded is often guarded all over, because the nervous system runs all over your body.
So yes, we can address that neck tension. But if you’ve had a hundred massages on your neck and it’s still tight, don’t you think it might not be (just) your neck that’s the problem?
Changing the way your feet connect with the ground changes more than just your stride. It shifts how you — literally — move through the world.
It lowers the threat level in your nervous system.
It allows more surface area of your foot to contact the ground, increasing the availability of sensory awareness.
And it starts to unwind fascia from the very bottom of your core.
Make no mistake: your feet are in the same body as your neck. And everything within you is connected.4