“Look up! Look up! Look up!!” my surfing instructor kept yelling to me as I moved to standing on my board. Keeping my head up and eyes focused on the beach kept me on the board. Your vestibular system, located in your head, is your balance system. Lose that, and you can no longer stand upright. Proprioception (senses the relative position of body parts to neighboring body parts) and kinesthesia (eye-hand coordination) are supported by this system. So when you keep looking down, balance and proprioception are affected. On a surf board, that means you’ll go into the water!
That lesson comes back time and time again. For instance, in Chi Running (as well as tai chi), putting your focus on the horizon – you use Yi’Chi (directing your intention and energy through your eyes). Not only does this relax you, but it helps train your proprioceptive system (and rely less on looking down at the ground) , especially as you move faster. Original Strength teaches one to keep looking at the horizon when rocking, rolling or crawling (and later, walking). The Vestibular system (Head Control) plays a major role in these components of OS and improves balance and movement. And a post from Nutritious Movement succinctly explains why looking up helps you ‘read the ground’ with your feet.
Constantly looking down (computers and cell phones usage reinforce this habit) affects your balance, as well as your neck muscles and vertebrae. When you look up, you most likely will do so by lifting your chin to lift your eyes, thanks to your inherent righting reflex, combined with the habit of looking down. Your cervical spine pays the biological tax, especially if you are already extending your neck. Crunchy neck is no bueno!
You also might be looking up by lifting your chest which 1) puts a shear in your thoracic spine (and compresses the ribs in back, making it harder to get a good breath) and 2) constantly reinforces a shortened psoas muscle (tight back, anyone?).
Instead of looking up via a chin lift or rib thrust, keep your sternum vertical (ribs down), and ramp your head back up onto your shoulders. You will probably be looking down at this point. Without lifting your head OR your chest, move your eyes toward the horizon (look up!!!). Do this even if you are wearing glasses. You’ll feel a stretch in the bottom part of your eye muscles as your eyes roll upward. The more you habitually look down (at the screen or ground) the more you’ll feel it. Think of this as an eye stretch and do it frequently.
Keep dropping the chin back down to a neutral position (level) and keep the sternum level, as you walk along. You’ll not only feel taller (for me, that’s a HUGE bonus), but you’ll breathe easier, and over time, your neck muscles will release (bye bye tension). Now look up (use your eyes!) and watch the world around you. There is so much to see out there! And your proprioceptive system, along with your whole body health, will get better for it!
Bonus: as you walk, play with leading your head movement (side-to-side and nodding up-down) with your eyes. As you rotate your head, notice if your chin drops as your near the same side shoulder. This is because we tend to use our anterior (front) muscles to turn the head. You can put your focus on your posterior (back) neck muscles and ‘pull the head around from behind’. This not only keeps that cervical spine in alignment, but, at least for me, it results in greater range of motion.