The New York Times published an in-depth article about Michaelangelo’s renowned sculpture, David. The article focuses on the very real possibility that this masterpiece might collapse into a heap of rubble because of a subtle structural weakness dating back to when it was carved from a huge block of marble.
David’s problem lies in his ankles, which have harbored cracks that were first noticed over 100 years ago. Any cracks near the base of a 12,500 pound statue are concerning, but the threat posed by these cracks is magnified by a design decision made by Michaelangelo. The center of gravity in the base of the statue doesn’t align with the center of gravity of the statue itself, and this misalignment creates inherent strain and instability that threaten David (shown here in a photograph by the Galleria Accademia, Firenze).
The Times article says that if the statue were tilted a mere 15 degrees it would collapse and be destroyed. To put 15 degrees in context, it is far less than the profile exhibited by the famously narrow Flatiron Building; the Flatiron describes an angle of 25 degrees at its northern point. So for most of us 15 degrees would seem to be a very small angle indeed.
We can learn a lot about ourselves by carefully considering two aspects of David’s structural problem. Many of us, like David, are misaligned relative to where our center of gravity ought to be…. except the most important aspect of our misalignment lies not near our ankles but much higher up. We are off center with respect to the head and the neck; most of us stick our necks forward and then compensate for that by pushing our heads back and down. Sticking the neck forward misaligns it with the rest of the spine, which is the support not only for the neck but, more importantly, for the head. The average human head weighs 10 to 12 pounds, and the strain created by our habit of sticking our necks forward and out of alignment with our backs is very harmful — and completely avoidable.
Specifically, if a person sticks her neck forward at an angle of 15 degrees, the effective weight of a 11 pound head becomes 27 pounds — nearly triple the actual weight. The strain on the delicate (and absolutely critical) structures of the neck is quite harmful even at that small angle, and many people go much farther forward than that with their necks. In fact, people tend to stick their necks forward to greater and greater degrees as they get older, increasing the strain at an alarming rate even as their aging bodies become progressively less capable of bearing that strain.
Although people aren’t made of marble and their bodies are resilient, pushing the neck forward and the head back habitually likely will, as the years pass, lead to pain and problems with mobility, breathing, speaking and swallowing. Fortunately, we aren’t statues and we can use our thinking to transform our various habits into choices; we can learn to allow our necks to gently move back and reconnect more fully with the rest of our spines. The improved alignment can, in turn, provide easier, balanced support of our heads on our necks which will reduce wear and tear on a critically important part of ourselves.
Each of us is actually a masterpiece; let’s remember to think in activity and use ourselves accordingly!