POSTURE AND MOVEMENT
In all the years I have been educated in this area, I have yet to meet someone who was not suffering some of the negative side effects of bad posture and movement habits. This can run the gamut from annoying, all the way to crippling, and is completely in your power to alleviate, avoid or even reverse in its early stages, so pay attention.
Misalignment of the skeleton and the damage it does to your soft tissue is classifiable as a kind of trauma. You are HURTING yourself by not being mindful of how you sit, walk, sleep, and work. Bad movement makes the dozens of bones in your body grind around in ways they aren’t made to do, which wears away on your joints and nerve fibers, constricts blood flow, and trains abberant patterns of muscle tension into your body. You are probably experiencing this as some kind of ‘stiffness’, soreness, tingling sensations, aches in your muscles/joints ( particularly the neck, shoulders and lower back ), outright headaches that can go all the way to migrane intensity or nausea from impinging nerves at the top of your spine, distortion of your appearance from not standing up or walking fully erect, and of course the dreaded ‘repetitive use injury’.
Depending how far down this road you have gone, it can be an easy fix, or an involved one. They both require you to look at the way you hold yourself, and be MINDFUL of it. ALL THE TIME. Once you’re back in a healthy pattern of balance and tension, you’ll have more leeway to think about other things, but it is always a pain in the ass at first. By the time I stopped doing this professionally, I had seen a large number of high school kids evidencing problems that don’t generally appear till the onset of middle age, like sciatica, early-stage kyphosis, back spasms and loss of lumbar curvature, or chronic tension headaches. Computer culture and desk work, I guess.
-The first thing to know is that your skeleton is made to balance without effort. There is a line that runs up the center of the body that connects the ankle, knee, hip, shoulder, and ear/top of the the spine, and crown of the the head. When standing, if you are in this spot, there should be almost no muscular effort needed to maintain it.
-The quickest way to adjust this when standing, is imagine a string attached to the crown of your head, at the point in the image above, and try to follow that string upwards to touch the ceiling with your crown. This will lengthen your spine and tilt everything at approximately the right angles. Then go to a mirror, and try to adjust things laterally, like the tilt of the shoulders, ears, the set of the head in relation to your center line. DON’T strain or exert muscular tension on this. It is really really really important not to force yourself into what feels like the right place. That will only make it worse. The trick is to look at yourself in a mirror so you can do subtle adjustments by sight, to feel the relaxed balance in your body, and let your bones do the work.
Be especially mindful of the angle of the chin, the rib cage, and the set of the eyes. This ties in with a lot of emotional and self image issues with people, but you just need to get over it. Stand up straight, look people in the eye, relax your shoulders back and down, tilt your ribs back and your solar plexus out. Be fully erect, and fully engaged with the world, in a relaxed and balance posture.
-When sitting, this holds from the hip level upwards. No slouching at your desk, compressing your neck and lower back and shoulders. BAD. You know it’s bad. Quit doing it.
In general, avoid allowing your curve in your lower back to flatten or go outwards. This is a recipe for misery if you let it go too far. Most chairs and couches don’t support the lower back at all. Get an ergonomic chair, or roll up a thick towel and put it in your lower back or get a firm sausage shaped pillow to put in there. Preferably, just get an ergonomic chair, or demand one from your employer. Stop letting your head hang forward or down, as this will un-stack the vertebrae in your neck and trigger all kinds of tension in the muscle bands in your neck and shoulders. If you need to have your face closer to the screen, sit up straight and sit closer. If you must sit on a couch, make sure you’re bridging your lower back in a way that protects the curve. It’s quite easy with some practice.
-When walking, the main thing to know is that you need to protect your knees and ankles. The way to do that is to make sure that 1) your body mass is always moving in the same direction your knee is pointing ( which ever knee is planted, that is) and 2) your knees should always be pointing in roughly the same direction as your big toes. Knees don’t flex side to side, so any lateral forces on them will stretch out your ligaments, wear on the bursa and meniscus, and eventually tear, inflame or otherwise blow out.
The easiest way to align your knees is to stand in a relaxed position, feet shoulder width apart, and scrunch up your toes, then relax them. As your relax, your knees should settle into approximately the right spot relative to your feet. Preserve that as you move, as much as possible.
-That old saying about ‘lift with your knees, not your back’ is true. As long as your alignment is good, your legs are much stronger and much more able to extend under heavy loads than your back. Get lower and use your legs.
-If you’re really messed up, shop around for a good massage therapist. Preferably one that also does bone adjustments. A good chiropractor will do in a pinch, but be careful to avoid lunatics who just want to crack you and shove you out the door. It’s important to have the soft-tissue therapy at the same time as the skeletal manipulation. If you can find one that does both, so much the better.
-For lesser problems, take up some remedial yoga, tai chi, feldenkrais, or some other kind of movement based therapy or methodology. The three I mentioned have the highest recommendation. Once you internalize the feeling of relaxed balanced movement, it will stay with you forever. Good investment, one would think. Plus you will learn practices that can keep your going when there’s no doctor, no painkillers, and no option to sit around and do nothing until it stops hurting.
The good news is, if you fixed your posture and movement, you are 90% there in fixing your breathing as well. So much of it has to do with holding your body so as to let you inflate your lungs to full capacity. If you don’t deal with one, you’ll have a hard time with the other.
I probably don’t need to tell you air is important. But, the degree to which you oxygenate your body, and how you do it, makes a difference. Your breathing pattern regulates the acidity of your blood, brain activity, endocrine function, nervous system activation, both sympathetic and parasympathetic, and the movement of your lymph system.
There is much I could say about this, but I’ve no room for a pranayama text. The basic guidelines are breathe SLOWER, FULLER, and SMOOTHER. Take some time to look at how other people breathe. Mostly pretty shallow, pretty fast, and usually not to full capacity due to how they are holding their chests.
Take a watch that registers seconds and figure out how many breaths you take each minute, in a relaxed state. Now, sit up straight, look slightly up at the ceiling, just to make sure your chest is open, and breathe by relaxing your stomach outwards. Place one hand just below your belly button; you should feel this press outwards as you inhale, then pull it in as your exhale. Do it as slowly as you can without feeling like you’re holding your breath or straining at all. With a bit of practice, you should be able to feel your diaphragm move as you breathe, which is what you should be doing all the time, but a lot of people actually don’t. It probably won’t be too hard to slow your breathing down to about half of what it was per minute, or even less, with no loss of ‘wind’. You should actually feel at least a little bit calmer and clearer, since you are getting the same amount or air, or more, but activating your stress mechanisms much less to do it, and flushing your body of CO2 and lymph more effectively.
The range you can change this in is pretty incredible. Most people are in the 13-16 breaths per minute or more range. With a bit of practice you can get this down to 4 sitting around, or even 1 laying down or meditating.
This is another thing to be mindful of all the time, but much easier to practice, and much quicker to pay off. Just remember; SLOWER DEEPER SMOOTHER. If need be, doing a bit of cardio like running or bike riding will help keep your breathing pattern from getting too weird and dysfunctional. Other than that, have fun and watch the good effects roll in.
NEXT: Hygiene, Exercise, Psychology.