I have never given the following advice, but here goes! I read a great article about the new posture challenges we face when using all our fancy technology – tablets, smart phones, etc. It’s a practical article with excellent photos of good and bad posture choices. It made me think about how we all want to have good posture, but don’t necessarily know how to get there.
Noticing the terrible habits of others is a clever way to begin. Haven’t we all seen people hunched over their cell phones tapping out a text? It’s so obvious when you’re watching someone else. “Wow! Don’t they realize how bad that must be for their backs?” Or, the other day a client was finishing a call in my reception area before her massage appointment. She had the phone propped between her ear and shoulder – right in front of me! That is sooooo hard on the neck muscles and joints. Yikes!
The problem seems to be that we are mentally engaged with the content of our technology to the point where our bodies and the alarms they may be trying to send us cannot get our attention. Sure, our necks might be sore and stiff at the end of the day, but we don’t necessarily make the connection to our specific actions during the day.
Next time you’re out, notice the terrible habits of others. Without the technology they have in their hands, try to assume the same posture and hold it for a few minutes. Really think about how your body feels in this position. Try taking some deep, slow breaths in this position. Scan your body head-to-toe and notice where you may be feeling discomfort. It can be a fun experiment. I can’t link to the article, but I’m happy to give you a photocopy if you’d like one. Just let me know.
I could easily post a Top 10 list, but let’s start with just 3 things you should never do if you want to be kind to your body.
Numero Uno: Yes, yes, we all like to multi-task. But please consider the assault on your neck/shoulder muscles when you prop the phone between your ear and shoulder. It was bad enough when our phones were bulkier. Now phones are so slim you really have to torque your body to accomplish this time-saving, body-abusing convenience. Just wait to make a call, use an earpiece, use speakerphone or figure something else out. Save those muscles a lot of grief by avoiding this whether it’s while cooking, typing, holding a child or loading a car. Your body with thank you and your massage therapist will thank you!
Numero Dos: “I’ll just do this quick thing on the computer.” And I’ll also strain my neck, back, wrists, scrunch up my forehead trying to see…Oh, wait, look! There’s a chair within feet of where I am. Why don’t I just have a seat! Brilliant idea! We often see this at work, especially with people who service computers. When you’re at someone else’s work station, I think this temptation is pretty strong. Just sit down – your body will thank you.
Numero Tres: sometimes my son and I get carried away with the wrestling…never underestimate the power of an 8-year-old boy thick with imagination.
Hats off to Lindsay George, professional photographer and retoucher. She is fantastic at what she does and only makes you look like this if you ask nicely. You can reach her at lindziam (at) gmail (dot) com. She took some lovely family photos for us last year.
Please follow these steps carefully.
1. Close your eyes.
Wait, this is not going to work. Too bad you can’t read with your eyes closed. What I’d like to draw your attention to today is a phenomenon I call the amazing disappearing body act.
I consider myself someone who is very aware of my body. I work with bodies, so it comes with the territory. But, as I work I am constantly aware of my own body and I strategize how I can be as comfortable as possible while I work. I lean over a lot in my line of work. This necessitates all sorts of posture accommodations as I support the big head I’ve been blessed with. A trick we used in massage school comes in handy in my effort to maintain good posture and overall comfort. The trick is to close my eyes while I work. Taking visual input out of the equation allows me to check in with my body in a very helpful way. What I usually find is that my head is way out in front of my body and my shoulders are hunched forward. Why I’m less aware of these dynamics when I’m working with my eyes open remains a mystery. But regardless, closing my eyes, even briefly, can allow important bodily input to make its way to my brain.
So, here’s the translation for you (since I assume you’re not a massage therapist!). When you’re working away at your computer, pause and close your eyes. You should be able to immediately scan your body and find something that could be positioned differently to be more comfortable. Perhaps your shoulders are up by your ears. Perhaps your neck is screaming and you didn’t realize it. Perhaps your wrists are beginning to burn. When you eliminate the visual input, briefly, you can really pay attention to the body below your head – your amazing disappearing body.
When you close your eyes you might do one or more of the following:
- shift your weight into a posture that feels more comfortable
- take a deep breath
- stretch a muscle that has been static for a while
- contract and relax a major muscle group like your gluteals
- move your eyes in a circle or two under your eyelids
Then open your eyes and resume your computer work. Voilà! Your body has re-appeared in your consciousness and you can better take care of it – congratulations! If you kept typing while your eyes were closed, please use spell-checker!
If my job were a sport, how should I train for it? What exercises, diet, and daily regimen would help me perform at my peak? My jobs currently include massage, parenting, and blogging. I’ll lead by example to show you how you could apply this concept to your job(s).
Massage is physically demanding. What do I need?
- Physical strength: Early in massage school I developed adequate hand strength. Over the years I’ve realized the critical importance of core abdominal strength to support my back as I lean over clients day in and day out.
- Flexibility: Strength without flexibility leads to injury. Personally I find yoga and Pilates a great match to keep me aware of how much I need more flexibility.
- Stamina: Sleep is key; so is nutrition. Sometimes I work a split day with both morning & evening appointments. To keep my stamina up, I need good fuel in the form of healthy meals and snacks.
- Massage: You’ll often hear me say I feel I should be somehow magically exempt from muscle tension, but it’s just not true. So, I take my turn laying on the table too. When my shoulders and neck get all knotted up I am more likely to strain those muscles and lose the tension battle.
- Strength (again): Although I decline most requests to carry my son these days, parenting young children often involves lots of bending and lifting (as well as crawling and generally acting like a fool!?!). Developing strong abdominal strength is key in healthy bending, twisting & lifting. Imagine an obstacle course where you navigate challenges swinging an infant car seat and you’ll see why a strong core is key.
- Stamina: Again, healthy fuel administered throughout the day goes a long way toward doing my job well. As someone with a high metabolism, everyone suffers when I get hungry.
- Quick & Quality Decision-making: Many sports depend on this & parenting is no different. I think there’s a great link to sleep here. Sleep! Sleep! Sleep! Every parent I know could benefit from more sleep. Keeping a sleep routine is a great gift you can give your brain – and your family.
- Half-time/the off-season: Just as in sports, we need breaks from the action. That might be 10 minutes of reading time for mommy or having a beer after the kids are in bed. Taking breaks allows you to recover from the never-ending job of parenting.
- Cardio: I’d like those spontaneous races with my 7-year-old to be fun, not humiliating. Plus heart disease runs in my family. I’d like to be a parent a long time, so I need to keep my ticker working well.
- Good Equipment: In athletics this might be the right shoes, ball or wheels. For computer work, this usually translates to ergonomics. When I fudge on ergonomics, I feel it right where you feel it – neck & shoulders. So I try to keep myself honest and check in with my body.
- Time clock: Most sports are ruled by some sort of time-keeping. If I sit and type for hours, my wrists ache and burn a bit. That’s familiar from days as a typist. When I’ve exceeded my limits, I care for my carpal tunnels by doing some quick soaks in ice water in the sink. I also massage & stretch my forearms where most of the typing muscles reside.
Have I painted a good picture of what I mean? When you view your job as a sport you can think creatively about what you need to perform well. You can acknowledge that your body will do better with certain kinds of support. I’ve only scratched the surface here. For one thing, I’ve only covered physical aspects of my jobs. Does this spark any ideas about your work? I’d love to read your thoughts in the comments below. Or shoot me an email about your job and I’ll brainstorm what you may need to perform at your peak. Send me a not here: susan (at) susanyoungmassagetherapy (dot) com.
I recently had the opportunity to sit at my laptop for extended periods of time…okay, I confess: I had to take traffic school. My crime? Turning left out of a parking lot during prohibited hours. I have since noticed the friendly police officer parked across the street from the parking lot many afternoons. Argh!
I’m glad traffic school is offered on-line. It was pretty painless. And I was probably due for a refresher on traffic laws. I think a lot of other Southern CA drivers could stand to be reminded that the maximum freeway speed is technically 65 mph. Of course, it would be extremely dangerous to drive that slowly.
Completing traffic school on-line reminded me of how challenging it is to have good posture when sitting at a computer. I assume most people know the basics of ergonomics by now, so I’ll focus below on other tips:
- Beware the laptop! First of all, laptops are both good & evil. They give us lots of flexibility (good). You have either the keyboard at a decent height ergonomically or the screen, but not both (bad). So, always be wary of laptops and limit your time at them. Play around with different places to use your laptop. Sometimes I set mine on top of the microwave and type standing up. Move around and don’t get too stagnant.
- Love your eyes. Eyes and screens are not a match made in heaven. Eyes need a break. So, look away often. Look out at a distance often. Close your eyes and count down from 10 in your favorite language. If you haven’t learned to type without looking at the keyboard, please take the time to learn. You’re likely to be typing on a computer for the rest of your life. If you have screen-addicted children, please teach them to be kind to their eyes too.
- Stretch your neck. There are a whole host of muscles in the neck and shoulder area I affectionately call the “concentration muscles.” They try to “help” our eyes and brains concentrate on what we’re doing by bringing our heads forward to somehow see better or be more engaged. After a couple of hours (or years!!), we are all out of whack and feel upper back and shoulder strains. Every time you finish a paragraph, tuck your chin and retract your neck by pretending to push something back with your head.
- Counteract computer posture. We hunch, slouch, and practically stop breathing when we sit at computers for hours on end. So, counteract that regularly and in a number of ways. Take breaks and breathe deeply; your internal organs will thank you. Stretch your chest muscles by standing with your back against the wall, arms up like you’re surrendering, then slide your hands up above your head against the wall. Swim the back stroke once a week.
- Get a posture buddy. Find someone else at the office or at home to whom you can be mutually accountable for decent posture. Determine in advance how you want to be reminded or encouraged when you’re hopelessly slumped at your desk. Are gentle reminders in a 50’s style mom voice effective for you and your buddy? Perhaps you’re more of a biting sacrasm duo. Find what works and make those endless treks passed each other’s cubicles more worthwhile.
I hope some of these suggestions will help you have better posture next time you take traffic school on-line or surf the web endlessly trying to find the speed limit for city roads (do you know it??). What are some of your favorite strategies for not becoming one with your computer? Post in the comments below.