One little change – lighten up!

ready to scrub!A conversation today led me to a new thought. What if I dropped all the negativity I felt when doing household chores – would it lead to less strain on my body? Over the years I have marveled at how I can regularly manage the physicality of doing massage while cleaning the bathtub can strain my shoulder! Of course, I could clean more frequently, necessitating less strenuous scrubbing. But the new thought today was this – what if the negative attitude I have while scrubbing the tub contributed to muscle tension, which led to muscle/joint strain? What if, indeed?

When I write “one little change” articles, I share things I’ve learned and regularly practice. This time, I submit a proposal instead of a tried-and-true tip. Join me in this experiment and let me know if you notice any difference. My most common negative attitude while doing household chores is resentment. Am I really the only person in the house who notices the need to clean? Why is it always me that follows through? Why am I the one cleaning at 10:30 pm the night before a visitor arrives? There are many ways to answer these questions and great conversations to have at a relaxed family meeting. But, while the actual cleaning is going on, what if I consciously set aside these resentments and chose to put on a cheerful attitude while also putting on a pair of gloves? I’m game to try. Please share in the comments below any wisdom you’ve gained over the years in this area. I would love to hear your story.


Field trip! To The Walking Company

the backpack could just as easily be one of those gigantic purses that are fashionable these days

The Walking Company is one of my favorite places to buy shoes because the stores have great shoes and knowledgeable staff. I approached the manager with an idea I’d been mulling over for awhile. The Walking Company has this cool machine that shows the  distribution of weight on your feet in a digital image. I wanted to observe the difference between when I stood normally and when I stood with a heavy backpack on one shoulder. Check it out.

normal stance

In this first image you’ll see that the red shown in the balls of the feet appear more on the right. This is my normal stance. The red indicates the areas of greatest pressure while standing. Bill Vogt, the store manager, was cautious about letting me stand on the sensor pads with a heavy backpack on my shoulder because the machine is so sensitive it can crash and be out of commission for a couple of days (which can equal loss of sales for the store). So I had to use a fairly light backpack. What I expected to see was greater areas of red (pressure) on the side of the added weight. See what you notice in this second image.

With the backpack on Right shoulder

What we see instead is that the body shifted weight to the left to compensate for weight on the right. The body is amazing, organizing itself around the idea of balance and equilibrium.We all know we can not live life completely balanced at all times, but when we have choices to carry loads in a more balanced or less balanced manner, it’s always advisable to choose balance. One specific example comes to mind: carrying a child on the hip. Everyone always says be sure to alternate the side you carry your kid on, or to carry them in front packs, backpacks or slings. I say “yes, all of the above.” Just keep mixing it up or you’ll find imbalances both above and below (shoulders & neck to the north; low back, knees, feet to the south).

Thanks for coming along on my field trip! A big shout out to Bill Vogt and Niya Monrole at the Santa Anita Mall Walking Company store for helping me with this illustration and for some great new shoes.

One little change – using a book stand

Is reading a physically taxing endeavor? Most people would say no. However, many of the graduate school students I know are inclined to say “yes” as the years of heavy reading inflict damage on their bodies. I dedicate this post to all my grad student readers. May you survive the volumes of reading with health & happiness!

One little change can make reading an easier task on your body: using a reading stand to prop the book at an angle that’s easier on the neck. I’ve taken some photos of me reading. When you look at the pictures, pay particular attention to the angle of the neck.


In photo 1, my head is comfortably balanced on top of my spine. My head tends to be forward of optimal posture (true confession!), but this is a pretty neutral position given that underlying issue. Another thing I like about photo 1 is that my hands and arms are free to be in any comfortable position since the book stand is holding the book for me. That’s one less task during the day where my hands & arms need to be forward of centerline, my shoulder blades can be back on the back where they should be and my rib cage can be balanced in the center plane. (P.S. I love my IKEA chair – very nice support!)

Let’s take a look at photo 2. My head is farther forward over my rib cage, shoulder blades creeping off the back toward the front (technically called protraction), hands & arms engaged in the task of holding the book, feet or legs more likely to be crossed to achieve overall balance (not shown). This posture seems benign until you do it for hours. You would usually feel the long-term effects of this posture as strain in the upper back and neck muscles.

And finally photo 3. I look comfy on the couch, don’t I? However, my neck is at a severe angle, flexed forward. Shoulders are all akimbo. My left arm is supporting a lot of weight. If we had X-ray vision, we would see my spine is contorted laterally. I wouldn’t last long in this position. Mind you, changing positions often can be good for gobs of reading, but another strategy is to find a posture-neutral or posture-supportive position and then take movement breaks where you truly engage your body in a range of motion for a body “snack break.” Perhaps pick up a hula hoop during your reading break or do the limbo to some groovy music.

A book stand can be as simple as a plastic cookbook stand (photo 1). There are also products for sale like this from Amazon. (By the way, if you think you might want to buy something like this from Amazon, or any other product from Amazon, consider clicking over to my community health blog and starting with a click on my Amazon carousel. If you make a purchase, I’ll get a little kick-back which helps offset the cost of running that blog. Thanks!)

I’ll end with a quote from Family Circle’s March 2009 issue which got me thinking about this topic years ago. “‘Slumping in a chair crowds your internal organs, resulting in sluggish digestion that can lead to weight gain,’ says celebrity Pilates instructor Brooke Siler. Make sure to keep your waist long by imagining there’s a vertical toothpick in the space between the bottom of your ribs and the top of your hips.” Toothpicks also available on Amazon!?!

one little change – multiple trips

Imagine this scene.

It’s 7:30 am and you are hustling to get yourself and everyone short you are in charge of out the door on time. After you drop the kids off at school, you’ll head to work. During lunch you have 2 small errands to run. If you’re really lucky you might grab 20 minutes to exercise before picking the kids up again. Then it’s back home by way of the store to pick something up for dinner.

If you’re like me or most moms I know, the scenario above implies that on your way from the house to the car, you have 20 bags of varying sizes, shapes and weights hanging from every appendage you own. There might be 2 bags on each shoulder, one under the left arm and 1-2 in each hand. On a good day your kid or kids might carry their own lunch bags, backpacks and favorite toy themselves. But if you’ve already had to wrestle them to brush their teeth and tie their shoes, you just might choose to skip one more battle and carry those items yourself to the car. To carry all these bags without dropping them, you probably need to hike your shoulders up high essentially making them pegs from which these bags can hang securely. As you deposit some of these items in the front seat, kids’ seats, and trunk, you’ll need to swing the bags left and right, contorting your body so the other bags don’t fall or tip. Can you imagine this scenario? I could throw a stroller into the scenario. You know, the kind that fold really easily (wink).

This is the first in a series I’m calling “one little change.” In this kind of post, I’ll suggest how making one little change in how you do something can make a difference in feeling comfortable in your body in some way.

My suggestion for this post is pretty straightforward. I hope I won’t insult anyone’s intelligence.

Make multiple trips. Ridiculously obvious, I know, but I often find myself needing to fight the urge to make one big huge hulking trip with everything I’ll need for the next 11 hours. It’s like a cosmic battle between efficiency and common sense. Act like a pack mule and you’ll likely feel a bit grumpy and sore. The one trip method overtaxes my body and its amazing appendages. Making multiple trips to the car to load up the day’s necessities has helped me stay sane this year. I feel less frustrated because I’m not taking the role of pack mule. My loads are lighter and I practically skip between the car and house (if coffee has already been consumed “tra la la!”).

Now if you live in a place where your car is far from your house, you’ll need some more clever solutions. Of if you are a beloved member of the public transportation community, God bless you! Roller bags, carts or light backpacks might be part of your solution set for keeping your body comfortable. If you’re a devoted bike rider, I am giving you a standing ovation right now. Right now! Panniers, of course, are fabulous for carting stuff without it hanging on your shoulders. Both bussers and bikers, by necessity, have learned to chose their loads strategically and keep them light.  I must admit, living in Southern CA has shaped me into quite the car-dependent person as you can see my bias as I write. And I realize not all my readers have short people they are in charge of, are moms (or even women) or have bad habits like me…but if you find this pep talk useful or transferable to your life in some small way, I’m happy.

The bottom line here is: please don’t overtax your lovely shoulders by carrying too much at once, even for short distances. Outsmart your task by breaking it down and your lovely shoulders will thank you. They are not truly intended to be pegs, hiked up to the ears to keep umpteen bags from falling off. Your SPINE will chip in with a hurrah too.

Cheers! Here’s to lighter loads for all!