Noticing the terrible habits of others

IMGP3116I 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.

Arthritis & Chiropractic Care, guest post by Dr. Rion Zimmerman

Arthritis can be confusing to people. When some people hear this word they contemplate a future with twisted and crippled joints; however, “arthritis” is an all-inclusive word that comprises many different conditions from the benign to the severe. Osteoarthritis, degenerative arthritis, or degenerative joint disease (DJD) are the terms for the most common form of arthritis, which is also called, spondylosis, if it occurs in the spine. Basically, the condition is due to the erosion of the cartilage that lines the joint surfaces.

Although some health care professionals will say arthritis cannot be reversed, studies have shown that it can. DJD or osteoarthritis in the spine is caused by unhealthy neurological patterns developed by physical, chemical and/or emotional stress. Chiropractic helps correct those unhealthy neurological patterns with gentle, specific adjustments. As the nervous system develops a healthy neurological pattern, stress is taken off the nerve roots.  As stress is removed from the nervous system, proper motion, function and balance will be restored throughout the body.

Prevention is unquestionably the best option, beginning at an early age. Making sure that

  • all injuries to joints are properly treated,
  • postural imbalances corrected and
  • joint function restored,

will prevent degenerative progression within one’s body. Chiropractic care can combat the effects of arthritis and can help someone avoid utilizing medications that cause harmful systemic effects. Chiropractic will allow one’s body to rest, relax and heal naturally!

If you’d like to learn more or talk to Dr. Zimmerman about your health, he can be reached at 818-952-0172 and on-line. Dr. Zimmerman is a Chiropractor specializing in preventative hands-on care with extensive knowledge related to athletes, pregnant and post-partum women and nutrition. He has been a patient of chiropractic since the age of eight, which continues to give him the drive to provide chiropractic care for individuals of all ages. His office is located in La Cañada, CA.

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.

the amazing disappearing body act

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!

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!?!

Stick ’em up!

We finally got a digital camera…I know, I know…creeping into the current century. But, now I can more easily add little pics with my posts. So here, ladies and gentlemen, is my husband striking a pose I like to call “Stick ’em up!”

My chiropractor, Rion Zimmerman, encouraged me to stick ’em up after every massage I give. 2 minutes in stick ’em up, helps remind your body where your plumbline is. Imagine a plumbline hanging through the center of your body. Most of us carry our heads forward of this centerline and something has to compensate. Tight muscles in the back of the neck and all the way down the spine come to mind.

In stick ’em up put your heels, seat, shoulder blades and head against the wall. Raise your arms just above 90° and take some nice, slow breaths. Stick ’em up is great for breaks from the computer, after cleaning the house, or following a Saturday morning Lego play fest.

Thank you Steve. You can now hand over your wallet.

@ Ease

I am not a military person. My understanding of military protocols is extremely limited. However, I was pondering the phrase “At Ease” and thinking how we could all use this military command in everyday life.

My awesome brother-in-law, Kevin, is a chaplain in the Air Force. He clued me in to the various commands and what they mean (haven’t we all seen these in movies?): Attention! Parade Rest, At Ease, and Rest.

A-Ten-Shun!! We can all imagine a soldier snapping to full attention with chest out, shoulders back, head up, eyes forward, feet together at 45 degree angle. Not a posture you’d want to stand in for very long, but very impressive.

Parade Rest: A transitional posture, where feet are shoulder width, hands clasped behind the back.

At Ease: Another degree of relaxation from parade rest. Now the upper body can relax.

Rest: Freedom of movement.

Although these might be formal commands used in parade formation, inspections and other military exercises, we operate in life like this. Different levels of muscle tension accompany different activities. Moments of challenge and stress will naturally cause us to contract muscles a little harder, for longer, unless we are tuned into our bodies and regulate how much tension we actually need. Tasks requiring a lot of concentration also usually translate to more muscle tension. The other day I found myself squeezing a glass bottle to get a drop of essential oil to come out. How ridiculous is it to squeeze a glass bottle? When I became aware, I realized every muscle from the fingertips to the hand up the arm and into the shoulder were recruited in the effort. All that was needed was patience in that particular case.

Our level of muscle tension is held in our brains. The central nervous system is in charge of muscle contractions. So, we can master our muscle tension with consciousness and awareness. We can decide to lower our muscle tension when we think it’s too high. Have you ever been driving and noticed your shoulders are up by your ears? You were concentrating so hard on traffic and all the other lovely drivers around you that you accidentally tensed up. Arriving at your destination, you might possibly feel stiff and exhausted, partly because of that excess muscle tension.

In massage I can feel a huge difference when someone can consciously relax a part of their body that is otherwise holding a lot of tension, for whatever reason. And when the tension is consciously let go, a lot more work can be accomplished. Sometimes it’s comical, like people who “talk” with their hands. If they are in the middle of telling me a story while I’m massaging their arms, I can feel their arm muscles are anything but “at ease.” The arms are engaged and “helping” tell the story by being tensed, flexed and stiff.

Experiment with muscle tension and bringing your awareness to what level of muscle tension you are carrying at different times during the day. You might be surprised when you find yourself at “attention” when you could be at “rest.”

Lastly, please click over to my Specials & Promotions page where you’ll find my Keep the Chocolates, I’ll Take a Massage Valentines Special. I am now able to sell gift certificates through a site called TheGiftCardCafe.com. You can now shop for a gift certificate at midnight in your pajamas.