Correcting Poor Posture with AIM Somatic Movement

Do you sag in your office chair? Text as you walk? Watch TV in bed or play computer games while slumped on the sofa? Then you could be one of the millions of people affected by the Poor Posture Pandemic, or PPP, as I like to call it.

We can’t deny that technology is a wonderful thing. The world’s at our fingertips; we’ve reduced the burden of physical labor and increased productivity exponentially. Anything your heart desires is just a click away. It’s almost too convenient — micro-movements of thumbs and wrists are all we need to get anything we want.

After 3 million years of evolution, we stood erect, our spine a sculpted “S.” In just two decades, the PPP has converted young and old alike into a rounded “C.” Are we retrogressing? Will we be dragging our knuckles on the floor in another 20 years?

The human head weighs 10 to 14 pounds. As we sit stooped over a computer screen or handheld technology, our shoulders round forward and our heavy head responds to the ever-present pull of gravity. Even when we stand, the spine is so habitually slumped that it temporarily forgets the legacy of evolution. We walk as if we are still sitting down. Tucked buttocks, rounded shoulders and head forward are a kinesthetic recipe for pain and discomfort.

Fortunately, AIM (Awareness, Integration and Movement) can break us of these habits and help us learn more functional, less painful ways to sit, stand and move.

Awareness

“You have to know what you’re doing before you can do what you want.” –Moshé Feldenkrais, founder of the Feldenkrais Method of somatic education

How are you sitting as you read this? Are you stooped over a kitchen counter or slumped in a chair? Is your head forward, shoulders rounded? The first step back to the evolutionary highway is recognizing you have a postural problem. Engaging your body’s natural skills of perception enables you to notice your alignment during everyday tasks.

Integration

Once you have identified your postural habits by applying awareness, you can change. You don’t have to stop using technology — just get smarter about your posture while you use it:

  • Support your back in an “S” shape while sitting at your desk. You can use lumbar cushions or a rolled towel placed in the low back area — or even invest in an ergonomic chair.
  • Generally decrease the time you spend in front of a screen, especially one you look down at. Hold your phone up to your eyes instead of constantly looking down.
  • If you have to work 8 hours at a computer, set a timer to remind you to get away from your desk for a few minutes every one or two hours.

Movement

People often ask me how they should stretch their necks and shoulders to relieve pain. My answer frequently surprises them. The habitual “C” shape you’re developing is already overstretched — that’s why it’s often painful. Try gently contracting the sore, tight muscles instead, then slowly releasing. This helps reset the muscles’ resting length and reverse the effects of poor posture. Remember if any of these exercises cause pain, STOP.*

  • Let your arms hang by your sides, and shrug both shoulders to your ears. Hold at the top of the contraction, then very slowly release. Repeat 3 times.
  • Let your arms hang by your sides, and shrug both shoulders to your ears. Hold at the top of the contraction, and very slowly turn your head to the right and then to the left a few times. Slowly release your shoulders.
  • Resting your arms on your desk, draw slow concentric circles with your shoulder blades, first clockwise then counterclockwise.
  • Take 3 slow, deep breaths, concentrating on the exhalation.

Awareness, Integration and Movement (AIM) are the keys to postural reeducation, reduced pain and improved range of motion. AIM group classes and private one-on-one sessions identify your habitual movement patterns and offer alternatives, reminding the brain of more functional pathways to achieve the same action.

AIM group classes are relaxing, helping you de-stress while developing your proprioception and body awareness. During one-on-one AIM sessions, we use simple somatic movements that release tight muscles and increase range of motion, then offer gentle stretches that regain muscle length. The work is cumulative — gradual changes affirmed by a series of personalized exercises and group classes that build on positive results. AIM Somatic Movement classes are available exclusively at Yoga Nook in Simi Valley.

You hold the key to resolving your pain and enjoying a more active lifestyle. Step out of the pain cycle, and ask us how Yoga Nook and AIM can help.

*It’s beyond my scope and that of this article to diagnose pain, tingling or limits to ranges of motion. If you are experiencing these symptoms, seek the help of a health professional immediately.

 

Image credit: Ben Yapp on Flickr

3 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Your Back Pain

If you’ve ever suffered from back pain (and there are likely very few among us who can say they haven’t!), you know how difficult and debilitating it can be. Chronic pain can interfere with our ability to focus, accomplish everyday tasks and enjoy life. This much is obvious. But there’s a lot you may not know about what’s causing your back pain and what you can do to address it. For instance:

1.  Your spine is a superhighway for information going to your brain, and response coming from your brain. Sensors throughout the body alert the brain to adverse pressure, temperatures and inflammation.

Pain is highly subjective. Stress levels and the anticipation of pain affect your overall perception of pain. We can also become familiar with pain and either learn to ignore it, or look for it when it’s not immediately obvious — somehow reassured by its nagging presence.

2.  Pain is not always an indicator of the problem. Poor posture and dysfunctional or repetitive movement stress the body. Even slight misalignment of the spine has been shown to affect the general status of our health.

When the brain is alerted to an insult or injury, a flexion response (curling or rounding of the spine, as in the fetal position) or extension response (arching of the spine, as in the fight-or-flight response) is initiated. Muscles go into spasm or contract to limit movement. The brain receives pain feedback from the increased pressure caused by contracted muscles. We naturally want to stretch out the perceived tightness, even when it causes more pain to do so.

3.  Poor posture while sitting is a major contributor to spinal compression. Jobs that require static posture for prolonged periods, regardless of how comfortable you feel, are not good for your back. Neck pain, headaches, shoulder discomfort and low back pain can result.

But have you ever considered how your posture while relaxing might also be contributing to your pain? After a long day at work, we come home, slump on the sofa and watch TV, play games on the computer or check our emails. We are fatigued so we think we’re relaxing, while we are actually just affirming the poor posture we have endured all day. You can probably detect a self-perpetuating pattern here — a cycle of poor posture, fatigue and pain.

But there is hope: A 2013 integrative treatment study, which included yoga and mindfulness, discovered positive results for people suffering from chronic pain and the depression that often accompanies it. After following 252 patients for six months, researchers at UC San Francisco found a significant reduction in pain and depression, as well as improvements in mood, quality of life and work productivity, in those who had taken part.

“The biggest surprise was that our integrative approach to pain had a positive impact on so many other aspects of the patients’ lives,” said lead author Donald I. Abrams, integrative oncologist at UCSF. “Integrative medicine doesn’t just view pain as an isolated somatic symptom, but assesses it in relation to the whole person — body, mind and spirit.”

At Yoga Nook, we believe awareness is the first step. Becoming aware of how you use your body and defining its needs are key to resolving your pain. Next Tuesday, we’ll delve deeper into what’s causing our Poor Posture Pandemic (or PPP, as I like to call it). We’ll also look at how AIM (Awareness, Integration and Movement) helps us develop more functional ways of moving, sitting and being.

 

Image credit: Emily on Flickr (CC)

Food for Thought

One hundred and eight million people support the diet industry, 85% of whom are female. The average person makes four or more attempts at weight loss, helping the industry accrue $20 billion in annual revenue. Yes, that’s right, 20 billion dollars.

There’s the low-fat, no-carb, raw veggie, even the “skip breakfast and take a cold bath instead” diet (I’m not kidding) – all competing for our consumer support and paying up to $3 million for celebrities to sell the results in commercials.

This unfortunate phenomenon is a great example of the population seeking the answer outside of themselves rather than looking within. We think someone else can make a food plan for us that will provide fast, convenient, lasting results. We forget that in order to earn our way towards a better relationship with food, there has to be a shift in our state of mind.

A few years ago, I offered a program at Yoga Nook called Body WiZe. It was not a weight loss program, but rather a yoga, meditation and mindful eating workshop that focused on increasing the importance of food and slowing down. We encouraged participants to cultivate their intuition and self-restraint so they could make better choices without feeling deprived of foods they enjoyed.

Mindful eating brings you into the moment and reminds you to pause. In that pause, you can inquire: Are you standing in front of the pantry because you really are hungry, or because you are feeling anxious/bored/overwhelmed with your current activity and need a break?

Nourishing your body with food should take time. Primal man didn’t rush out, kill a bison and eat it on the way to the next hunt. A satisfying meal is one that appeals to all the senses – it is not only flavorful, but also looks colorful on the plate, smells tantalizing and feels textural as we eat it. Your whole body should be recruited into the meal, so every part of you knows you have eaten and becomes sated.

If we are in such a rush to eat that we are swallowing without even paying attention to what’s in our mouth, or so distracted as we eat that we forget we’ve eaten at all, how can we be satisfied or nourished by our food?

Here are some tips that we shared as part of the “Body WiZe” program:

  • Give yourself enough time to eat. Once prepared, a simple meal should take between 20 to 30 minutes to eat mindfully.
  • Reduce distractions. If you have to eat at work, turn off your computer – or even better, go for a walk to a local park bench. Just for the time you are eating, turn off the TV, radio or phone, and focus on nurturing your body with each mouthful. Experience the food fully.
  • Look at your food. As you prepare your food, keep in mind that it should be colorful and aromatic. Include a variety of textures to tantalize the tongue.
  • Chew more slowly. Put less in your mouth than usual and keep it there for longer, taking time to enjoy the flavors. Remember that digestion begins in the mouth.
  • Completely finish your first mouthful before you eat more. Your mouth should be empty between bites, ready to experience a new array of texture, flavor and temperature.
  • Remember: You don’t have to finish everything on your plate. Stop when you begin to feel full. You can also try using a smaller plate.

Practicing mindful eating is another way to bring yoga off the mat and into your life – mind, body and breath as one. Namaste.

 

Image credit: Thomas Hawk on Flickr (CC)