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Month: January 2018

Posture: Chicken or the Egg

There is a direct correlation between emotions and the quality of posture. When someone is feeling depressed, they hold a much different posture than a person who is completely elated. But which came first, the posture or the emotion? Could changing one cause a change in the other? It turns out that it is hard to separate the two. Try this silly little demonstration to get a better understanding.

Stand with your feet hip width apart. Begin to feel the heaviness of your arms and shoulders as they begin to slump forward and down. Feel how your head begins to draw forward and your spine begins to collapse. Allow you knees to bend and experience the weight of your body in your legs. Now say out loud, “I feel really happy!”

Did you let out a little giggle? Pretty hard to convince yourself that you feel happy? Feeling just the opposite while holding your posture in that position?
Now try standing tall with your shoulders drawn back and arms by your side. Feel your chest lift as the top of your head lifts toward the ceiling. Take a deep breath and say, “I feel really sad.” How convincing is that?

A change in posture is an unconscious reaction to some type of physiological, hormonal, or emotional experience. A physical injury, such as a sprained ankle, will cause a person to shift weight away from the injury and reform their posture to reduce the pain response. A reduction in serotonin will have a direct effect on a how a person feels and supports their weight. And, as you might have just experienced, emotions can have a tremendous impact on how balanced you are.

We already know that improving a person’s posture can reduce pain and compensations, but could it also have a positive effect on their hormonal balance and emotional wellbeing? What if improving your feeling of wellbeing was as simple as breathing? Crazier things have happened! Let’s do one more experiment.

First, as you stand comfortably, check in with how you feel. What is your emotional state? How does your body feel? Are there areas of tension? Next, place one hand against the center of your chest and one hand on your tummy. Feel how you breathe. Do you breathe more from the chest or more from the tummy? Continue to keep your hands in place. As you inhale, try to breathe into the tummy only. Can you keep the chest still as you fill your tummy? Take six deep inhalations through your nostrils and breathe out twice as long through your mouth. Now just walk around and see how you feel.

Stand as you did when you began this experiment and check in with how you feel now. Did anything change? What’s different? What’s the same? By breathing in to the mid-section you are more likely to turn on your “core” muscles which help maintain proper posture. Just a simple thing like breathing could help improve posture and have a tremendous effect on how you hold yourself and how you feel.

Obviously, this is not the answer to all of life’s problems but when you catch yourself in a less than desirable mood, take a moment to check in with your posture and maybe take a few deep breaths. Who knows, maybe things will appear just a bit better?

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A New Normal

Some friends came to town a couple of weeks ago, and when they saw my kids, they couldn’t get over how much they had grown. We made the typical nodding response of agreement, but then it got me thinking. Why don’t we make the same exclamatory remark every time we see our kids? I mean they are constantly growing. Obviously, it is because the growth is slow, and it is only over the course of some time that it is noticeable to the eye. The same can be said of how our structure changes and adapts to our experiences and surroundings. We do not find ourselves with poor posture overnight. It is a subtle, insidious adaptation which occurs. The difference between kids growing up and the change in posture is that you can do something about your posture.

Movement is the key to improving posture. Lack of movement is the key to allowing your posture to degrade even more. Improving your posture could very well depend on the type of movement you choose. Often, people will choose movements which reinforce the distortions rather than correcting them. For instance, someone who sits at a desk all day will have rounded shoulders, bent elbows, flexed hips, and a forward head position (in essence the more they sit, the more the posture adapts to sitting). Over time this posture normalizes.

This person may go to the gym, but the exercises they select may encourage more rounding shoulders, bent elbows, etc. They spend the majority of their workout doing bench press, biceps curls, leg press, and crunches. All of these movements reinforce excessive tension in the areas which are already bombarded during their workday. Little do most know that their workout is exacerbating the pains that come from distorted posture. Therefore, the selection of exercises they perform at the gym should be chosen based on what their structure is doing.

It is the areas nicknamed “dark zones” which need more attention. The “dark zones” are areas of the body which do not get a lot of stimuli due to distorted postures and compensatory motions. Ultimately the goal of your workout is to achieve a greater balance of muscular tension, improved posture and overall function. This is where the assistance of a trained professional comes into play. Getting a postural assessment of what the body is doing is a great place to start. Finding the points of structural weakness and regions of excessive stress are important pieces of information when designing a complete workout.

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