Healthy habits that will help to improve your health.
Is bad posture a matter of strength-stiffness of our muscles or a matter of conscious control?
Most people think that in order to avoid a hunched posture while sitting or to maintain yourself in a more upright position it is required to strengthen the back muscles, your abs, stretch and get the best ergonomic accessories. Yes, this helps but its not all that is needed. To achieve real and long lasting solutions for your posture problems you need to work on what you want to improve, to be more clear, if you want to improve your sitting or standing position you need to also re-educate your body through the mind for this specific act, very similar to when you learn a sport. For example a football player, if they want to be a better player they need to train their muscles, use the appropriate outfit and learn and practice the specific movements to play the game (dribbling drills, shooting drills, crossing drills and so on).
So, what do you need to stop having problems with your posture?
This will help your muscles to be stronger, resistant and to develop a better tone but it’s not good only to focus in just one part of the body, like the back or core because our body works as a system. For example walking or swimming are excellent and complete ways to engage all of your body in one activity and in a balanced way. If I may say, my favourite top 1 activity is climbing, like our ancestors or like a child: hands, arms, back and legs working equally and strong enough to lift our own weight. I don’t mean to climb mountains or complicated walls. You can climb a tree, a ladder, and even the climbing frames in a playground which can be also challenging for adults. When my children’s school built a climbing wall for teenagers I was super happy.
Stretching exercises should be part of our daily routine like washing our teeth, it brings a lot of benefits and it can take just 10-20 minutes of your day. Soft and gradual stretching of the legs, back and arms. The best are stretching exercises that are made to stretch the muscles in chains and not just individually. I find that some Yoga exercises are very interesting for this and also the SGA or Global Active Stretching exercises from the Souchard Method.
3) Ergonomic accessories
I can’t stop thinking about our new reality of ”home office” I saw so many people suffering just because they didn’t have the correct furniture. If you are going to buy a new chair, please! try it first! It has to be good for YOU. There is so much information about the parameters you need to check when you are at your desk. In short: ”May the furniture adapt to you and not you to the furniture”. Observe carefully this simple graphic, that I found on the internet:
Scan this image from top to bottom:
-Eyes: the imaginary sight line parallel to the floor helps your head to be in the right position.
-Head, neck and back effortless in balance and supported.
-Elbow in a 90 degree angle and supported.
-Hips in 90 degrees (never less, it will overload your lumbar spine and discs).
-Knee angle (not the most important in my point of view, everybody move de legs constantly, but in this case I would mention that it is very important that the back of your knees are not touching the seat, ).
-Feet resting on the floor or a support.
Now coming to our key point. If I go to walk everyday 30-60 minutes, stretch 10-20 minutes and have a very nice chair and table to work. I have less pain in my neck, but it’s still there and I still hunch when I sit, what’s wrong?
The answer is Conscious Control.
The truth is that if you are used to a certain way of moving, sitting, etc this frequent and habitual way is recognized by the brain as ”good” and all automatic adjustments in an unconscious level are set in order to optimize your attention into another task (work, playing an instrument, studying, even watching a movie). So, to make a real change you need to work consciously on this specific activity, for example: how to sit or how to walk. Of course it takes time to practice this new way, keeping in mind the adversity that you’ve already been doing it, but, let’s say it, in a wrong way. What you need first is to recognize what was wrong and stop doing that and now you will be able to start a new way of thinking in this task. To explain this to my patients I use the example of learning a language; to re-educate your body you need time and practice and it will require you to think until it becomes natural. To support this learning process I found that the Alexander Technique is an excellent approach. Through the lessons your body awareness expands and you learn more about how ”your” body works, not the body but ”your” body, with all its concerns, body-mind and emotions. To practice it during your day you can dedicate 5 to 20 minutes at any time or at a more advanced level, while performing any other activity, integrating this to the way you move and live.
From a physiotherapist’s point of view who works with patients with chronic pain it helped me a lot to find out more things about the unconscious/automatic body. Gave me the tools to listen to their body in a different way and now I’m able to help them to learn and make changes from inside to outside.
In this short story the main character will be you…
Imagine that you are alone walking in a forest, far from any village or town. You love to feel free exploring places, taking pictures of the beauty you find in nature. You’ve been camping for a couple of days, carrying a back pack full of things, which many of them, maybe you won’t use. You are following the route of the National Park and you feel safe that you can’t get lost.
Enjoying the landscape, smelling the green fresh air of the forest. Birds flying across the path. A rabbit notices you and as your eyes meet, he jumps away and disappears.
This is magical! You think.
You continue walking for a couple of hours and suddenly, something shinning, few meters away, picks your attention. Closer to it, you see what it is, it’s a standing mirror.
Once you are in front of it you observe your own reflection, you look first at your face, ”I’m tanned and my arms too”, you think. Then you look at your entire reflection and realise that the back pack you are carrying might be too heavy for you, because it pushes you forward. So you take it off and observe yourself again, ”ah! this is nice”, you think, ”my legs feel lighter”. You stretch your arms up and take a deep breath looking towards the sky. When you bring your eyes back to the horizontal, the reflection is looking at you while bringing the arms down too.
Standing still and viewing at yourself on the other side of the mirror, another thought comes to your mind, ”looks friendly” and waving to the reflection, it waves to you back. Then you smile to it and it smiles back to you. After a few seconds, both, at the same time, start to extend one arm forward trying to make contact, touching each other’s fingers.
As you keep observing the encounter of the fingers, the contact, with the hard surface of the mirror make your attention shift to your hand and then you continue looking along your own arm like you’ve never looked at it before.
You loose interest in the mirror, so you turned and look out into the view of the forest while with your other hand caress that arm. You take your shoes off and accept your own weight, how you are. Your bare feet are in contact with the grass and as long as you keep looking out towards the forest, your head finds a new balance on top of the spine. This new balance creates a new sense of wholeness from your head to your feet. A delicate and soft stream of energy runs down and up along your legs, hips and spine, lengthening and widening your back, expanding your chest and making you bring the fresh air into your lungs. This stream spreads along your entire body head, neck, back legs, feet arms and hands. You look around, with your neck free and your head floating up away from your pelvis and you prove that this stream runs both ways, from bottom to top and from top to bottom. Like an endless loop. This experience makes you feel more present, confident and balanced not only with your physical body but with your thoughts and emotions too.
´´What is it?´´ you ask.
Note: I wrote this story as my graduation talk at ATCA (Alexander Technique Centrum Amsterdam)
This last talk should reflect what is The Alexander Technique in your own words. And this is how I ended up with this short story called ”The Mirror”. I hope this can help others to find out what they can learn through this amazing technique.
Sitting is an act of balance. In life this act is coordinated by our nervous system and performed by our postural muscles. When the right support is on the sit bones (those 2 bony parts under the bottom) and the head is freely balancing on top of the spine, it is then when you can find the right equilibrium.
Why is it then so difficult to maintain?
First, simply because our body is built to move, not to stay still for hours; second: faulty sensory appreciation. The stress, stiffness, the rhythm of life, bad habits, all of these interfere with the system to find the right natural balance.If you want you can learn how to restore it.
Many people believe that to avoid slump posture while sitting you need to strengthen the back muscles and your abs, to stretch or to get some magic ergonomic accessories. Unfortunately, non of this is a solution for it. Sensory appreciation or propioception is the sense that makes us know where our body parts are and help us to create our body schema . One of Alexander’s discoveries is that this sense can be faulty, making us remain sitting in the same way even we recognize it’s wrong, because it ‘’feels’’right, or I would say ”known”.
Improving your sensory appreciation will create the conditions for you to start recognizing your habitual way of doing things, so then it is possible to stop the old patters and change them for new and more coordinated ones. You will find that then, it is possible to be uprise without effort. This needs practice, like any new skill you want to learn and improve.
To learn more about the Alexander Technique
Headache is a common problem and it is estimated by WHO that almost half of the adult population have had headache at least once in the year.
There are many different types of headaches according with it’s possible cause.
The most common are tension type, cervicogenic headache and migraine. This three types have different characteristics:
Tension type headache: The person refers the feeling of a tight band around the head and it’s often associated with muscles tightness in the head, jaw and neck. It can be related to emotional stress which triggers the ”fight and flight” response (physical stress response) realising on our system stress chemicals such as adrenaline and cortisol. This chemicals make our muscles to tighten even more and be prepare to fight.
If the muscles cannot come back to a more relaxed state then the tension accumulated on them generate more pain and facilitates future episodes.
Neck headaches – often referred as cervicogenic headaches – have its origin in the upper cervical spine and the soft tissues related with the junction of the head and neck. It can be also related with other muscles which receive innervation from the Accessory nerve (esterno-cleido-mastoid and trapezius). These muscles are also hyperactive while the head is positioning forward and away from our centre of gravity. This habitual tendency on our posture provokes the neck muscles to be in overuse referring pain to the forehead and back of the eye. Other muscles that can refer pain to the head are the chewing muscles, when they are hyperactive, (for ex. bruxism) they become painful and tense.
The symptoms associated to cervicogenic headache are:
-Unilateral headache (but sometimes bilateral), restriction on head mobility, the pain can be reproduced by moving the head, touching different muscles from the neck or by pressing lightly on the interapophyseal joints of the upper cervical spine.
Migraines can result in severe throbbing or pulsing pain, usually on one side of the head. This is often associated with other symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to both light and sound. Migraines can also occur with aura, which are disturbances of the nervous system. Examples of aura include experiencing flashes of light or blurred vision (visual disturbances), hearing noises or music (auditory disturbances), having pins and needles in a limb (sensory disturbances) and difficulty speaking (verbal disturbances). The causes of migraines are not well understood; however, it appears that genetics and environmental factors play an important role. Suggested causes include alterations in the brainstem and its interactions with the trigeminal nerve (an important pain pathway); and imbalances in brain chemicals, particularly serotonin. A number of factors can trigger migraines in different people. These include: certain foods (eg. salty or processed foods), stress, changes in sleeping patterns, exposure to sensory stimuli (eg. bright lights and sun glare) and certain medications. Also it is proved that neck muscles become hyperactive during the migraine episodes but they are not directly related with the cause, though they can make the pain worse.
I need to mention that many women suffer monthly of headache related with their period, this is important to bare in mind taking it more easy, because you can’t fight the hormones!
Unfortunately it is also possible to have more of one type of headache that they overlap.
HOW PHYSIOTHERAPY AND THE ALEXANDER TECHNIQUE CAN HELP
Basically both help in the same way, reducing the extra tension in the body and helping to find a better balance in our body. From my experience a combination of both could help to restore the mobility and function of the neck while helping you to avoid creating the extra tension during your daily life activities. As a mindful approach the Alexander Technique teaches you to inhibit your habitual harmful patterns and to apply new ways of thinking that will make you feel less anxious and more relaxed.
In any of these approaches the person need to have medical control, to make a proper use of medication and also to have a headache diary, which is very helpful to find triggers related with the headaches.