Monthly Archives: January 2015

29 Vision and Posture (Part 1)

In late November and early December of last year a slew of articles appeared in the media with titles such as OMG, You’re Texting Your Way to Back Pain and Texting is Bad 4 UR Spine.

I know that texting or tablet use is correlated with many people’s neck, back and shoulder pain and poor posture. However just how much pressure you put on your spine when you are texting in the typical texting posture was shocking to me.

The famous evolution cartoon ending with a person using a smartphone

The media blitz on the texting topic was in response to a study that came out in the journal Surgical Technology International. The study found that as much as 60 pounds of pressure is put on the spine by the weight of the head when it’s bent in the position typical when using a smartphone or tablet.

Vision has a powerful influence on your posture. Your body follows your eyes.

Remember that you have a joint between the spine and the skull (way high up between your ears) that allows you to nod your head and look down a bit from. Well that joint does not allow enough movement to look at something flat on the table in front of you (which is where I notice the majority of people place their smartphone when using them while seated). What happens is that as your eyes lower your body follows and you end up bending the whole spine forward.

Try this experiment: Take your smartphone or a piece of paper with some text on it will do. Stand holding it at eye level and parallel to your face. Place your free hand gently on the base of your neck (for most of us the C7 vertebra sticks out a bit more there). Slowly lower the paper and angle it a bit until it is at about your belly button and parallel to the ground (where the man on the right in the cartoon above has his smartphone)

Notice that initially you can look down with your eyes a bit without needing to move the head at all.

To look down further without straining you eyes,  you can allow your head to nod slightly way high up between the ears—still without bending the spine at the base of the neck.

At some point you will start to bend at the base of the neck to continue reading. This is a point where you have lowered your reading material too far.

The ideal reading angle will differ from person to person. 60 degrees from the horizontal give or take is often given as the ideal. If you wear bifocals it will be a bit lower as you must look through the bottom part of your glasses to read.

Remember you can BITY instead of disrupting you delicate head spine relationship.

Get a cover for your tablet that folds to hold it at a good angle for reading or use a book chair. There are stands as well for smartphones. A smart investment but I rarely see them being used.

Picture Credit: Evolution and Texting cartoon: Yale Alumni Magazine Nov/Dec 2014.

28 New Year New Habit

Picture1This is the time of year that many of us make New Year’s Resolutions. Often our resolutions are a desire to establish new healthy habits—“I’ll start working out 6 days a week” or “I’m going to eat less sugar” or “I’m going to make Alexander Technique Constructive Rest a 20 minute practice every day—starting today!”

More often than not we don’t succeed with our resolutions. We fail so often that it is the butt of many jokes.

I am not suggesting that you give up on your resolutions. Instead ask yourself “are my expectations for change reasonable?” As human beings, we tend to resist change, however beneficial it may be for us. Too big a change and we tend to rebel. Over the years I have found that very small changes, however insignificant they may seem at first, produce the best results over time. So look at your original resolution and break it down into really small, manageable and achievable goals.

When you break a larger goal down into smaller goals that you can easily achieve you will feel good about yourself and be more likely to continue working toward the larger goal.

One of the first things I teach all of my students to do on their own is the Alexander Technique Constructive Rest practice. It is a very simple way to rest your back, decompress your spine and generally release unnecessary tension in your body.

The goal is to ultimately make this a 20 minute practice every day.

For many students if they start off the first week with the goal that they are going to do their Constructive Rest practice for 20 minutes a day, every day, most very quickly give up on it.

The everyday aspect of this practice is the most important and what I suggest they work on first.

So, a better approach for many students is to break it down and start with a more reasonable and achievable goal of 5 minutes a day, every day. I suggest they do this for a few weeks. At that point they can try a goal of 10 minutes a day, every day for a few more weeks. After that they can try a goal of 15 minutes a day, every day for the next few weeks. Finally they can make their final goal 20 minutes a day, every day.

Proceeding in this manner means it may take you a few months to make the 20 minutes a day, every day, a habit. However, if you look at Constructive Rest as something that you can do to help take care of yourself for the rest of your life, a few months in the overall scheme of things is not a long time.

If you are new to the Constructive Rest practice I recommend this 15 minute podcast interview between two experienced Alexander Teachers.