Monthly Archives: March 2015

35 Purses and Posture (Part 2)

photo of black leather handbagDo you have problems with back pain, neck and shoulder tension? Do your habitually rounded shoulders bother you?

Then try making some changes to how you do things.

One area where most of us can make positive changes is with the amount of stuff we carry around on a daily basis and the bags we carry it in.

After making some simple observations and asking yourself some simple questions (outlined in the last post) if you want to try making some changes, here are some suggestions:

Clean It Out—we clean out our closets periodically. Clean out your purse regularly! Pare down your contents and only carry things you use every day. Place things you need occasionally in a drawer at work or in a specially designated bag in the glove compartment or trunk of your car. That way you can get at them but their weight is not dragging you down on a daily basis. A lot of little things don’t individually weigh much. But when you put them together they can add up to a considerable weight. One thing I do on a daily basis is to clean out the change in my wallet. I put quarters in a special tin in my car to use for parking meters and the rest goes in my piggy bank. When the bank is full I take it to the real bank and get dollars for my change.

Downsizeinvest in a relatively small purse that fits only those items that you are going to carry around with you (after cleaning out in step one)—and doesn’t have a lot of extra space! I find that if I have a large purse I will fill it. So I don’t tempt myself with the extra room. Also, consider looking at a non-leather purse simply because many leather purses weigh a lot even when empty. There are a lot of fantastically stylish and beautifully made non-leather handbags out there.

Cross Traininvest in a bag that you can wear across your body as opposed to slinging it over one shoulder or carrying it in one hand. Allowing it to hang across your body gives your shoulders a respite from tightening to hold on to the bag when it is slung over one shoulder. Your shoulder girdle then has a chance to widen out and rest easily on the top of your rib cage, how it is designed to do. Furthermore, it leaves both your hands free. Make a conscious effort to alternate which way your new bag crosses your body.

I do practice what I preach.

Below was at one time one of my favorite purses:

large leather handbag

Stylish but BIG. And I FILLED IT. Although I didn’t carry it over my shoulder I had to carry it in one hand. And that still caused me to tighten my back, neck and shoulder slightly on that side.

I then went to only cross body bags and I used this one for a while:

red leather shoulder bag

This helped a lot. Especially if I alternated the way it crossed my body. But for me I still could put too much stuff in this bag. And the weight added up. So, I downsized further.

Nowadays this is the purse I use:

small grey leather shoulder bag

And this is what I carry around in that purse:

purse contents

Image of black leather purse courtesy of artur84 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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34 Purses and Posture (Part 1)

photo of purseMany of my students ask me for advice on choosing an office chair. Very few ask for advice about their purse.

I used to broach the subject of purses very delicately with my female students. Most women are very connected to their bag of choice and the amount of stuff they carry around in it. Bringing up the subject inevitably caused a bit of conflict. My natural tendency is to avoid conflict. So, I would tread lightly.

But this did not benefit my students.

So, I decided to stop avoiding conflict. Now I do not hesitate to initiate a conversation with my students about their bags—and especially if they are constantly complaining of neck, shoulder or upper back tension or rounded shoulders. Because making some changes to the style of purse you carry and the amount of stuff you tote around can often make quite a difference in terms of your posture and pain.

Start by making some simple observations and asking some simple questions:

Weight—plop your purse down on a scale. If you don’t have a scale at home use one at the gym or in the produce section of the grocery store (probably best when nobody is looking!) How much does it weigh? You might be surprised. Also, try taking all the contents out and weighing the bag empty. Depending on the material it is made out of and the hardware on it you may already have considerable weight invested even before you put anything in it. Might your neck, shoulder and back pain or tension be exacerbated by the amount of weight you are carrying around on a daily basis?

Contents—when you get home at the end of the day today dump out the contents of your bag on a table. Put in one pile everything you used today. Put in a second pile everything you did not use today. More often than not, the pile of stuff you didn’t use is larger than the pile of stuff you did use. Is it worth the pain or tension in your neck, shoulders and back to carry around the weight of stuff when you need it only once a week or even less frequently?

Style—do you have a handbag, shoulder bag, hobo, or cross body bag? If you carry a bag in one hand or over one shoulder stand in front of the mirror with your eyes closed and put your bag in the hand or sling it over the shoulder that feels natural. Now, open your eyes. Look and observe the level of your shoulders. Are they even? Most often what happens is that you tense the shoulder carrying the weight, lifting it up and forward slightly and sometimes pulling it in toward your body. Observe others. What do the majority of them do? (by the way, an airport is a great place to observe people carrying bags because often they are carrying a lot of weight and the habit gets even more exaggerated and therefore easier to spot).

And if you happen to not carry a purse the above can equally apply to tote bags, briefcases and workbags…

Image of purse courtesy of John Kasawa at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

33 Tune In To Your Other Senses

volume knob

In my last post I mentioned that you physically follow your attention. Your attention is typically focused on what you are looking at. And what you are looking at is typically in front of you.

When you overly rely on your sense of sight over time it is easy to become focused on the forward dimension.

It is very easy to become unaware of the space that exists behind you, above you, below you, to the right of you and to the left of you.

Your body tends to pull forward because your attention is constantly encouraging you in the direction you are looking. That forward pull becomes your posture that you take into everything that you do.

Your mindset affects your muscles (and your posture)--no doubt this man is in a rush!

I was taught in school that I have five senses—sight, smell, hearing, taste and touch. We actually have many more than five senses. But to keep it simple let’s start with these. Imagine that each of your senses had a volume knob. “0” would be no sound and “10” would be max.

When we overly rely on our sense of sight it is as if that volume knob is at a “10” and the other knobs are turned down or off completely. Practicing turning the volume up on these other senses up can be helpful in restoring a sense of your three dimensionality.

But why is this important?

Because you are three dimensional and exist and move in three dimensional space. Good posture is about being balanced in all three dimensions, not constantly being skewed towards one of them.

To simplify further let’s just take your sense of touch and hearing.

As you read this start to listen to the sounds around you. What do you hear? Automobile traffic, music, birds singing, the furnace fan, your dog snoring, the din of others’ conversation?

Start to notice what you are touching. Remember that you touch with all parts of your body. If you are sitting notice your buttocks and thighs on your chair, your back on the chair and your feet on the floor. Maybe you have a finger on your tablet or keyboard.

Next time you go for a walk try putting the smartphone away and take your ear buds out of your ears. As you look at the world around you, open up your ears to the sounds you hear all around you and be aware of the ground underneath your feet. Remember that you are three dimensional and exist and move in three dimensional space.

Image of volume knob courtesy of Salvatore Vuono at FreeDigitalPhotos.net; cartoon used under permission of DIRECTION Journal.

32 Where is Your Attention?

Often my students lament that working at their computer is causing their neck, shoulder and back pain and contributing to their poor posture. They constantly find themselves pulled in toward the computer screen, head and neck jutted forward, collapsed through the front of their torso, shoulders up to their ears.

The first thing to come to terms with is that it is not working at the computer that is causing your problem. How you are working at the computer is the problem. And how you are working is not just about your body. It is also about your mind.

Before you lament the fact that yes you know you should have better posture, sit up straight, keep your shoulders back, yaddah yaddah yaddah, let’s stop and look at where you are placing your attention.

Because you physically follow your attention.

Often your attention is narrowly focused on one thing. Typically that thing is external, in front of you and what you are looking at, such as your computer screen. Or your smartphone as you read and send texts. Or your friend across the table telling you that interesting story. As you focus on this one external thing you exclude everything else, including yourself. We often call this concentrating.

At the same time your attention is placed externally on your computer screen you can place some attention internally on yourself (for example on your breathing, your contact with your chair and the floor, the balance of your head on top of your spine). You can do both at the same time.

Notice that placing some attention internally relies on senses other than sight–your sense of movement (noticing the expansion and contraction of your torso as you breathe); your sense of touch (noticing your contact with the chair and the floor); your sense of position or proprioception (the balance of your head on top of your spine).

The ability to place some of your attention internally on yourself as well as externally allows you to pay attention to important signals from your body as your work. You will be able to notice more readily the tension that you are holding in your shoulders (and choose to let it go) or that your nose is stuck in your work (and choose to come back away from the task in front of you) or that you are holding your breath (and choose to exhale).

The skill of consciously placing attention externally and internally can be learned and is a wonderful skill to have in your toolbox. However, if you are habituated to concentrating on your tasks with a laser like intensity it will not be easy. Don’t shy away from trying. Take it one step at a time.

To get started try this—pick an activity (for example working at the computer, working on an art project or gardening—something you tend to get sucked into and really concentrate on). Set up something to cue you while you are doing the activity to remind you to place some of your attention internally. This may be a kitchen timer set to ring every 15 minutes. Or some computer programs have a reminder you can set to pop up automatically. Or if you tend to drink water or coffee while you work, decide that when you reach for that cup or glass that will be your cue that you get to place some of your attention internally for a few seconds.