Category Archives: Mind and Muscle

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.



27 Slow Down and Enjoy the Season

Slow down and enjoy the season. That is my holiday wish for you.

I love this time of year. Mostly. I enjoy the festive decorations and the sparkly lights, the holiday music and (most years) a snow covered landscape. What I don’t enjoy is the stress of the season that a lot of us fall prey to. Why do so many of us equate the time between Thanksgiving and New Years with stress?

I am convinced a big part of it is the need for speed we are addicted to. Your mindset does affect your muscles. The mindset of rushing to get more and more done in less and less time just feeds excessive muscle tension, which is one of the culprits of poor posture.

If I am not careful I, too, can easily find myself rushing through my holiday shopping and preparations at breakneck speed—a speed that were I driving my car, I would definitely be issued a ticket. I am “speeding” so to speak.

Figure holding a slow down traffic sign

There is more to life than increasing its speed

So, when I find that I am going over the speed limit I play the role of highway patrol (nobody else will do it for me) and give myself a warning inviting myself to cut back to half speed while finishing whatever it is I am doing. I enjoy it so much more and still get things done. And my body feels better for it.

I take this attitude of slowing down past the holidays and throughout the winter here in Minnesota. Things just take longer when it is cold, snowy and icy outside. You have more clothes to take on and off, driving too fast is often dangerous and walking on slippery surfaces takes more care.

I used to fight it and try to “speed” along as if it were summer. But several years ago I decided to give in and practice going half speed especially at this time of year. My body and my posture benefit greatly from this choice when I make it.

I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes

There is more to life than increasing its speed
-Mohandas Gandhi

So, slow down and enjoy the season. Happy Holidays and Best Wishes for the coming year!

The blog is taking a holiday break and will be back the first Tuesday in January 2015.

20 The To Do List

to do listDo you have a To Do List? I do! I do! I’ll be the first one to admit I love to get things done. It makes me feel accomplished. I love checking things off my list!

I will also be the first one to admit that many times my To Do List is a major source of stress for me.

What about you?

It is typically the sheer number of items I put on my list and the time restraints I put on those items to get done that create the stress.

When I look at the list and it is too full it creates stress. And how does your body typically react to stress? By tightening and tensing. Not good for my posture or yours.

So I haven’t even started in on my To Do List and I am already overly tight and tense!

What to Do?

Well, since most of the time I am the one who has put the items on the list and chosen the time restraints I can also undo it. Give this a try:

The next time you find yourself creating a To Do List allow yourself to initially make it as long as you want. Indulge yourself and put it all down!

Then categorize the things on your To Do List as either:

1) Have to Do Today or

2) Would Like To Get Done Today

If you are honest with yourself you will find that your Have to Do List is quite a bit shorter than your initial To Do List. How do you feel when you think about doing the items on your newly formulated Have to Do List?

If you feel comfortable and looking at it is not making you overly tense, add one of the Would like to Get Done Today items to your list. Leave the rest for tomorrow or the next day. Try this for a month and see if you still feel good about getting things done.

My guess is that you will enjoy doing your new To Do List a bit more and your body and your posture will thank you for it.

19 Our American Sickness

Picture1I have once heard it called our American Sickness—our seeming need to fill every waking minute with activity.

In my last post I talked about the relationship of stress to excess muscular tension to poor posture.

One way you create stress is how you habitually think about time. Always lacking enough time is typically more of a thought or a mindset than reality.

Another way many of us in our US culture create stress for ourselves is choosing to be busy all the time. The operative word here is choose.

Never having downtime, time to just be and not do, is stressful.

And stress leads to excessive muscular tension which contributes to poor posture.

Why is it that we always need to be doing something? This has fascinated me for a long time.

And often doing one thing at a time is not enough! Driving is not enough. We must be catch up on voice mails while speeding down the freeway. Eating is not enough. We must catch up on the latest news feeds or Facebook posts while we down our lunches.

We could blame our culture. I do, to some extent. If everyone around you is busy all the time it’s easy to get caught up in it and subsequently almost feel guilty if you are not busy yourself. Or feel that you are not important, if you are not busy. In our culture productivity and hard work are lauded. Being busy is equated with being important. But 24/7?

It is probably easier to not create such a busy life for yourself if you are living in an environment where life is slower paced—a tropical island perhaps (in my dreams…) But no matter where you are, if it is important to you, you can make a decision to exercise your ability to choose how you want your life to be.

Just as you can choose to do many extra things at work and activities outside of work, volunteer and otherwise, you can choose not to.

If you want to work on your posture, work on decreasing the stress in your life by choosing not to fill every waking moment with activity.

You are after all a human BE-ing not a human DO-ing.

Give yourself permission to just BE and not DO some of the time. Your body and your posture will thank you for it.

18 Posture, Pain and Time

What is your relationship with time? Do you have enough or are you always short of time?

time headTime itself is not stressful. How you choose to relate to time is what can be stressful. And how does your body typically respond to stress? By tightening and tensing.

Excessive muscular tension is a contributing factor to poor posture and musculoskeletal pain.

You can blame the stress in your life on many things but a lot of it is simply created by how you think. And in particular how you think about time.

The Vacation Effect

Ever wonder why your persistent backache feels better while on vacation only to have the discomfort return the first day back at work? There are likely multiple factors at play here, including simply getting more exercise while on vacation. However, one important factor is how you relate to time while on vacation vs. while at work.

In your day to day life you often spend a lot of time thinking or worrying that you don’t have enough time to get everything done or have to hurry up and get whatever you are currently doing done so that you can get onto the next task. Stressful thinking.

When you are truly on vacation you typically enjoy whatever it is you are doing without the overriding thought that you need to complete it soon in order to get on to the next task. Easeful thinking.

Then when you return back to work you also return to your habitual thought patterns that you don’t have enough time, you must hurry up and get onto to the next task and so on. Stressful thinking.

Mind and Muscle

Thinking you have too little time is stressful and your musculature will react with strain and excess tension. Thinking thoughts such as “I have plenty of time to do what I need to do right now” and “I can enjoy what I am doing in this moment” will cause your musculature to be more at ease. These examples are two ends of a continuum, sometimes referred to as the mind-muscle continuum. Where you tend to hang out habitually along the continuum over time will have a great impact on how you look and feel.

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

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

“I Have Time”

Always lacking enough time is typically more of a mindset than reality.

But since you create the stress of rushing by how you think…you can change it.

If you want to improve your posture, pay some attention to what you are thinking. Periodically check in to see how you are thinking about what you are doing. Are you focused on the task at hand? Or are you thinking you need to get this current task done so you can get on to the next one? If you find you are thinking the later, consciously refocus your thoughts on the task at hand and tell yourself “I have time”.

This is a simple suggestion but not necessarily easy to implement—especially if you have a lifelong habit of rushing. But it’s worth trying. Your body and your posture will thank you for it.

Picture credits: cartoon used under permission from DIRECTION Journal