Category Archives: Reactions

39 Use, Posture and Reaction

To a large degree your Use (and your posture) is a habit.

Habit is a pattern of behavior (or reaction) triggered by a cue.

As a human, you are a reactive being. Basically you go through life reacting to your world.
This is a good thing. Being a reactive being means that when you step off the sidewalk to cross the street and a car suddenly appears you react (typically by stopping). I think you would agree is this is a good thing. Otherwise you wouldn’t be long for this world!

That a lot of your habitual reactions are just that, habitual, is also a good thing. Habits are dealt with by lower levels of your brain. This allows you to not constantly be thinking about basic behaviors, such as how to tie your shoe, so you can devote mental energy to invent things, solve problems, plan for your future, etc.

But…and of course there is a but….we have developed a lot of habitual ways of reacting that play havoc with our Use (and posture).

What you see as your physical posture is to a large extent a manifestation of how you have habitually reacted to your world over time.

An important concept to grasp as you explore your habitual patterns of Use (and posture) and how to change them is that you can have choice in how you react to a particular cue.

Starting to recognize a specific cue and your unique reaction to that cue is the first step in making change. Once you recognize the cue you can decide to explore a different reaction. Let me give you an example:

therapist listening to a patient

A typical way of using yourself when you are intently listening to another–torso pulled forward and compressed, head pulled back and down. It doesn’t have to be this way!

Over the years I have worked with a number of  therapists. Therapists typically meet with their clients one on one, usually sitting across from each other. The client sitting across from the therapist is a cue for the therapist’s listening reaction to kick in. A lot of the therapists I see have developed a habit of reacting to the client by subtly leaning forward, rounding (compressing) their spines and pulling the head back and down—all in an attempt to listen to their client.

However, because they spend many hours a day in this typical reaction pattern it adds up. They wonder why they have rounded shoulders and a tight neck.

When they look at the situation as an example of how they are reacting to a cue (the client) and are introduced to the fact that they can have choice in how they react some change can take place.

They might realize that they can (literally) come up and back away from the client a bit, finding the back of their chair (and maybe place a large pillow behind it to support them).

It might feel wrong at first because it is not their typical pattern of Use in this situation. They may feel that they are not showing the client adequately that they are listening or even care. What they must realize is that they are just experiencing a different reaction. Simply because it is not familiar it may register as “wrong”.

So instead of teaching a student to sit up straight I help them understand that they can have more choice in how they react to their world. That way they can begin to find their own cues and experiment with making some conscious choices in their reactions.

Most of us feel like we go through our day making a ton of well-considered decisions, when in fact they are habits. One habit may not account for much, but added up over time have enormous impacts on our health, productivity, Use (and posture!)

Photo courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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17 What Do You Actually Have Control Over?

A student of mine recently asked me, “What do we actually have control over?”

As I get older I realize just how many things in life I don’t have control over—the weather, other people, the stock market, my long awaited flight that is now delayed 6 hours—and it seems with each passing year I come to terms with more and more things that I don’t have control over.

However, what I (and you) do have control over, and more control than you often realize, is our reactions.

If you are willing to accept this fact and the responsibility that comes along with it you can make a lot of changes in your life—in many areas.

Hey, wait a minute! This is a blog about posture. How does taking control of my reactions have anything to do with my posture?

A lot.

When I look at a student’s posture I see the effect of her reactions to her life over time.

Let me explain.

Let’s take a problem that is becoming almost epidemic in Western society—Forward Head Posture. This is when the head is habitually forward of the body. This is not necessarily an affliction of old age. We are seeing it in younger and younger people. And it is to a great extent preventable. Check out this recent article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Forward Head Posture is sometimes called Text Neck because as texting becomes more prevalent we are seeing an increase in this condition.

But calling it Text Neck (or we could also call it Tablet Neck) implies that the activity of texting (or the use of a tablet computer) is causing the problem. I like to use the term Forward Head Posture because it keeps the responsibility with you.

Do you know what you do with your head and neck when you text or use your tablet? If you don’t use either, do you know what you do with your head and neck when you sit in front of your desktop computer? (some of us still have and use those…including yours truly…)

Typical but unfortunate smartphone posture--notice how the man's head is dropped forward of the body from the base of the neck.

Typical but unfortunate smartphone posture–notice how the man’s head is dropped forward of the body from the base of the neck.

All of the above devices are neutral. They don’t cause you to push or drop your head forward. It is your reaction to those devices. And you do have control over your reaction. But awareness must come first.

With awareness comes choice.

Some of my students with Forward Head Posture have been given exercises to correct this such as tucking their chin in and pulling their head back and holding it for 10 seconds—repeat 5 times. Supposedly to strengthen the muscles that are meant to hold their head up. In my opinion these exercises are futile if at the same time you continue to react to things in life by pushing or dropping your head forward when you text, use your tablet or desktop computer.

Invest your time in observing your reactions.

With awareness comes choice.

If you haven’t read Post 5 Itty BITY I would encourage you to do so now. BITY is a practical principle to help you work on your reactions as they relate to Forward Head Posture.

Photo Credit: Image courtesy of stockimages/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

7 Is Someone Pulling on your Ponytail?

Go for a walk around your room. Walk the way you normally do.

Now tighten your neck and pull the weight of your head down toward your spine. Don’t worry about doing it correctly. Just do it. While you maintain that downward pull go for your walk again and see what you experience.

How does your body feel? How about your breathing?

Tighten your neck again and pull your head down toward your spine. Maintain this while you go for walk but halfway through the walk stop pulling your head down. You don’t have to pull your head up or push your head up away from your spine (remember post 6?), just stop pulling your head down.

I am going to repeat that because it is important: You don’t have to pull your head up or push your head up away from your spine just stop tightening the neck and pulling your head down toward your spine. Your head will release up and away from the spine if you simply stop pulling it down. You do not have to do anything extra. See what you experience.

How does your body feel? How about your breathing?

I had you do this experiment so you could experience what it is like to compress the weight of your head down onto your spine. Most of us do this to some extent all of the time. However, because it is habitual we do not notice it. By exaggerating you get a feel for what it is like and how it affects your body underneath and your breathing.

One place in everyday life that is relatively easy to start observing a habit of compressing the head down onto the spine is to notice what you do when you stand up.

Sit down. Now stand up. Sit down again. This time place the palm of one of your hands very gently on the back of your neck. Don’t push the neck forward with your hand, but just have gentle contact. Stand up again and notice what happens with your head-spine relationship.

Did your head rotate backwards and downwards compressing your hand on the back of your neck?

If it did try standing up again without pulling the head backwards and downwards onto the back of your neck and hand. You might let your gaze drop a bit as you go to stand up, instead of looking straight ahead.

Remember that the joint between your skull and spine allows for a simple nodding motion. As you go to stand up from sitting you can let it very gently nod forward from between the ears (refer to post 3)

 

Going to stand up by compressing the weight of the head backwards and downwards onto the back of the neck. Ouch!

Going to stand up by compressing the weight of the head backwards and downwards onto the back of the neck. Ouch!

 

Standing up by letting the head gently nod forward at the top of the spine.

Standing up by letting the head gently nod forward at the top of the spine.

When you compress the head back and down onto the back of the neck when standing it is as if  you had a ponytail and someone were pulling on it. You don’t want to let people pull on your ponytail.

Observe what you and others do to the head-spine relationship when you stand up from sitting.

5 Itty BITY

My last post was about how we disrespect the head-spine relationship by pushing the head and neck forward toward objects that we interact with—such as our book, fork or a coffee cup.

Each and every time you push (or drop) your head and neck forward toward objects you are encouraging what has often been called Forward Head Posture. The more up to date term is Text Neck. Take a survey of people texting on their smartphones today and you will see why this is an appropriate term.

If you are concerned that you have Forward Head Posture or Text Neck, you might look for some exercises to correct this (such as pulling your chin down and in and your head back and holding it for 10 seconds—repeat 5 times—this is one I have had students show me they have been taught) I am not necessarily recommending that you do said exercise.

Instead of adding something new to do (exercises) you might find it more effective and interesting to observe what you are already doing (how you habitually react to objects that you interact with) that is encouraging the posture in the first place and choose to respond differently (by bringing things to you).

Eve Bernfeld, an Alexander Teacher in Portland Oregon, has coined a wonderful phrase to remind you that you can….Bring it to You (BITY). You can read her blog about BITY here.

I have changed it slightly and call it the itty BITY principle. It rhymes and is easier for me to remember.

It’s a lot to pay attention to these things especially if you have not been used to it up to now. So start observing and choosing how to respond to one object and only one. I’d suggest your fork. In order to observe what you are doing and choose how to respond you have to slow down a bit at first. And slowing down and taking more time to eat has many beneficial effects for your heath.

As you get used to paying some attention to your fork you can move on to other objects. Take it slow. At a pace that is right for you.

What if I drop food on myself? I usually find that this is happening because I am overloading my utensil and trying to shovel the food into my mouth in an attempt to rush and finish my meal. Try putting 1/3 less food on each forkful. Slow down, enjoy your meal and BITY.

4 R-E-S-P-E-C-T Your Head-Spine Relationship

By now you have probably realized that your Nodding Joint only allows you to look up and down so far before the spine starts getting involved. The range of motion of the joint is somewhat limited.

For example, if you are sitting in a chair and have your tablet computer flat on the table in front of you, your Nodding Joint does not allow enough range of motion to easily look down without curling your spine forward and collapsing your torso down. So, you need to bring the tablet closer to your head. But holding it gets tiring. So, what to do?

Using a simple pile of pillows makes reading much more comfortable

Fig 1: Using a simple pile of pillows makes reading much more comfortable

One simple strategy I use when I am sitting on the couch or in a chair and want to read a book or use my tablet is to put a couple of pillows on my lap to raise and hold what I am reading. I can prop the book or tablet at a comfortable angle and let the pillow hold its weight. In a pinch if I am out I can use my purse or briefcase in place of a pillow.

Sitting at the kitchen table in the morning, if I want to read I use a simple bookchair.

A book chair like this can hold a book or a tablet in a much easier position to read comfortably.

Fig 2: A bookchair like this can hold a book, newspaper or a tablet in a much easier position to read comfortably. You can also get covers for your tablet that allow you to prop it up at a similar angle.

This habit of disrupting the head-spine relationship in order to interact with objects goes beyond reading.

Think about all the items that you bring up to your head in the course of a day. Here are some to start your list:

  • fork
  • spoon
  • an apple
  • glasses
  • toothbrush
  • earrings
  • coffee cup
  • water glass

I encourage you to add your own items to the above list.

What happens to your head-spine relationship when you are about to interact with one of these objects? Let’s take a fork for example. Do you leave your head balanced easily on top of your spine and bring the fork up to your mouth or do you push your head and neck forward (even just a little bit) toward the fork as it comes up and in so doing compress and shorten the front of your torso?

Pick one item on your list, say a fork or a coffee cup, and decide to observe what you actually do with your head-spine relationship when you interact with this object. And pick just one item. That is more than enough to start observing!

You may find it also very interesting to observe the habits of others. The next time you are in a restaurant or a coffee shop, sit in a place where you have a good view of the patrons and watch what they do when they lift their glasses and coffee cups. Often observing others is easier than observing yourself at first.