Category Archives: Vision

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.

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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.

 

31 Are Your Glasses a Pain in the Neck?

Eyeglasses resting on an open bookAs you age vision often changes. The first indication I had of this was several years ago. I began to notice that I was having a harder and harder time reading the small printed instructions that are on the back of medicine bottles and cans of various sorts. Sound familiar? Moving the bottle or can farther and farther away helped but one’s arm is only so long. Soon after I started to notice that I was also having a bit of an issue with focusing comfortably on the text in my book as I read. I now am the proud owner of a pair of prescription reading glasses that have made my life much easier and my eyes much happier.

As we age, needing glasses in the first place or changes to your existing prescription happen to a lot of us. Many of us end up needing bifocals or progressives. Moving from a single lens to bifocals or progressives presents challenges that require some adjustment that I find many of my students are unaware of.

Because you need to look out of the bottom part of bifocals or progressives to see what you are reading, what you are reading will need to be placed a bit lower than you probably held it when you didn’t have the bifocals or progressives.

The mistake I see many people making is that the reading material is held to high. It might have been a good height when they had single lenses or none at all but the new glasses require a change in habit.

What happens is that without thinking you tend to rotate your head back and down, raising your chin so that you can look through the bottom part of the lens. This puts tremendous compression on your neck and spine and I have found is often causing neck pain and headaches in a lot of folks.

You need to adjust your reading material instead of compromising your head-spine relationship.

This is true as well for computer screens. The normal ergonomic advice is to have the top of your computer monitor at the level of your eyes—so that you have to look down a bit to see the middle part of the screen. If you are looking through the lower part of your glasses to see the screen it will probably need to be lowered. Try it and see how it goes.

If you tend to use a computer a reasonable amount (which is most of us) and need glasses to see the screen, it is a worthwhile investment to get a pair computer glasses. These glasses are single-vision lenses with a focal length designed for computer work. This will eliminate the need to look through the bottom portion of the lens.

Check out this video for ergonomic tips on computer monitor placement with bifocals or trifocals.

Picture Credit: Image of book and glasses courtesy of hyena realty at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

30 Vision and Posture (Part 2)

The detrimental effects of typical smartphone and tablet use on posture is not a problem of our modern age. It is just an extension of the problem of the flat work surface.

picture of women hunched forward over an i-pad

Our bodies are not designed to read things that are flat on the table.

Plopping a paper document flat down on your desk in front of you to read has the same effect on your posture as placing your smartphone or tablet flat on a table. Same thing with reading a print magazine or newspaper laid flat out on the table as you graze over your lunch or held flat in your lap as you relax in the sauna at the gym.

Because the joint at the top of the spine (way up high between your ears) only allows the head to look down so far you end up bending the spine at the base of the neck, dropping your head forward or bending your whole spine (as I am doing reading on my ipad above).

Many years ago it was not uncommon for people to work at standing sloped work surfaces. At some point our current standard desk that accommodates right angled sitting and has a flat surface took over.

I am not debating the pros and cons of sitting vs standing desks. I’ll save that for later.

What I want to focus on is that the angle of the work surface is important regardless of whether you choose to sit or stand.

The optimal angle for reading is 60 degrees off the horizontal give or take. For writing, 10 to 20 degrees off the horizontal. You don’t need a lot of expensive ergonomic equipment in your home or office. However, some simple tools can go a long way to help your posture.

I have previously talked about a book stand, such as the bookchair below, which accommodates not only a tablet but also print magazines or books.

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

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

Reading an i-pad that is supported by a book stand at a good angle for viewing

Ah much better! Notice I have also given my entire back support with a big firm square pillow

I have recently also invested in a good quality slant board desk primarily for writing. It is adjustable and designed to hold reading materials but also comfortable for writing by hand.

Both a bookchair and a slant board can help transform a standard flat work surface into a more posture friendly work surface. If you invest in one or both make sure they are adjustable. See the Resources Page for some suggestions.

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.