|Posted on September 19, 2019 at 3:40 PM|
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Sitting hunched over a computer is the norm nowadays. Leaning toward a coworker over the table in a meeting to hear him while showing interest is also common. Pastors, teachers, and childcare workers are reaping the negative results of working in a leaning forward position day in and day out. The results of work-related and care-giving positions take its toll on people's spinal health, overall health, balance, and how people perceive us. With assistance and proper posture correction, these issues can be alleviated to bring relief and improvement in total health.
I worked with a piano teacher who suffered from neck and back pain. The doctor found nothing medically wrong, so she thought maybe there might be some exercises to help reduce her misery. After I gave her my disclaimer that I am not a medical pro, but a fitness pro, she agreed to allow me to show her some simple stretches and exercises she could do three to five days a week. After six personal training sessions, she began to see improvement. After three months of work, she stood taller, felt less pain, and found people treated her with greater respect. She also discovered she felt less likely to fall on uneven terrain, which was a problem she hadn’t revealed to me at the beginning. After she finished three months, I noticed that she often waved at me with a smile as she walked by me on the track. Her transformation with simple stretches and exercises was astounding.
*Note: This should not be construed as medical advice, but is for informational purposes only.
The problem that results from leaning or working forward is called kyphosis. You can tell when you see noticeable curvature of the upper back, accompanied by the hips tilting forward to compensate. Arms naturally rotate inward causing the palms to face toward the back. Not only does it cause compression of the discs in the neck because the head juts forward, but creates tension in the muscles of the neck. The chest muscles (pectorals) are quite tight. The lower back is painful because it no longer has it's normal curvature compressing discs in the lower lumbar region above the sacral section of the spine. This bent forward position makes balance more difficult forward and back. As a person ages, forward falls become common, especially descending stairs. Proper alignment of the spine relieves tension and pain while creating better ability to right one's self in a potential fall.
As a martial arts instructor, I discovered that this posture also caused people to think someone with kyphosis lacked self-confidence. Interestingly, as I worked with students with self-defense, they gained greater respect immediately as they carried themselves by standing taller. How you carry yourself changes people’s perception of you.
Fundamental postural changes are essential for overall spinal, physical, and emotional health. Here are a few ways you can help improve your posture:
1.Use the ergonomic seat of your vehicle to help you work on better spinal alignment. You probably feel "normal" with kyphosis until you consciously line up your body with the seat. The most challenging part of changing the alignment will be with your neck. Some seats may keep your head further forward than is reasonable due to the demands placed on vehicle manufacturers. Keep your head level, but press the back of your head gently into the headrest. I used this method to correct my posture initially.
2.Using a full-length mirror, turn sideways to view posture. Work to line up your ears over the shoulders, shoulders over the hips, and hips over the ankles. Use your cellphone to snap photos of yourself before and after. It would be better if you have someone to take pictures for you.
3.Doorway Chest Stretch. Place your hands fingertips up, elbows at shoulder height on the doorway of a standard width with the door open. Step through with one foot to gain a gentle stretch across your chest. Breathing, hold the stretch for 30-60 seconds, doing them three to five times each day.
4.Do bridges on the floor. Facing up, bend the knees and place feet flat on the floor, arms lined along with your side palms down. Peel your spine up from the mat, starting with the hips and ending just before the shoulders. Check to see if your body looks like a ramp. Hold for 10-20 seconds, then slowly lower the body back to the floor one vertebrae at a time and rest. Repeat for ten reps.
5.Supine Palm Claps/Shoulder Press Down. While lying on the floor, Take your arms straight in front of you with your hands palms together. Make sure your hands are over your chest, not your face. Press your shoulders down into your mat with your hands together. Then lower the arms straight out to the side palms up. Rest in that position for about 30 seconds. Repeat about ten times.
6. Lat flyes. Using light hand weights, Lean your body parallel to the floor with one foot in front of the other. Raise weights out to the side until they become even with your shoulders, then slowly relax the arms back down in front of you.
7. Lower back exercise. Lying face down on the floor, hands underneath your shoulders, slowly rise up using the back muscles. Only use the hands and arms to help you keep a steady movement. Hold for five to ten seconds, then slowly return your body down to the mat. Do five to ten times. Stretch the other direction by pressing up on your hands and knees, then rock back toward your heels, then relax face down in this position.
8. External weight rotations. Lying on one side with knees bent while holding a very light weight, bend the arm at the elbow and maintain this position. Rotate the weight from the belly outward until it is perpendicular to the ceiling, then release back toward the stomach. Do ten times.
9. Neck stretches. Slide your chin back while looking straight ahead into the neutral position and hold. Breathing, tilt your ear toward your shoulder and hold for ten seconds. Return to center, then repeat on the other side. Do five times. You may want to add this: with chin retracted, look down. Hold for five seconds, then raise head back to looking forward. Do five times.
10.Quad/hip flexor stretches. While standing or lying prone on the floor, grasp ankle with your foot behind you. Keep the knee pointing down/away from you. Hold for 15-30 seconds. Do three to five times each side.
11.Squats. Standing with feet hip-width apart, slowly lower body to a sitting position, then slowly stand back up. Be careful to keep your knees behind your toes when you sit back.
12.Ab/core exercises. There are several, so I will send you here to the https://www.acefitness.org/education-and-resources/lifestyle/exercise-library/body-part/abs/view-all" target="_blank">ACE Exercise Library. You will also find the exercises I mentioned previously.
Once you feel relief, you will notice that you stand taller, feel better, your belly is flatter, and people take notice. Your digestion should improve, joint pain diminish, and your breath capacity increase.
I want to offer an insight from the Bible about how we should posture yourselves in your relationship with Christ that you may stand confidently firm.
Philippians 1:27-29. Stand firm, not frightened.
With this passage and considering posture with balance and confidence, we may stand firm (confident) without fear in the face of opposition. Not only do you face opposition, but so do many other believers, both in the past and now.
Other great reads about posture and it’s effect on health and balance:
"Surprising Risks of Poor Posture" Havard Health
"10 Ways Poor Posture Can Harm Your Health" U.S. News
"Effects of Forward Head Posture on Balance" National Institute of Health