Thursday, 15 October 2009

How drive-time can help you improve your posture.

Driving and Evolution
We didn't evolve to sit in a car-seat or chair of any kind. When our forbears wanted to sit, they squatted, as they still do in many chairless cultures. We've done without chairs for millions of years, and only had them for a few centuries, yet now most of us spend the greater part of our days in something that requires us to flex our hips at a right angle.

We've all felt achy and stiff after a long drive, and to be honest, this post probably won't completely alter that experience. But I hope you might find some ideas that you can use to make the most of a sedentary experience.

So you've got a seat, a head rest, a steering wheel, and some pedals. What can you do with that driving/exercise equipment?

Safety first: these exercise ideas are meant to be carried out when your car is stationary, hand-brake on.

Back rest
Let's start with the back-rest. Most car seats these days are pretty well-designed to support the spine, following the curves of the lumbar area, the ribs, and a head rest (for adequate whiplash support the bottom of this should be in line with your ears, according to But you might notice that quite a lot of people don't use it. They incline forward, quite a lot. Sometimes that's accompanied by aggressive driving......... So my first suggestion is to use your back rest, if you don't already, to rest your back.

Correct angle?
Make sure that the angle of your seat is slightly larger than 90% for your comfort, and in order to avoid excessive hip flexion, which helps lead to tight hip flexors (the muscles which connect your thighs to your pelvis and spine).

Adequate seating?

Be aware of how the contours support your spine, and if they don't, and you spend a lot of time driving, you should consider changing either your car, or getting a seat support such as those featured here

Use your back rest to help you improve your breathing
I use my back rest to help me breathe into my back.........I've got a fairly flat thoracic (rib-cage) section in my back, and I don't naturally use this back section of my lungs to their full capacity. So when I'm stuck in traffic jams, I settle into my seat and direct my breathing into my back : I can feel my inter-costal (between the rib) muscles expand, and contract here, and it helps me to correct my posture.

Strengthen your neck
You can use your head rest to push your head back into - keep your chin slightly tucked and check that you are neither looking up nor down, and press the centre of the back of your head into the head restraint on an exhale, releasing on an inhale.
This is a good exercise if you have a head poke position, as it strengthens the back of your neck, helping to bring the head back to its optimum position.


I sometimes teach self-massage techniques in class, and when we compare before and after on the flexibility of our shoulders for example, it's amazing how effective a couple of minutes gentle massaging of the joints is. For example you can take your right hand, and work your fingers along your collar bone from where it starts, just under your chin and to the left, along to the tip of the shoulder, and round the shoulder joint, following the seam of your clothing. Squeeze and release down your arm, all the way down to your hand. It passes the time when stuck at the traffic lights.

You can also massage your jaw and help it release: the muscles which connect your upper and lower jaw, are pound for pound, the strongest in the body. Very often these muscles are tight, and over-used, and can lead to a stiff neck (try your movement quality as you turn your head from side to side with gritted teeth and then again with a relaxed jaw.) . Take your middle fingers from your temples and stroke fairly firmly down your cheek to your lower jaw, and then gently down your neck. Compare the two sides.

Your steering wheel.......
should be held, not gripped! Both hands on the wheel of course, and at 10 to 2, or 20 to 4, but check that your shoulders are not up by your ears as you drive.
Again, when stationary, you can use the wheel as a piece of exercise equipment. Check your shoulders are wide and released down your back. Clasp the wheel, but not tightly, and be aware of your shoulders drawing into your rib cage, like a pair of suckers. This exercise will help to improve the stability of your shoulders, and help prevent injury.

Leg position
Your knees should be slightly bent. And check that you are not allowing your foot and leg to be rolled out - ie resting on the outside of the foot. This places excess tension on the muscles on the outside of your legs, which then pull on the hips and low back.

Regular Rests

By that I mean rest from sitting! As often as you can, stop, and get out and stretch your legs. If you stay in any one position for too long (more than half and hour or so), your fascia (soft tissue) sets, a bit like a jelly setting. The longer the sit, the stiffer the jelly, and the more uncomfortable you will be. My brother-in-law once gave a young man a lift in the back of his car, after a rugby match. The lad was very tall, and despite many enquiries as to whether he had enough leg room, protested that he was quite comfortable. There was an hour and a half's drive. On arrival, the door was opened for him, and he fell out, having completely set in his contorted sitting position.

Bear in mind that because our bodies have this tendency to set in whichever position we have stayed in, our seated posture will have an influence on our standing and walking posture. So if you drive with your shoulders tense, your jaws clamped with rage, your head poked forward, your posture is not going to be great when you get out of the car.

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Do You Have Flat Feet?

Do you have lifeless feet, dropped arches? About 30% of us have. For many people they do not cause problems, but for others they are part of the jigsaw of reasons for their knee pains, or back pains. Many of my clients have this condition: they don't come to me because of their feet, but usually because they have low back pain. By improving the strength and resilience of the feet, other joints, including the spine are put under less strain.

Your feet contain one quarter of the bones in the body: that's amazing! There are 26 bones in each foot, out of a total body count of 204. As the "average person" you might take between 8 and 10,000 steps a day, and each step bears at least your body weight - when you run it's more.
There is a connection between poor foot alignment and postural problems and back pain. Your feet are the foundations to your moving body with three basic functions. They absorb impact, and carry your entire body weight. (Many foot problems are experienced by the overweight, not surprisingly.). They act as a lever, propelling you forward. They also compensate when your balance is challenged, by doing their darndest to keep you upright.

Arches give strength to constructions: (think of a simple arched bridge, or more complicated vaulted cathedrals - both rely on the same principle), and the well aligned human body is a series of arches, from the feet, to the s curves of the spine.

The "normal" foot has two arches: one runs lengthways, the other widthways. In normal standing, a third of the inner side of the foot, formed by these two arches, should be off the floor. If it isn't, you have flat feet (also known as over-pronation). (The other extreme is to have high arches (over-supination), where there is a tendency to walk primarily on the outside of the foot.).

Flat feet are often associated with inefficient side bum, and inner thigh muscles: this often leads to knees which track towards each other.

Orthotics, supports, which fit in your shoes, are one possible solution.
Part of my work with clients with dropped arches is to get them to exercise the arches of their feet, and so develop strength and change in this way. Of course we also look at the rest of the body, with specific exercises to improve their alignment, strength and balance, as well as the feet.

Exercises to correct dropped arches, bunions, and hammer toes
These are the exercises we use, and you may find them helpful to do. (A very small percentage have congenitally flat feet and no amount of exercises will make a difference.)
You will need a tennis ball or similar - we use "spiky balls" in class.
Standing. Repeat about 10 times on each foot for each exercise - it will take about 5 minutes.

1)Knead one foot on the ball from your toes to your heels . (not pictured).

2) Try to pick up the ball in your toes: as you do it extend your toes away from the ball, and then contract them around it.

3) Work specifically on the arches by trying to curve the arch of your foot around the ball.

4) Without the ball now - in standing, keeping your toes as relaxed as possible, draw the ball of your foot towards your heel.

5) Rise up on the balls of your feet. Keep your toes down, and your weight evenly on the inside and outside of your foot. When you lower your foot, use the underside of the toes and arches to pull you down to the floor. (not pictured)

Flat feet are often associated with inefficient side bum muscles: this leads to knees which track towards each other, so.......
6) small squat. Hinge at the hips and the knee and sit back, as if you were sitting in a chair. Have a look at your kneecap/toe alignment. Your knees should be over your 2nd/3rd toes, not your big toes. If necessary, place a football between your knees to keep this alignment. This will turn your side-bum muscles on. (not pictured).

If you do these exercises regularly, you should see a difference in the shape of your foot, as the arches strengthen. From my personal experience, I watched my left over pronated foot gain an arch and lose a bunion, as my foot learnt to carry my weight in a more balanced and efficient way.

For classes on these exercises, and many others for a balanced, well-aligned body, see

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Heavy Bags will Injure your Spine.

As healthy humans our birthright is good postural alignment. As pre-school children we have upright posture, we have a full range of movement, we can express our physicality freely and easily.
Then a catastrophe is imposed on our bodies: we are sent to school.
We are made to sit for hours, and we carry heavy bags, and within a few short years we develop postural habits that we may spend the rest of our lives living with.
This is something that has got worse over the years: when I was at school, we had desks to leave our books and possessions in, and only carried in our bags what we needed that particular evening. Nowadays we expect schoolchildren to carry all their books around all the time, and the weight children are expected to carry about with them is disproportionate to their own weight and strength.
As you can see from this illustration, heavy back packs force the child to round her shoulders and poke her head forwards. Often backpacks are slung over one shoulder, so the weight is not evenly distributed. Scoliosis (curvature of the spine) is often a result of carrying a bag on one side, while the spine is growing.

You can help your child to maintain good posture.

Get the best possible bag for their back: have a look here as a starting point for the sort of bag to look for. I advise padded shoulder straps, and a sternum and hip belt.

Help them empty their bags of unnecessary stuff. Only take what they need.

School lunches instead of packed lunches lessen the amount they have to carry.

Weigh your child's loaded backpack - it should weigh no more than 10% of his or her own bodyweight: if it weighs any more than this s/he will have to change their posture to respond to the load. Does your child's school really want to ruin their childrens' backs?

The bag should not be low on their bodies, and should end less than a couple of inches below the waist. If it's too low it will pull them backwards and they will respond by leaning forward.

Make sure the bag is worn over both shoulder straps, and not left hanging from one!

The smaller the bag, the less they can put in it! Within reason, keep the bag's size small, or they will fill it up with unnecessaries.

Bags with various pockets and compartments are a good idea for organisation.

Make sure pointy items are placed in parts of the bag where they cannot dig into your child's back.

This advice applies not just to children, but also to adults.............make sure that your sore shoulders, neck tension, upper back pain is not caused by carrying too much, in an inappropriate bag.

Thursday, 9 April 2009

10 tips to avoid Back Pain

These 10 tips are "Common Sense"........
1) Drink plenty of water ............Good hydration is essential to a healthy life. That means your overall well-being, but also the health of each body-part, each joint, down to each individual cell.
Take the spine as an example: our spinal bones, our vertebrae are cushioned from each other by discs: these discs are composed largely of water.
For the first 30 years of our lives, our discs are 90% water and then, due to wear and tear, they leak.......and end up at maybe 65% water. You might think of these discs as being water filled balloons, cushioning our spines as we move. The molecules in the nucleus of our discs are the largest in the human body and are capable of taking up 250 times their own weight in water.
Therefore you should drink plenty of good quality water, to increase the hydration in the discs, and so to decompress your spine. Caffeine can irritate the bladder, so you can't really count what you drink in tea and coffee (or energy drinks containing caffeine) as part of your hydration - rather than plumping out your cells, it goes straight through. About 2 litres a day would be good, tap water is ok.

By hydrating your cells, you facilitate the flushing out of toxins, and the optimising of all bodily processes from digestion to co-ordination to thinking about your posture........

Water helps you grow taller!
Picture from :~draniu

2) Good Nutrition What are you feeding your poor old cells for their lunch? Coke? A bag of crisps? A twix? Well no wonder they are hunched over each other!
Your body has 210 different cell types, and together they make up to approximately 100 trillion cells in your body, give or take a few trillion. You have a huge responsibility to feed them all properly!
They need a balanced diet so that they can optimise all the functions that they have to perform - just like you they "think"or organise themselves, exchange food and water for waste, and are part of a wider world (of your body). Feed them junk and they won't feel very well, and neither will you.
There is a welter of information available about eating well: I'm a fan of Jane Clarke myself, and there is loads of useful information on her web-site and in her books. I would urge moderation, avoid processed foods and think the following are useful.
Eat fruit and veg, particularly green veg. Eat protein.
Eat fibre. One of the enemies of good posture and health in general is constipation. The lining of the gut is attached to the spine, and contraction here provokes a contraction of the back muscles. Any discomfort affects posture. Constipation, and hard faeces are also disastrous for the pelvic floor, as they cause straining. Pelvic Floor health is integral to the health of the spine, (a subject for another post).
Don't eat too much of any one thing - particularly wheat. Toast for breakfast, a sandwich for lunch, pasta for dinner? You are overdoing the wheat. And as far as bread goes, if you poke a slice of bread, and it doesn't spring back, don't put it in your mouth. It's sticky, clammy, pappy consistency that sticks to the roof of you mouth also sticks to your intestines, and not in a good way. It is Chorleywood processed, which is great for the manufacturers who like their loaves to last a week, and to speed up their manufacture. It's not great for your gut.

So, eat a variety of unprocessed food, and not too much of it.

Feed your body well!

If you are not sleeping properly, your body is not rested. A tired body cannot function at it's best, and your posture will be affected. Do what you can in the way of relaxation before you go to bed, (and I mean reading and a bath: the tv in the bedroom is a stimulant, not a relaxant.). If you are stressed try breathing exercises. There are some good stress relief CDs here. And look here for postural tips for sleeping.

Your body needs to rest!

4) Posture
Good posture will allow your muscles to assume their correct alignment: result? a well balanced body, free from pain caused by misalignment.
Try to make your posture as tall as you can. Lengthen up from the tips of your ears, and your spine will decompress.
Be as symmetrical as you can. Avoid carrying heavy loads, particularly in shoulder bags.
Wear appropriate shoes.........flip-flops, high heels, flat shoes, mules are all ok every now and again, but on a regular basis your feet should be supported by an arch, and your toes should not have to constantly grip to keep your shoes on! I particularly like MBTs .
Find out about your own postural tics, and learn how to correct them - see a Pilates teacher, or an Alexander Technique teacher.
Don't sit with your legs crossed: this lengthens and shortens tissue in your legs which should be balanced.
Check out my blog!

Be as tall as you can and as symmetrical as you can!

5) Avoid Stress
Sit up tall and straight, even if it's just for a moment while you are reading this. notice how it feels to sit up on your sit bones, widen your collar bones, and release your shoulders and arms. Take a few deep breaths, and feel your spine lengthen. Just be for a moment or too, and see how you feel.

How does your spine feel? hopefully tall, and good. Shoulders? Relaxed?
Now focus back on your problems, and see what happens to your body. You may still feel a bit better after doing a couple of moments of relaxation, but have you sunk half an inch or so? And have your shoulders surrendered to your neck?
When you are stressed your body adopts a defensive posture around your vital organs, hence the hunched shoulders, tense neck, and hunched posture. And does this posture help solve your problem?

Well no. This posture is an evolutionary hang over from a time when we needed to safeguard our vital organs against attack........and it is also a behavioural indicator of our place in society. Notice how dogs behave when they want acceptance from other dogs: the top dog will maintain an erect spine, tail held high, head up, and the submissive dog assumes a slumped, submissive posture. It's a useful way to avoid a fight, but it reinforces submission to your problems, and stresses your body's vital systems, by decreasing the space available to breathe and digest.

So if you are stressed, do what you can to decrease your load.

Reduce your stress load and lighten upwards

6) Avoid Trauma
I have taught Pilates classes for getting on for 10 years, and my job in the main is to help people rehabilitate their back strains. So I teach them how to strengthen their spines, pick out quirks about their posture and help them correct how they hold themselves: I teach them how to breathe, and how to relax, and, in the main, as a team which consists of myself and the client, we are fairly successful.
And then, maybe after a couple of years or more of good back health, my client will come limping into class.
What went wrong?
"I twisted while I was picking up the tv."
"I went shopping and slipped on the ice "
"I was gardening and using my husband's tools."
"I am looking after my elderly mother and had to pick her up on my own."
Usually, because they have gained good muscle strength, they will get better sooner rather than later...........but sometimes I just wish people wouldn't do silly things.
The most common method of straining the back involves picking up a weight, while rotating at the same time. Here is an excellent short video, from an Alexander Teacher which explains how to pick things up safely.

If a fleeting thought tells you that whatever you are about to do might cause you harm, pay attention!

7) Don't aggravate your problem
Ok, you might have a sore shoulder, or hip, and every now and then, just to check that it's still there, you move into a position that gives you pain, or you poke it. Effectively you are bruising (again) tendons and soft tissue, that left alone, would get on with healing themselves. Stop doing that! If it doesn't get better, get help, don't poke it.

And if running aggravates your knee and back health then stop it for the time being and get advice from a sports therapist. Or you won't get better.

"I went swimming"........hmmm..... swimming sounds safe enough, but if for instance, you swim breaststroke with your head out of the water, your lower back will be strained. Breastroke is also notoriously bad for knee problems. Learn to swim properly, preferably front or back crawl. Have a look at this site.

If you have a desk job, then sit up properly, take breaks where you get out of your chair, and stretch. Just look at this picture and see how your posture can disturb the balance of muscles around your neck, shoulders, and low back.

Take good care of your body! Love it like it was your own!

8) Relax

That doesn't just mean slump in a settee watching The Wire.........
Transcendental Meditation is just about the acme of active relaxation..........and it will allow you to switch off from your busy thoughts, and just focus on your breathing: your body will relax.

But how about painting? sculpting? playing a musical instrument? walking in the country? on a beach? having a pet? learning something?

Switch off from your worries!

9) Exercise

Your posture is an expression of your muscular and skeletal system. Weak muscles won't hold your body in an optimal position, so you need to exercise them to keep them strong.
We evolved as erect bipeds, so please keep that in mind while you are exercising. Walking is just about the best exercise, with the added advantage of being free. it will improve your cardio-vascular health. Walk fast, walk often, walk in good shoes and walk tall.
But there are other sorts of exercises........................
Pilates and yoga are great for strengthening and discovering your individual tics and imbalances, and correcting them so that you can walk properly.
Have fun while you exercise - that's where ball-sports come in. Just make sure you have a good sports therapist.
The gym - yes great, but bear in mind that a healthy body is a balanced one, and that huge, tight pecs and shoulders are going to restrict your neck movement, and that enormous biceps are going to stop your arms from being able to straighten.

Walking is the best exercise.

10) Moderation in all things........
Nuff said!

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Sleeping Posture

You spend a third of your life in a sleeping posture. The options are to sleep on your stomach, on your back, or either side.
Optimal posture gives us a balanced body, the curves of which have evolved to dissipate the stresses and impact of walking and running. Our alignment should be as near to symmetrical as possible.
In my experience of teaching Pilates, I rarely see a client with good alignment who has musculo-skeletal pain, unless they have had a recent trauma. I do see many clients who have poor alignment: in helping them I am interested in how they stand, walk, and sit. And how they sleep.
In my experience, I have found that many of my clients who have the worst back pain, sleep on their fronts.

Sleeping on your front.
This disturbs the body's alignment in many ways - the neck is twisted to one side, and the head is on a pillow. Just try that now - turn your head to the left, say, and then take it back over your shoulders, as if supported by a pillow, and hold it there for a while. (8 hours would be over-doing it, but a few minutes will give you an idea.).
The ribcage and the airways are compressed and twisted, and so breathing is compromised. Often the legs and pelvis are twisted to one side:, this opens up the joints in the pelvis (the sacro-iliac joints), and twists the joint between the lowest lumbar vertebra and the sacrum, and also twists the lumbar spine. The muscles and tendons and ligaments which support the skeletal system in waking hours are relaxed during sleep, and so on waking and moving these soft tissues object to the position the sleeping skeleton has contorted into. Ouch!

So, all in all, not a good way to sleep.

Sleeping on the back.
The main problem with sleeping on the back is that snoring is more likely in this position, and so sleep is interrupted. If you have lower back pain, and you sleep on your back, try placing a cushion under your knees. This will keep your lumbar curve happy during the night. One pillow under the head should suffice unless the shoulders are very broad: too many pillows pushes the head forward, re-inforcing a tendency to "head-poke".

Sleeping on the side.
This is the preferable sleeping posture.

Again, one pillow should suffice (see illustration) . Care should be taken that the top leg does not overlap the lower leg and rest on the bed - here the pelvis and the lumbar spine will be twisted.

In the illustration you can see how good the alignment is of the spine and pelvis, with the legs lined up above each other.
If you have lower back pain or sacro-iliac pain, a flattish cushion between the knees
will optimise the alignment of the legs and the pelvis.

It is said that it's best to sleep with the heart uppermost (ie sleep on the right side - not like the picture!) - this optimises the cardio-vascular system, and it makes sense to me.
So sleeping on the side is the best sleeping posture.

Friday, 27 March 2009

Dear Esmeralda..........What's all this about MBTs? They look ugly and they are expensive....can they really improve my posture and health? luv Quasi

Dear Quasimodo,

MBTs ugly? Huh! you are a fine one to talk!

They are expensive however - you might find yourself lighter by some £175 if you decide to buy a pair, so there is quite a lot to consider before making that commitment.

MBT stands for Masai Barefoot Technology: the concept is that the Masai do not suffer from postural related problems, because the use of tarmac is a bit scarce in the Sahara, and so the ground they walk on is uneven. This means that their feet and bodies are constantly challenged to adapt to staying upright. Hence they are stronger and their nervous systems are programmed to adapt instantaneously to changes beneath their feet.

This is in marked contrast to our Western roads and floors: they are largely flat, and we get completely caught out when we come across a pothole in the road or a badly placed paving slab.

MBTs have a rolling sole - the soles are cut away at the heels and the toes. This makes the wearer's body adapt to a roll with every step: all the muscles have to respond to this, which strengthens them. It also makes the nervous system improve it's balance mechanism by constantly challenging it. The act of walking is the practice of controlled falling (think about the process of walking just on two legs - you take one leg forward, while remaining balanced on the other leg, moving your centre of gravity forward at the same time. Look here. No wonder it takes us a year or more to learn how to do it! Quadrupeds have it so much easier.). The shape of the MBT sole makes the wearer work harder to control that fall.

Here is my experience with MBTs, Quasimodo. (No, move away a bit, if you don't mind.) As you know, I have been working on my posture for many years. About six years ago I consulted an osteopath, as I believed that the tightness, and flatness in the back of my rib cage could be helped by some manipulation. The first thing that he did was take a good look at the way I was standing, and he described it as something along the lines of "a ready to go "type. My body leant slightly forward, and I was flexed (bent forward) at the hips, and knees. My head was forward of my shoulders. even my arms were flexed at the elbow in their resting position. Was this "ready to go" body a reflection, he wondered of a "ready to go" nature? (Probably, Yes!) But crucially he observed that my weight was not distributed evenly over my feet - more of my weight was on the balls of my feet than my heels. This observation was of more help to me than the manipulation as it gave me some information that would influence my behaviour.

So for a couple of years I tried to adapt my gait so that I was walking through my heels: when I was standing, I stood more over the arches of my feet. And that did improve my thoracic posture to a degree. But then I was introduced to MBTs: I thought they would help a bit, and I was attracted by the "news" at the time that they eliminated cellulite. (What a sucker! - they don't, not mine anyway!) . They exceeded all expectations in changing my posture: my Pilates teacher noticed that my rib were softer and rounder. My thoracic problems diminished (I still feel a bit vulnerable though: maybe in time they will improve some more.). Based on my experience and that of several of my clients, I am very happy to recommend them (but for people in pain see below). They do suit all postural types - people who take their weight mainly into their heels find they can't do that as the heels are cut away, and so, once again, the weight of the body is taken over the centre of the foot in standing, and the foot rolls all the way through from heel to toe in walking.

My first pair were very ugly. No, as you say Quasimodo, nothing wrong with that, and if you were to go ahead I would choose this model.........but they do make more attractive versions these days! Here's a link to the company's website

Now, Quasimodo, your question was, would they help you? And you say your "ready to go" type posture is like mine used to be?
Well, you clearly take your weight on the front of your feet. Your hips are in flexion. Your elbows are always bent - it's all that bell-ringing. I'd urge caution: MBTs aren't that easy to jump around the clock tower on. To be honest, my dear Captain Phoebus doesn't like me wearing them to dance in.
I understand at the moment that you are attending the hospital where they are making assessments of your spinal problems. I would advise you, and anyone else looking in, to consult their health practitioner under these circumstances. As with exercise, if your problem is "old and cold" or defined as chronic, ie bearable but often or always there, (ie not requiring medical attention) then it's something to consider: but if you have acute pain, then consult the medical profession, not blogs!

If you were to go ahead and buy them, make sure you get a proper fitting, as they are a big investment. The approved stockists will offer you a short training session, so you can get used to using them correctly. You can pick them up on e-bay cheaply - that's why I wear a pair of white and pink ones! Not my favourite colour choice, and clearly not that of the vendor, as she flogged them to me for £56: they would have cost her well over a hundred, and she never wore them.

Anyway Quasimodo, get you back to the Belltower. I do hope this helps you decide whether MBTs are worth the investment.

Best regards,
Esmeralda xx

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Stressed? Overwhelmed?...............try this fast, simple, breathing technique....

The Exercise - This seems to work for most people - not all of course! I've put the exercise before the introduction because you may be in a hurry! If you can, find somewhere private - the loo is always good if nowhere else is available...........(........speaking from personal experience here........). First, place your right thumb on your right nostril, and flatten it, and your right forefinger and middle finger on the centre of your forehead. Breathe in through your left nostril and out through your mouth three times, elongating your out breath as long as you can. The in-breath should be a more normal length, or you may end up feeling dizzy. Then change sides. Just three each side. That's it. You will feel calmer, and more able to deal with your challenges. They may be the same but how you feel about them will have changed.

About Stress and Breathing.
You may be in a situation where your boss is making impossible demands, dead-lines are looming, perhaps the children need picking up from school, and just one more thing...........the imminent arrival of your in-laws for a month's stay the balance. Before, you felt energised by life's challenges, but now you feel overwhelmed. Your posture changes: your jaw and neck tighten, your shoulders hunch and constrict your chest, your breathing becomes shallow. Apprehensions flood your mind. You can hear yourself breathe. Time whizzes by.

Effectively, your body is going into an evolutionary response to danger - you are in the equivalent psychological state to being in the Savannah surrounded by possible predators! Your body is getting ready for being on high alert, where fight or flight may be your only options.
Unfortunately neither fight nor flight are appropriate responses for this sort of 21st century stress!

A calm body and clarity of mind are our most useful assets, and the key to attaining this state is via your breathing.
Breathing is a basic function, so fundamental, that unless you practise yoga or Pilates, or meditation, you probably do not give it a second thought.

And yet by making an intervention with your breath, you have the power to change your state of mind. You can make time slow down, you can clarify your thoughts and allow solutions to reveal themselves. You may just realise that things aren't that bad after all............ and all by changing your breathing pattern, from fast and shallow, to centred, balanced, and calm. Your posture changes from hunched and defensive, to more upright and open, and all your natural functions from your nervous system to your digestive system are optimised.

Did you know for instance that a healthy body excretes more than 70% of it's waste products by breathing? So if you think about the consequences of shallow, tense breathing it must be that more of your waste stays in your body........and that way lies ill-health.

As a Pilates teacher, part of my job is to teach people to breathe! And as a therapist I often deal with people's phobias: panic breathing is a symptom of phobia and by treating the breathing response, the phobia often diminishes. I intend to share more of what I have learnt on the subject in later blogs...........but this little anti-stress exercise is one that I learnt about twenty years ago from a guy called Trevor da Silva, who was a health, fitness and stress release specialist. It's one of many yogic breathing methods.

I love this exercise because it is simple to remember, and engenders calm within a couple of minutes.........I was even able to make the most of my mother-in-laws stay!
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Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Good Head and Shoulder Posture?........... No? Then read on.........

Here's an additional "lecture" after many of my Monday evening class arrived nursing their necks! You will find a simple corrective exercise at the end.

"Forward Head Posture" - or "Head Poke" or even "Turkey Neck" - how you hold your head in relation to your shoulders affects not just the comfort of your neck and shoulders, but also has repercussions on the rest of your spine, can tighten your hamstrings, and even your achilles tendons.. The "backline" of your body is put out of alignment by the tightness of the muscles which attach your head to your neck and upper back.

Think about a perfectly positioned tent pole, and its relationship to the guy ropes which keep it there - now push the tent pole from the top, even just half an inch and what happens to the guy ropes? The tent pole is your head and spine, and those guy ropes are your muscles and tendons, and they suffer!

Your (average) head weighs between 10 and 14lbs, and it should be centred over your ribs and shoulders. Say it weighs 10lbs - for every inch you carry it forward, it weighs an extra 10lbs to your neck and shoulders. No wonder they ache! Combine that with a tendency tilt your head to one side.? or slightly rotated?....... (To replicate this try holding 10lbs of potatoes close to you, then a few inches way, then slightly to the right.......all day.......).......and the problem is compounded.

So your posture is fundamental to your health. People often think that it is difficult to maintain good posture, that it's hard work .....but when we have poor posture, energy drains away from us in pain and tiredness. Good posture is an energy efficient way of preventing the energy-draining (not to mention money draining) consequences of bad health.
So use the muscles at the back of your neck to bring your head back over your rib cage and into good alignment!

The Exercise
A good and simple corrective seated exercise is to sit up on your sit-bones, lace your hands behind your head, and press your head back into your hands - 3x30 secs every half hour or so if you are sitting at a desk all day. And be aware of your posture when you are driving.

If you come to class, then ask me if you are not sure if you are doing it correctly.