Good posture is relaxed, not forced

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Wouldn’t it be nice if our posture was always perfect, vertical and symmetrically balanced? Yet as in life, it’s never that way. When it comes to our posture, many of us tilt, shift, slump, and bend, and it can feel like an uphill battle against the gravitational field of the earth. Yet if your goal is to improve your posture and have a healthy spine, we want to continually practice healthy movement habits. We all have some imbalances, and old habits. Tensing your shoulders, holding your breath, or a forward head are counterproductive not only in weight training, but in any sport.  Tomas Myer in his book Anatomy Trains, writes that everyone has a story, and good stories always involve some imbalance.

Good posture is relaxed, not forced.

Good posture is an easy upright alignment, where the body weights of your head, chest, and pelvis are poised one atop the other, like a stack of colorful wooden building blocks. The spine’s “ home-base” is it’s natural neutral position, where it is in the least stressed position.


The ease of good posture allows for its’ three natural curves; the neck, or cervical spine, the mid-back, or thoracic spine, and the low back, or lumbar spine. Standing or sitting up straight allows for the presence of each of these three natural curves. Beyond looking symmetrical though, there are copious muscles and connective tissue webbing working to support the spine. It isn’t a freestanding pillar, writes Dr. Stuart McGill, Professor Emeritus at the University of Waterloo and author ofBackMechanic.  Instead, he says, think of it more like a radio tower, a tall metallic structure stabilized by guy-wires that are connected to the ground.  The guy-wires act in the same way that the network of muscles and ligaments that surround our spinal columns do, providing strength and support.

Reminding yourself to pull your shoulders back is only part of the posture picture. Alignment is dynamic, neurologically adaptive, and certainly has an emotional component. Finding out where your muscle tension lives, your neck, for example, is helpful to find that particular pattern that causes the trouble in the first place. It’s known by the “ everything-connects-to-everything-else principle. “ It helps to understand which muscles are shortened or tight, or which emotions might be contributing to that feeling, and how that affects the whole body. 

Using imagery to improve spinal alignment

Using imagery can help you experience an incredible release of muscle tension. The Franklin Method uses imagery metaphorically, and is helpful if you are unfamiliar with anatomy. Here are some images from Eric Franklin’s book Dynamic AlignmentThrough Imagery, to try to help improve your spinal alignment. You just might discover a very fixable imbalance.

Lighting designer aligns the spine (lying, sitting, or standing):

1.Visualize the spine as a chain of spotlights. Turn on all the lights and observe their focal directions. If they shine in many confused directions, adjust them so that they all focus in the sagittal plane. Now adjust them so that they shine with equal brightness.

Head on geyser

2. Imagine your central axis to be a waterspout or geyser. Your head floats effortlessly on top of this column. Visualize your shoulders and your body as the water falls back down to the ground. Allow your head to bob on the top of the column of water. As the geyser become stronger, your head is buoyed upward. Let the power of the water increase the height of your head.


https://www.mtexpress.com/wood_river_journal/features/fitness-guru/article_aa648d9e-5188-11e9-9360-1381d385e740.html

Learning to sit still. How meditation works.

 

Learning to sit still-how meditation works

If you think you can’t sit still for five minutes and have absolutely no time, you aren’t alone. You might think you can’t add another “to do “list to your day, as modern life is fast- paced and stressful enough already. Sometimes you’re just pissed. So many diversions, like Facebook, or shopping online, steal our precious time. But sitting still, in meditation, can have tremendous benefits for your health and happiness. Stress levels in the US are steadily rising, with over 53% burnout across industries, (even non-profits), now more than ever, according to a Regus Group study. Antidepressants use alone has increased by 400 per cent this last decade. Meditation was once thought of as an esoteric practice, but scientists are showing that it makes you smarter, less anxious, less depressed, and increases resilience and social connection. Better yet, there’s no right or wrong way to meditate. What’s important is the support and empowerment it gives to your day.

Relax a little more

In studies of happiness, says Emma Seppälä, Science Director at Stanford’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research, Americans are all about high intensity. Happiness is more of the “thrill’ and “excitement “ variety, with little value on calmness-that is, low-intensity positive emotions. For example, if you ask Americans to describe “happiness” they won’t say “inner peace”, says Seppälä.

When we’re stressed or angry, called unpleasant high-intensity negative emotions, we’re more likely to counter with even higher intensity doings-like running, to “ blow off some steam”. We’re more likely to turn to a myriad of distractions. Anything than sitting still. That’s where meditation comes in, as practicing sitting still helps you develop perspective and relax.

We need to take time for ourselves. We all want a purposeful, rich, and diverse world. When you take time for yourself, engage in a purposeful or idle pastime, you become more imaginative and grounded. Giving yourself space for quiet and stillness boosts happiness and encourages a healthy lifestyle. That stillness is why you need to meditate.

How to sit

There are so many ways to meditate, but one of the most profound yet simple ways is to sit tall. Sitting tall though, is really hard for most people. A bad back, inflexibility, or other physical barriers make sitting awfully uncomfortable. Aligning the spine straight and tall has an inherent subtle dynamic. Try these tips to work with posture limitations. Now you’re ready to slide into meditating:

1 .Use a pillow, or folded blankets under your sitting bones, to help tip your pelvis forward. If you don’t know what that feels like, it means your bum is a little higher than your pubis. You can also kneel with one or two yoga blocks underneath your rear, which can feel very comfortable. If you are sitting, your legs can be crossed, or more extended.

Shift your hips back a few times, to make sure you are grounded into the floor beneath you. Wiggle around a bit. Shifting or snuggling your hips back helps your spine be tall. If that isn’t comfortable, you can lean against a wall to support your back. Once you feel more grounded, feel yourself settle down. If you feel you need to just lie down to be comfortable, do it!

 

  1. Start to focus on your inhales and exhales. Let your breathing be soft and leisurely, not forced. Be leisurely about it, so you are not rushing.

Imagine your body feeling like Jell-O. When you tap Jell-O gently, it wobbles slightly, teaches yoga master Erich Schiffmann, author of Yoga-The Sprit and Practice of Moving into Stillness. That movement is your breath moving through you. Notice that you are starting to sit quietly, yet the body does have movement going on, and that movement is your breath rippling through you.

4. Stay as relaxed as you can be.

With a little time, patience, and practice, meditation gives back more than you thought possible.

 

 

 

 

 

Extend your spine~ The Roman Chair for back health

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Our spines need to be subtle and strong

When it comes to musculoskeletal pain, the lower back reigns as king. About 80 to 85 percent of people will experience some sort of low back pain in their life. According to the National Health Statistics Survey in 2012, more than 28 percent of Americans live with lower back pain. Back troubles are the No. 1 reason people under age 45 miss out on activities.

Ironically, most people with low back pain overuse their backs, exacerbating the trouble even more. It’s better to use your legs to bend or squat down, or to use your hips in rotational sports like golf or yoga to spare stresses on your lower back.

Our spines need to be supple and strong, as daily tasks demand that the vertebrae bend, flex, rotate and side bend. The spine does an amazing job of handling loads straight down the back, but over time, poor mechanics repeated hundreds of times in daily life and activities can cause low back pain. Even more problematic is our forward bending posture, especially with aging. It seems we’re all forgetting to stand up and extend our spines. Our preference for slumping, sitting or driving is very hard on our back ligaments, and at worst, it becomes structural, resulting in bad posture or back problems. The end result is that greater compressive forces are placed on the intervertebral discs.

If you go to a gym, there is an overlooked piece of gym equipment to help strengthen your back. Typically used as a place to hang your gym towel, the Roman chair, looking somewhat like a stand, can isolate and strengthen the spine extensor muscles.

Exercises such as squats and deadlifts help strengthen your back, but the larger hip extensor muscles do much of the work. The lumbar extensors, multifidi (the deepest muscles near your spine) and the quadratus lumborum are the important muscles for spine health, as they help provide stability in the area of the spine most prone to injury. Think of your spine as two stacked boxes, called the vertebrae, with lots of padding between them—the discs, where most back problems begin. The natural curves of your spine help the discs cushion compressive forces.

Any exercises you do should keep spine stability in mind, and be done with muscle control rather than momentum. Avoid excessive range-of-motion movements that damage spinal ligaments or discs. End-range extension, or forceful hyperextension, places the posterior elements of the spine at risk of damage, especially with spinal stenosis or sports hernia.

 To use the Roman chair, you lie face-down, with the back of your ankles supported, and your navel in line with the edge of the pad. Round your back over the pad, slowly extend your torso parallel to the floor so that you are horizontal from your heels to head, hold for one second and lower for three seconds.  ( View video IMG_3055 )
Published in the Idaho Mountain Express June 30, 2017

Breathe out to lose fat?

Breathe out to lose fat?When you stand tall and lift your chest, don’t you feel much better? You look better also, as your posture improves. Breathing capacity improves, as your diaphragm lifts to help expand your lungs. We need to breathe to live. Breathing sustains us and can also teach us about our current physical and psychological state. You get some great news, hold your breath in anticipation, or exhale out to relax more. Our wavelike breathing is our life force, but did you know that breathing out makes you lose fat?

    The rate and depth of breathing is influenced by changing levels of carbon dioxide, oxygen and hydrogen ions in our blood. When it comes to losing weight, why is breathing so important? And where does the fat go? Does it turn to energy or convert to muscle, as commonly thought? The process is all about biology, as fat mostly converts to carbon dioxide and leaves the body through breathing. Scientists, in a report published in the British Medical Journal, explain how our lungs unlock the carbon stored in fat cells. Replacing one hour of sitting with jogging, for example, raises the metabolic rate to seven times that of resting and removes an additional 39 grams of carbon stored in fat cells. Our lungs are responsible for weight loss, via our inhalations and exhalations. The diaphragm, like a big parachute, contracts and relaxes nonstop, drives respiration and is the central breathing muscle.

Get good at breathing

  Running up a flight of stairs is one of the best ways to improve cardiovascular fitness. It’s a practical, quick and easy way to breathe hard, and gain some fitness in a busy day. But for the rest of the time, what if you became really good at breathing?

     It helps to understand just how much space the diaphragm needs to expand and fall with inhalations and exhalations. The diaphragm sits beneath the lungs and is above the organs of the abdomen. It is the major muscle that drives respiration. Respiration consists of moving gases in and out of the lungs, and circulation is the transport of these gases to the tissues.

    Like a lopsided mushroom, the diaphragm is attached to the sternum and the lower six ribs, and to the first three lumbar vertebrae, via two tendon-like structures called crura. The crura, like strings, extend down to the psoas and lower back muscles. The joints of the lumbar spine and upper back also play a part in how well the diaphragm expands and contracts, and therefore the quality and depth of breathing.

    At the top of the diaphragm, a central tendon attaches in front of the pericardium, the covering of the heart. Equally, the muscles of the abdomen and the external and internal intercostal muscles assist in drawing the ribs in and out. Normal breathing is rhythmic, driven by neuronal networks within the brain. Breathing also depends on the elasticity of the lungs; they have to lift and fall back. Breathing needs a lot of space, from the heart riding up and down on the lungs, to the spine stretching to accommodate inhalation, as well as the stomach muscles and pelvic floor. So it comes as no surprise that posture, standing or sitting tall, with the chest lifted, stomach in, can help you breathe and move better. Worth a big exhale.

Parachute breathing exercise

  Imagine the diaphragm to be a parachute. As you breathe in, the center of the parachute drops downward, the sides billow and the cords loosen. As you breathe out, the canopy expands upward as the cords become taut and anchor down toward the pelvic floor. (Adapted from the Franklin Method )

Published in the Idaho Mountain Express March 10, 2017

Slouch No More

Over time, slouching can be a pain in the neck. At any given time, neck pain affects about 10 percent of the adult population in the U.S. Our heads can be a heavy load, so much so that many of us have lost proper alignment because our heads are too far forward from the rest of the spine. The consequences of your head hanging off the front spine, called forward head syndrome, can result in shoulder and rotator cuff problems, neck aches, headaches, back spasms and poor breathing patterns, all fixable problems.
Forward head syndrome is the first sign that muscle imbalances are present. This causes the front muscles, pectoralis and subscapularis, to become tighter and the muscles around the shoulder blades to become lengthened, both factors limiting the muscles’ functioning. You can assess forward head posture by having a friend look at your posture from the side. A neutral head is rooted firmly, like a tree, in the “ground” of the upper back with the ear aligned with the center of the shoulder.
Now face a mirror. Are your palms, or one more than the other, turned inward? If so, your shoulders are most likely slouched. Opening your hands so that the palms open in front and you can instantly correct some of your slouching.
The key to change is to become aware of old habits creeping in again.
As much as sitting in front of computers and television can be blamed for our heavy hanging heads, the root of the problem isn’t just that. Of course we would want to also look at the rest of the body to see if the cause may be coming from somewhere else. But overall, weak, tight muscles can inhibit moving well, as there is a rich dynamic inherent in the control of posture so that it is relaxed, not work. Ideal standing posture places the body’s joints in a state of equilibrium with the least amount of effort to maintain this upright position.

RX: Sitting upper-back strength exercises:
The cervical neck, seven vertebrae, blend into the thoracic region of the spine. This area supports the head and is an important attachment point for several muscles that support the middle back. You know them, as this is where stress builds up, in the levator scapula, rhomboids and the upper and middle trapezius. The following exercise can improve neuromuscular control and stabilize the spine:
Sit against a wall with your knees bent and firmly press your back, buttocks and shoulders into the wall. Pull your abdominals in to brace your core. Raise your
arms to shoulder level, bending your arms so that they are parallel to the floor and the backs of your upper arms rest against the wall. Gently press the back of your head into the wall, keeping your chin level. Exhale and firmly squeeze your shoulder blades together while
pressing the backs of your arms and shoulders into the wall. Hold for five to 10 seconds, relax, and repeat four times. You can also do this exercise lying on the floor, or advance it by combining it with a wall squat.

RX: Imagine this (sitting, standing or supine) (adapted from “Dynamic Alignment Through Imagery” by Eric Franklin )
Try resetting what standing or sitting straight feels like by visualizing the spine as a chain of spotlights. Turn on the lights and observe their focal directions. If they shine in many confused directions, adjust them so that they all focus in an even plane. Now adjust them so that they shine with equal brightness.

The key to change is to become aware of old habits creeping in again. Healthy shoulders require proper posture, good flexibility and good strength about the scapular region.

Connie Aronson is an American College of Sports Medicine health and fitness specialist. http://www.mtexpress.com/index2.php?ID=2005145909#.UQyHaaXJDzJ

Visit her at www.conniearonson.com.

Why Yoga Works – The Top Reasons to Try It

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Yoga is good for the mind, body and soul.

Yoga might be the only time in your busy day that is truly yours; a time when all of your attention is directed to exactly what you are doing. Today over 15 million people in the US know the value of doing just that-relaxing with yoga. The yoga that we practice today rises out of an ancient meditation heritage dating back at least 4,000 years. Fast forward to today’s crazy hectic pace, especially with the approach of the holiday season, the benefits to your physical, mental and emotional health are top reasons why yoga still works.

1. Stress relief. Yoga reduces stress by encouraging relaxation and lowering the levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Yoga teaches you how to breathe more fully by taking slower, deeper breaths. Known as  pranayama, breathing more fully helps improve lung function and trigger the body’s relaxation response. By changing our pattern of breathing, we can significantly affect our body’s experience and response to stress. Other benefits include reduced blood pressure, cholesterol and heart rate,  improved immune system as well as reduced anxiety, depression, fatigue, insomnia, and easier pregnancies.
2. Pain relief. Next time you have a headache, neck, back, or other chronic painful conditions, yoga can help. In the largest US study to date, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, yoga or stretching classes were linked to diminished symptoms from chronic low back pain, more so than a self-care book. Both the yoga and stretching class emphasized the torso and legs. Researchers found that the type of yoga, called viniyoga, which adapts and modifies poses for each student, along with breathing exercises, works because the stretching and strengthening of muscles benefit back function and symptoms. Many people with chronic pain shy away from yoga’s misleading reputation for requiring supple joints for fear of getting hurt. But the same goes for approaching any new activity with too much gusto, writes Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D., in Yoga For Pain Relief . Instead of pushing yourself to your limit, think of staying in a 50-60% effort zone.

3. Better Posture & Better Bones. Yoga helps to maintain your muscularity and that helps with maintaining your posture. It also helps with stretching all the muscle groups that support better body alignment. For women, increasing research is showing that exercise is a means of preventing the risk of various cancers, particularly breast cancer. The reasons are twofold, in that both the physical effects and indirect effect of adding yoga as a form of exercise prevents weight gain.

4. Befriending Your Body. For anyone who feels ashamed or self-conscious about their body, yoga can help you become an alley with yourself instead of an adversary. Our obsession with thinness equates the physical practice as a good way to sweat/ get /thin/quick; all about the outer body. Yet yoga primarily evolved for a subtle and more powerful connection of the inner world: the mind, senses and emotions. Today 90% of all women and junior and senior high school girls, respectively, dislike their bodies and are on a diet. ( 15% of these girls are actually overweight.) It doesn’t help that classes might be packed with thin fit people. While yoga does teach you to use and discipline your body to be strong and flexible, the emphasis is on your body as a whole entity: living, changing, accepting and alive in the moment.

This article was originally published in the Idaho Mountain Express. November 16, 2012.

Connie Aronson is an American College of Sports Medicine Health & Fitness Specialist. Visit her at: www.conniearonson.com