“Don’t slouch! How many times do I have to tell you to sit up straight?”
“I couldn’t believe it, I could not think of any positive thoughts while looking down?
Body posture is part of our nonverbal communication; it sometimes projects how we feel. We may collapse when we receive bad news or jump up with joy when we achieve our goal. More and more we sit collapsed for many hours with our spine in flexion. We crane our heads forward to read text messages, a tablet, a computer screen or watch TV. Our bodies collapse when we think hopeless, helpless, powerless thoughts, or when we are exhausted. We tend to slouch and feel “down” when depressed.
We often shrink and collapse to protect ourselves from danger when we are threatened. In prehistoric times this reaction would protect us from predators as we were still prey. Now we may still give the same reaction we worry or respond to demands from our boss. At those moments, we may blank out and have difficulty to think and plan for future events. When the body reacts defensively, the whole body-mind is concerned with immediate survival. Rational and abstract thinking is reduced as we attempt to escape.
When standing tall we occupy more space and tend to project power and authority to others and to ourselves. When we feel happy, we walk erect with a bounce in our step. Emotions and thoughts affect our posture and energy levels; conversely, posture and energy affect our emotions and thoughts. At San Francisco State University, we have researched how posture changes physical strength and access to past memories. Experience this in the following practice (you will need a partner to do this).
How posture affects strength
Stand behind your partner and ask them to lift their right arm straight out as shown in figure 1. Apply gentle pressure downward at the right wrist while your partner attempts to resist the downward pressure. Apply enough pressure downward so that the right arm begins to go down. Relax and repeat the same exercise with the left arm. Then relax.
Figure 1. Experimenter pressing down on the arm while the subject resist the downward pressure
For the rest of this exercise, do the testing with the arm that most resisted to the downward pressure.
Have the person stand in a slouched position and then lift the same arm straight out. Again the experimenter applies enough pressure downward so that the arm begins to go down. Relax.
Then have the person stand a tall position and lift the arm straight out. Again, the experimenter now applies enough pressure downward so that the arm begins to go down. Relax.
Describe to each other how easy it was to resist the downward pressure and how much effort it took to press the arm down while standing tall or slouched.
In our just completed study in the Netherlands with my colleague Annette Booiman, we observed that 98% of the participants felt significantly stronger to resist the downward pressure when they stood in a tall position than when they stood in the collapsed position as shown in Figure 2.
Figure 2. The perceived strength to resist the down pressure on the arm in either the erect or collapsed position as observed by the subjects and the experimenters (Exp).
The subjective experience of strength may be a metaphor of how posture affects our thoughts, emotions, hormones and immune system. When slouching we experience less strength to resist and it is much more challenging to project authority, think creatively and successfully solve problem. Obviously, the loss of strength mainly related to the change in the shoulder mechanics; however, the collapsed body position contributes to feeling hopeless, helpless, and powerless.
With my colleague Dr. Vietta Wilson (Wilson & Peper, 2004), we discovered that in the collapsed position it was very difficult to evoke positive and empowering memories as compared to the upright position (for more information see the article by Wilson and Peper: http://biofeedbackhealth.files.wordpress.com/2013/01/the-effects-of-posture-on-mood.pdf).
Consistently, my students at San Francisco State University have reported that when they blank out on exams or class presentations, if they stop for a moment, change their posture and breathe, they can think again. Similarly, clients who are captured by worry and discomfort, when they shift position and look up, find it is easier to think of new options. Explore for this yourself.
How Posture effect Memory Recall
Sit comfortably at the edge of a chair and then collapse downward so that your back is rounded like the letter C. Let your head tilt forward and look at the floor between your thighs as shown in figure 3.
While in this position, bring to mind hopeless, helpless, powerless, and depressive memories one after the other for thirty seconds.
Then, let go of those thoughts and images and, without changing your position and still looking downward, recall empowering, positive, and happy memories one after the other for thirty seconds.
Shift position and sit up erect, with your back almost slightly arched and your head held tall while looking slightly upward as shown in figure 4.
While is this position, bring to mind many hopeless, helpless, powerless, or depressive memories one after the other for thirty seconds.
Then, let go of those thoughts and images and, without changing position and while still looking upward, recall as many empowering, positive, and happy memories one after the other for thirty seconds
Ask yourself: In which position was it easier to evoke negative memories and in which position was it easier to evoke empowering, positive, and happy memories?
Overwhelmingly participants report that in the downward position it was much easier to recall negative and hopeless memories. And, in the upright position it was easier to recall positive and empowering memories. In many cases, participant reported that when they looked down, they could not evoke any positive and empowering memories. It is not surprising that when people feel optimistic about the future, they say, “Things are looking up.”
Mind and body affect each other. The increase in depression and fatigue may be in part be caused by the body position of sitting collapsed at work, at home and walking a slouched pattern. By shifting body movement and position from slouching to skipping one’s subjective energy may significantly increase (Peper & Lin, 2012) (for more information see: https://peperperspective.com/2012/09/30/take-charge-of-your-energy-level-and-depression-with-movement-and-posture/)
Take charge, lightening your mood and give yourself the opportunity to be empowered and hopeful. When feeling down, acknowledge the feeling and say, “At this moment, I feel overwhelmed, and I’m not sure what to do” or whatever phrase fits the felt emotions. When your energy is low, again acknowledge this to yourself: “At this moment I feel exhausted,” or “At this moment, I feel tired,” or whatever phrase fits the feeling. As you acknowledge it, be sure to state “at this moment.” The phrase “at this moment” is correct and accurate. It implies what is occurring without a self-suggestion that the feeling will continue, which helps to avoid the idea that this was, is, and will always be. The reality is that whatever we are experiencing is always limited to this moment, as no one knows what will occur in the future. This leaves the future open to improvement.
Remind yourself that you to shift your mood by changing your posture. When you’re outside, focus on the clouds moving across the sky, the flight of birds, or leaves on the trees. In your home, you can focus on inspiring art on the wall or photos of family members you love and who love you. When you hang pictures, hang them higher than you normally would so that you must look up. You can also put pictures above your desk to remind yourself to look up and to evoke positive memories.
These two studies point out that psychology needs to incorporate body posture and movement as part of the therapeutic and teaching process. Without teaching how to change body posture only one half of the mind-body equation that underlies health and illness is impacted.
Each time you collapse or have negative thoughts, change your position and sit up and look up. Arrange your world so that you are erect (e.g., stand while working at the computer, use a separate keyboard with your laptop so that the top of the screen is at eye level, or place a pillow in your lower back when sitting). Finally, every so often, get up and move while alternately reach up with your arms into the sky as if picking fruits which you can not quite reach.
After having done these two practices, I realized how powerful my body effects my mood and energy level. Now each time I am aware that I collapse, I take a breath, shift my position, look up, and often stand up and stretch. To my surprise, I have so much more energy and my negative depressive mood has lifted.
Gorter, R. & Peper, E. (2011). Fighting cancer-A nontoxic approach to treatment. Berkeley: North Atlantic Books.
Peper, E. & Lin, I-M. (2012). Increase or decrease depression-How body postures influence your energy level. Biofeedback, 40 (3), 126-130.
Wilson, V.E. and Peper, E. (2004). The Effects of upright and slumped postures on the generation of positive and negative thoughts. Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback.29 (3), 189-195.
 In an elegant study by Professor Amy Cuddy from the Harvard Business School, she demonstrated that two minutes of standing in a power position significant increased testosterone and decreased cortisol while standing in the collapsed position significantly decreased testosterone and increased cortisol. By changing posture, you not only present yourself differently to the world around you, you actually change your hormones (For more information, see Professor Amy Cuddy’s Ted talk: http://www.ted.com/talks/amy_cuddy_your_body_language_shapes_who_you_are).
We park children in front of tablets, smartphone, computers and TVs. The visual and auditory stimulation captures their attention. It is a superb baby sitter. We substitute electronic displays for human attention.
To distract the baby at dinner in a restaurant, we hand the baby a smartphone. To have some private time, we let the child play games on the tablet. To reduce stress before dinner, we hand the child the tablet to watch video clips or play games. The short term benefits of letting handheld devices capture the child’s attention may have long term costs.
The child sits, sits and sits while being captured by the rapid changing visual scenes and auditory sounds instead of playing and enhancing motor development. The addictiveness of electronic devices occurs because we automatically attend to and are captured by rapidly changing stimuli—it is new and could be dangerous. This reaction to attend which is continuously evoked by the handheld devices may occur at the expense of developing self-directed attention.
The handheld devices expose the brain and dividing cells to electromagnetic radiation which can harmful. This is the radiation by which hand held devices communicates with connect cell phone towers or the server as it connects to the web.
From the precautionary principle and the numerous research studies, young children should limit the use of hand held devices. I totally agree with Cris Rowan’s superb blog, 10 Reasons Why Handheld Devices Should Be Banned for Children Under the Age of 12, which is reprinted below with her permission.
Cris Rowan pediatric occupational therapist, biologist, speaker, author
The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Canadian Society of Pediatrics state infants aged 0-2 years should not have any exposure to technology, 3-5 years be restricted to one hour per day, and 6-18 years restricted to 2 hours per day (AAP 2001/13, CPS 2010). Children and youth use 4-5 times the recommended amount of technology, with serious and often life threatening consequences (Kaiser Foundation 2010, Active Healthy Kids Canada 2012). Handheld devices (cell phones, tablets, electronic games) have dramatically increased the accessibility and usage of technology, especially by very young children (Common Sense Media, 2013). As a pediatric occupational therapist, I’m calling on parents, teachers and governments to ban the use of all handheld devices for children under the age of 12 years. Following are 10 research-based reasons for this ban. Please visit zonein.ca to view the Zone’s Fact Sheet for referenced research.
1. Rapid brain growth
Between 0 and 2 years, infant’s brains triple in size and continue in a state of rapid development to 21 years of age (Christakis 2011). Early brain development is determined by environmental stimuli or lack thereof. Stimulation to a developing brain caused by overexposure to technologies (cell phones, internet, iPads, TV), has been shown to be associated with executive functioning and attention deficit, cognitive delays, impaired learning, increased impulsivity and decreased ability to self-regulate e.g. tantrums (Small 2008, Pagini 2010).
2. Delayed Development
Technology use restricts movement, which can result in delayed development. One in three children now enter school developmentally delayed, negatively impacting literacy and academic achievement (HELP EDI Maps 2013). Movement enhances attention and learning ability (Ratey 2008). Use of technology under the age of 12 years is detrimental to child development and learning (Rowan 2010).
3. Epidemic Obesity
TV and video game use correlates with increased obesity (Tremblay 2005). Children who are allowed a device in their bedrooms have 30% increased incidence of obesity (Feng 2011). One in four Canadian, and one in three U.S. children are obese (Tremblay 2011). 30% of children with obesity will develop diabetes, and obese individuals are at higher risk for early stroke and heart attack, gravely shortening life expectancy (Center for Disease Control and Prevention 2010). Largely due to obesity, 21st century children may be the first generation many of whom will not outlive their parents (Professor Andrew Prentice, BBC News 2002).
4. Sleep Deprivation
60% of parents do not supervise their child’s technology usage, and 75% of children are allowed technology in their bedrooms (Kaiser Foundation 2010). 75% of children aged 9 and 10 years are sleep deprived to the extent that their grades are detrimentally impacted (Boston College 2012).
5. Mental Illness
Technology overuse is implicated as a causal factor in rising rates of child depression, anxiety, attachment disorder, attention deficit, autism, bipolar disorder, psychosis and problematic child behavior (Bristol University 2010, Mentzoni 2011, Shin 2011, Liberatore 2011, Robinson 2008). One in six Canadian children have a diagnosed mental illness, many of whom are on dangerous psychotropic medication (Waddell 2007).
Violent media content can cause child aggression (Anderson, 2007). Young children are increasingly exposed to rising incidence of physical and sexual violence in today’s media. “Grand Theft Auto V” portrays explicit sex, murder, rape, torture and mutilation, as do many movies and TV shows. The U.S. has categorized media violence as a Public Health Risk due to causal impact on child aggression (Huesmann 2007). Media reports increased use of restraints and seclusion rooms with children who exhibit uncontrolled aggression.
7. Digital dementia
High speed media content can contribute to attention deficit, as well as decreased concentration and memory, due to the brain pruning neuronal tracks to the frontal cortex (Christakis 2004, Small 2008). Children who can’t pay attention can’t learn.
As parents attach more and more to technology, they are detaching from their children. In the absence of parental attachment, detached children can attach to devices, which can result in addiction (Rowan 2010). One in 11 children aged 8-18 years are addicted to technology (Gentile 2009).
9. Radiation emission
In May of 2011, the World Health Organization classified cell phones (and other wireless devices) as a category 2B risk (possible carcinogen) due to radiation emission (WHO 2011). James McNamee with Health Canada in October of 2011 issued a cautionary warning stating “Children are more sensitive to a variety of agents than adults as their brains and immune systems are still developing, so you can’t say the risk would be equal for a small adult as for a child.” (Globe and Mail 2011). In December, 2013 Dr. Anthony Miller from the University of Toronto’s School of Public Health recommend that based on new research, radio frequency exposure should be reclassified as a 2A (probable carcinogen), not a 2B (possible carcinogen). American Academy of Pediatrics requested review of EMF radiation emissions from technology devices, citing three reasons regarding impact on children (AAP 2013).
The ways in which children are raised and educated with technology are no longer sustainable (Rowan 2010). Children are our future, but there is no future for children who overuse technology. A team-based approach is necessary and urgent in order to reduce the use of technology by children. Please reference below slide shows on www.zonein.ca under “videos” to share with others who are concerned about technology overuse by children.
Problems – Suffer the Children – 4 minutes
Solutions – Balanced Technology Management – 7 minutes
The following Technology Use Guidelines for children and youth were developed by Cris Rowan, pediatric occupational therapist and author of Virtual Child; Dr. Andrew Doan, neuroscientist and author of Hooked on Games; and Dr. Hilarie Cash, Director of reSTART Internet Addiction Recovery Program and author of Video Games and Your Kids, with contribution from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Canadian Pediatric Society in an effort to ensure sustainable futures for all children.
Technology Use Guidelines for Children and Youth
Follow Cris Rowan on Twitter: www.twitter.com/zoneinprograms
A major factor that contributes to illness and health is how we cope with stress. Learning stress management techniques and integrating them into our daily life can significantly reduce illness and discomfort. Patients report significant improvement in numerous disorders such as hypertension, headaches, cancer, pain, or arthritis.
A great health resource are the short YouTube videos by Dr. Mike Evans who is founder of the Health Design Lab at the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, an Associate Professor of Family Medicine and Public Health at the University of Toronto, and a staff physician at St. Michael’s Hospital. His informative short video clips cover a range of medical conditions from concussions to stopping smoking (see his website: http://www.myfavouritemedicine.com).
Watch the following video presentation on The Single Most Important Thing You Can Do for Your Stress.
In this interview with Dr. Larry Berkelhammer, Dr. Erik Peper discusses the statement from the World Health Organization “Disease is a rupture in life’s harmony”. He also offers two pragmatic behavioral approaches to optimize health:
- Observe energy drains and gains and then decrease energy drains and increase energy gains
- Take movement breaks to increase energy and prevent immobility syndrome
From Wisdom to Alzheimer’s: Are we poisoning ourselves with affluent malnutrition and sedentary life style?Posted: December 14, 2013
Wise elders, grand parents or statesmen have been the traditional roles for aging adults. Older people were revered as the repository and sources of wisdom in many traditional cultures. Presently the development of aging into wisdom is being overshadowed by the specter of Alzheimer’s disease. Wisdom transforming into Alzheimer’s disease does not compute. How come that in slightly more than a century after it was first described by the neuropathologist Alois Alzheimer in 1906, the fear of contracting and possible having Alzheimer’s disease with the concurrent loss of cognitive and body functions is becoming a possibility? How could this have occurred?
Today more people are living to older ages; however, in traditional cultures some people also lived to very old age (the major increase in present day longevity is due to the elimination of infant and maternal mortality and medical treatment to survive trauma).
Is it possible that the prevention of Alzheimer’s will not be found in pharmaceutical treatment but in promoting organic food diet and movement? The research data is starting to find that our life style patterns are risk factors for Alzheimer’s. Changing lifestyle factors is a more promising treatment approach than drugs. A significant risk factor may be the confluence of a sedentary lifestyle and affluent malnutrition. Researchers are even reporting that the built up of the beta amyloid plaques in brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease is not the result of aging but the body’s attempt to cope with the influx of environmental and dietary poisons or decreases in essential foods or body activities.
Risk: Sedentary lifestyle-Too little exercise
Over the last hundred years–and rapidly accelerated in the last 30 years–we have transformed work into sitting. By sitting in front of a computer screen, we have created a new disease: Immobilization Syndrome. Lack of exercise is recognize as a major factor in numerous illnesses such as cardiovascular disease, obesity, and diabetes. Movement in many different forms reduces the risk of illness. Older people who exercise have a significant reduction in the risk of developing Alzheimer’s (Larson, 2006; Radak et al, 2010).
Regular movement lowers the risk. Even though there is overwhelming scientific evidence that movement and exercise are required for health, there is a disconnect with the medical and educational practices. Insurances will pay for medical treatment; however, they usually will not pay for prevention or exercise. At the same time physical education in schools is reduced or eliminated to reduce the risk of litigation (an injured child on the playground could sue the school). Children now spend most of their time in front of a screen while exercising their thumb and index fingers instead of playing and moving outdoors.
Risk: Affluent malnutrition-too much sugar and simple carbohydrates
Affluent malnutrition appears to be another risk factor. Recent findings suggests that the beta amyloids plagues, as the marker for Alzheimer’s in the brain, may be a protective response to the modulating insulin levels triggered by affluent malnutrition and sedentary life style. This disease has been labeled as type 3 diabetes by Associate Professor Suzanne de la Monte at Brown University (Steen et al, 2005). Namely, the disease occurs as the brain tissue becomes resistant to insulin.
Rats that are fed high-fructose corn syrup laced water experienced learning and memory problems in less than 6 weeks and became less responsive to insulin. At the same time if the animals were given omega 3 fatty acids, they appear to escape the cognitive decline. In other research rats developed Alzheimer like brain changes and became demented when Suzanne de la Monte interfered with how the rats brains respond to insulin (Trivedi, 2012).
Alois Alzheimer first described these abnormal protein structure in the brains a little more than a hundred years ago. At that time the European diet had increased sugar intake as shown in figure 1. While more recently there has been a significant increase in high fructose corn syrup as shown in figure 2.
Figure 1. Radical increase in sugar consumption in the last 200 years. From: http://blog.zestos.co.nz/2010/09/sugar-consumption-been-high-before.html
Figure 2. Increase in the type of sugar consumption in the last thirty years. From: http://blog.zestos.co.nz/2010/09/sugar-consumption-been-high-before.html
We are now becoming concerned with the Alzheimer’s disease as an upcoming epidemic. It cannot be just sugar; since, its consumption has been high since the beginning of the 20th century. A possible contributor could be the high-fructose corn syrup; however, it is most likely the interaction between reduced exercise and sugar.
Sugar set the stage for pathogenesis to occur in the brain and the absence of movement/exercise promotes and supports the pathogenesis. People continue to decrease movement: from walking or riding horses to sitting cars or standing on escalators and elevators; from doing physical housework to automated washing machines, driers and dishwashers; from preparing foods from raw materials to prepackaged foods; from filing and typing to computer work; from playing family games to watching TV and searching the net; from face to face communication to texting; etc.
We have separated from our biological evolutionary heritage. I am not surprised that Alzheimer’s disease and immobility and sugar are linked. Adopt the precautionary principle and assume that sugar and high-fructose corn syrup in conjunction with reduced movement (immobilization syndrome) is harmful.
As a reader, you will probably have to wait another 20 years before these findings have been scientifically proven against the overt and covert lobbying efforts of agribusiness and pharmaceutical industry. Remember it took 30 years to demonstrate that smoking was harmful. Begin to move and eat in concert with your evolutionary background (See Part III Self-care in Gorter and Peper, 2011).
Eat food not sugars! Eat the foods great grandparents would recognize as food as Michael Pollan (2009) describe in his superb book, In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto. Eat foods that have not been processed or adulterated by additives. Take charge by eating brain supporting foods such as organic vegetables, roots, fruits, nuts, fish, some organ meat, and eliminate all those sugary, fatty processed highly advertised fast foods.
Move and exercise! Get up and move every hour. Walk up the stairs instead of the escalator. Meet new people and move by going hiking, dancing, Tai Chi or yoga classes or volunteer by helping others.
Gorter, R. & Peper, E. (2011). Fighting Cancer-A Non Toxic Approach to Treatment. Berkeley: North Atlantic.
Larson, E.G., Wang, L., Bowen, J.D., McCormick, W. C., Teri, L., Crane, P., & Kukull, W. (2006). Exercise Is Associated with Reduced Risk for Incident Dementia among Persons 65 Years of Age and Older. Ann Intern Med, 144(2), 73-81.
Pollan, M. (2009). In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto. New York: Penguin Books.
Radak, Z., Hart. N., Sarga, L., Koltai, E., Atalay, M., Ohno, H., & Boldogh, I. (2010). Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, 20(3), 777-83.
Steen, E., Terry, B.M. Rivera, E.J., Cannon, J.L., Neely, T.R., Tavares, R., Xu, X. J., Wands, J.R., & de al Monte, S. M. (2005). Impaired insulin and insulin-like growth factor expression and signaling mechanisms in Alzheimer’s disease-is this type 3 diabetes? Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, 7(1), 53-80.
Trivedi, B. (2012). Eat your way to dementia. New Scientist, 215(2880), 32-37.
Simple Ways to Manage Stress- An experiential lecture for people impacted by the March 11, 2011 Great East Japan EarthquakePosted: November 8, 2013
Stress can be reduced by simple pragmatic exercises. This 99 minute participatory lecture was presented in Sendei, Japan, on July 20, 2013 to people who were impacted by the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami disaster.* The lecture includes practices that demonstrate 1) how thoughts, emotions and images affect the body, 2) how simple movements can reduce muscle tension, 3) how breathing can be used to reduce stress, 4) how changing posture can change access to positive or negative memories, 5) how acceptance is the beginning step for healing. This approach based upon a holistic evolutionary perspective of stress and health can be used to reduce symptoms caused or increased by stress such as neck, shoulder and back tension, digestive problems, worrying and insomnia. The video lecture is sequentially translated from English to Japanese. Click on the link to watch the video lecture.
*The program was organized by Toshihiko Sato, Ph.D., Dept. Health and Social Services, Faculty of Medical Sciences and Welfare Tohoku Bunka Gakuen University, Sendai.
Physical fitness promotes health. For one person it may be walking, for another jogging, bicycling or dancing. Increase the joy and pleasure of movement. In most cases about 20 minutes of continued activity is enough to keep in shape and regenerate. When the urge to watch TV or just to crash occurs, do some of the movement—you will gain energy. The exercises this article are are developed to reduce discomfort, increase flexibility and improve health. Practice them throughout the day, especially before the signals of pain or discomfort occur. First read over the General Concepts Underlying the Exercises and then explore the various practices.
General Concepts Underlying the Exercises
While practicing the strength and stretch exercises, always remember to breathe. Exercises should be performed slowly, gently and playfully. If pain or discomfort occurs, STOP. Please consult your health care provider if you have any medical condition which could be affected by exercise.
Perform the practices in a playful, exploratory manner. Ask yourself: “What is happening?” and “How do I feel different during and after the practice?” Practice with awareness and passive attention. Remember, Pain, No gain — Pain discourages practice. Pain and the anticipation of pain usually induce bracing which is the opposite of relaxation and letting go. In addition, many of our movements are conditioned and without knowing we hold our breath and tighten our shoulders when we perform an exercise. Explore ways to keep breathing and thereby inhibit the startle/orienting/flight response embedded and conditioned with the movements. For example, continue to breathe and relax instead of holding your breath and tightening your shoulders when you initially look at something or perform a task.
Learn to reduce the automatic and unnecessary tightening of muscles not needed for the performance of the task. As you do an exercise, continuously, check your body and explore how to relax muscles that are not needed for the actual exercise. Become your own instructor in the same way that a yoga teacher reminds you to exhale when you are doing an asana (yoga pose). If you are unsure whether you are tightening, initially look another person doing the exercise to observe their bracing and breath holding patterns. Ask them to observe you and give feedback. In many cases, the more others are involved the easier it is to do a practice.
It is often helpful to perform the practice in a group. Encourage your whole work unit to take breaks and exercise together. Usually it is much easier to do something together, especially when you are not motivated—use social support to help you do your practices.
Problems with neck, back and shoulders
The number one overall work-related complaint is the back pain and this is also true for many people who work at the computer. In many cases there are correlations between backache and stress, immobility, and lack of regeneration. Back pain is often blamed on disk problems which may be aggravated by chronic tension that may have some psychological factors. When you experience discomfort, explore some of the following questions:
- Is there something for which I am spineless?
- Who or what is the pain in my neck or back?
- What is the weight I am carrying?
- Am I rigid and not willing to be flexible?
- What negative emotion, such as anger or resentment, needs to resolved?
Be willing to act on whatever answers you observe. Back and neck pain is often significantly reduced after emotional conflicts are resolved (see the book by John Sarno, MD., Healing Back Pain: The Mind-Body Connection). The best treatment is prevention, emotional resolution, and physical movement. Allow your back to relax and move episodically. Allow tensions to dissipate and explore the physical, psychological and social burdens you carry. To loosen your neck practice the following exercise.
Free your neck and shoulders
This is a slightly complicated, but very effective process. You may want to ask a friend or co-worker to read the following instructions to you.
Pretest: Push away from the keyboard. Sit at the edge of the chair with your knees bent at approximately 90 degrees and your feet flat on the floor about shoulder width apart. Do the movements slowly. Do NOT push yourself if you feel discomfort. Be gentle with yourself.
Look to the right and gently turn your head and body as far as you can go to the right. When you have gone as far as you can comfortably, look at the furthest spot on the wall and remember that spot. Gently rotate your head and body back to center. Close your eyes and relax.
Movement practice: Reach up with your right hand; pass it over the top of your head and hold on to your left ear. Then gently bend to the right lowering the elbow towards the floor. Slowly straighten up. Repeat a few times, feeling as if you are a sapling flexing in the breeze as shown in Figure 1.
Figure 1. Illustration of side ways bending with hand holding ear.
Observe what your body is doing as it bends and comes back up to center. Notice the movements in your ribs, back and neck. Then drop your arm to your lap and relax. Make sure you continue to breathe diaphragmatically throughout the exercise.
Reach up with your left hand, pass it over the top of your head and hold on to your right ear. Repeat as above, this time bending to the right.
Reach up with your right hand and pass it over the top of your head, now holding onto your left ear. Then look to the right with your eyes and rotate your head to the right as if you are looking behind you. Return to center and repeat the movement a few times. Then drop your arm to your lap and relax for a few breaths as shown in Figure 2. Figure 2. Illustration of rotational movement with hand holding ear.
Repeat the same rotating motion of your head to the right, except that now your eyes look to the left. Repeat this a few times, then drop your arm to your lap and relax for a few breaths.
Repeat the exercise except reach up with your left hand and pass it over the top of your head, and hold on to your right ear. Then look to the left with your eyes and rotate your head to the left as if you are looking behind you. Return to center and repeat a few times. Then drop your arms to your lap and relax for a few breaths.
Repeat the same rotating motion of your head to the left, except that your eyes look to the right. Repeat this a few times, then drop your arm to your lap and relax for a few breaths.
Post test: look to the right and gently turn your head and body as far as you can go. When you cannot go any further, look at that point on the wall. Gently rotate your head back to center, close your eyes, relax and notice the relaxing feelings in your neck, shoulders and back.
Did you rotate further than at the beginning of the exercise? More than 95% of participants report rotating significantly further as compared to the pretest.
For additional exercises on how to loosen your neck, shoulders, back, arms, hands, and legs, click on the link for the article, Improve health with movement: There is life after five or look at the somatic relaxation practices in part 3 of our book, Fighting Cancer-A Nontoxic Approach to Treatment.
 Adapted from a demonstration by Sharon Keane and developed by Ilana Rubenfeld