The surprising and powerful links between posture and mood

Enjoy Vivian Giang’s superb blog, The surprising and powerful links between posture and mood,  published by Fast Company and reprinted with permission.   It summarizes in a very readable way how posture affects health and well being.

The Surprising and Powerful Links between Posture and Mood

Why feeling taller tricks your brain into making you feel more confident and why your smartphone addiction might be making you depressed.

The next time you’re feeling sad and depressed, pay close attention to your posture. According to cognitive scientists, you’ll likely be slumped over with your neck and shoulders curved forward and head looking down.

While it’s true that you’re sitting this way because you’re sad, it’s also true that you’re sad because you’re sitting this way. This philosophy, known as embodied cognition, is the idea that the relationship between our mind and body runs both ways, meaning our mind influences the way our body reacts, but the form of our body also triggers our mind.

In large part due to Amy Cuddy’s widly popular 2012 TED talk, most of us know that two minutes of “power poses” a day can change how we feel about ourselves. This isn’t just about displaying confidence to others around; this is about actually changing your hormones—increased levels of testosterone and decreased levels of cortisol, or the stress hormone, in the brain.

“The brain has an area that reflects confidence, but once that area is triggered it doesn’t matter exactly how it’s triggered,” says Richard Petty, professor of psychology at Ohio State University. “It can be difficult to distinguish real confidence from confidence that comes from just standing up straight … these things go both ways just like happiness leads to smiling, but also smiling leads to happiness.”

When it comes to posture, Petty explains that the way we ultimately feel has a lot to do with the associations we have with being taller. For example, if you take two people and you put one on a chair that’s above the other person, the one that’s looking down will feel more powerful because “we have all these associations” with height and power that “gets triggered automatically when certain movements are made,” he says. The function of your body posture tells your brain that you’re powerful, which, in turn, affects your attitude.

In a 2009 study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, Petty along with other researchers instructed 71 college students to either “sit up straight” and “push out [their] chest” or “sit slouched forward” with their “face looking at [their] knees.” While holding their assigned posture, the students were asked to list either three positive or negative personal traits they thought would contribute to their future job satisfaction and professional performance. Afterward, the students were asked to take a survey where they rated themselves on how well they thought they would perform as a future professional.

The researchers found that how the students rated themselves depended on the posture they kept when they wrote the positive or negative traits. Those who were in the upright position believed in the positive and negative traits they wrote down while those in the slouched over position weren’t convinced of their positive or negative traits. In other words, when the students were in the upright, confident position, they trusted their own thoughts whether those thoughts were positive or negative. On the other hand, when the students sat in a powerless position, they didn’t trust anything they wrote down whether it was positive or negative.

However, those in the upright position likely had an easier time thinking of “empowering, positive” traits about themselves to write down while those in the slouched over position probably had an easier time recalling “hopeless, helpless, powerless, and negative” feelings, according to Erik Peper, professor of Holistic Health at San Francisco State University.

In a series of experiments, Peper found that sitting in a collapsed, helpless position makes it easier for negative thoughts and memories to appear while sitting in an upright, powerful position makes it easier to have empowering thoughts and memories.

“Emotions and thoughts affect our posture and energy levels; conversely, posture and energy affect our emotions and thoughts,” says one of Peper’s studies from 2012, and two minutes of skipping versus walking in a slouched position can make a significant difference on our energy levels. Like Cuddy, Peper’s research finds that it only takes two minutes to change your hormones, meaning you can basically change the chemistry in your brain while waiting for your food to heat up in the microwave.

Since posture affects our mood and thoughts so much, the increase of collapsed sitting and walking—from sitting in front of our computer to looking down at our smartphones—may very much have an effect on the rise of depression in recent years. Peper and his team of researchers suggest that posture is a significant contributor to decreased energy levels and depression. Slouching is also known to result in frequent headaches and neck and shoulder pains.

With so much research proving the influence posture has on our mind, Peper suggests hanging photos of people you love slightly higher on the wall or above your desk so that you have to look up. Also, adjust your rear view mirror slightly higher so that you have to sit up taller while driving. If you need reminders, Petty advises setting reminders on your phone, computer, or even a Post-It note. When you do have negative thoughts, instead of validating them by slumping over or bending your head, Petty says that you should write them down on a piece of paper, then throw that piece of paper away in the trash.

“People who throw those negative thoughts into the trash can are less affected by them then people who had the same thoughts but symbolically put them in their pocket,” he says. “It’s this idea that it’s not what we think that’s important; it’s how much we trust what we think.”

Reprinted by permission from Vivian Giang


A breath of fresh air-Improve health with breathing

“My breathing was something that took me a long time to adjust. I had been breathing almost entirely from my chest and my stomach was hardly moving when I breathed. I made a conscious effort all throughout the day to breathe slowly and with my stomach relaxed. I’ve noticed that my mood is much better when I am breathing this way, and I am much more relaxed. Immediately before I feel like I would have a seizure, if I would change my breathing technique and make sure I was breathing slowly and with my stomach. It would avoid the seizure from developing… This is a huge improvement for me.”  –24 year old student who previously experienced 10 epileptic seizures per week

“I blanked out and could not remember the test material. I then reminded myself to breathe lower and slower while imagining the air slowly flowing down my legs. After three breaths, I could again process the information and continue to take the exam. A week later I got my grade back– an A-. Better than I had expected.”  –21 year old student

Breathing occurs without awareness unless there are specific problems such as asthma, emphysema or when we run out of air while exercising. Breathing is more than just the air moving in and out. It is the boundary between the conscious and the unconscious—the voluntary and involuntary nervous system— and affects the sympathetic and parasympathetic activity of our body. The way we breathe,  such as chronic low level hyperventilation,  may contribute to increasing or decreasing anxiety, pain, epileptic seizure, exhaustion, abdominal pain, urinary incontinence or fertility.

We usually think of breathing occurring in our chest. Thus, during inhalation, we puff-up our chest so the lungs will expand. Observe that many people breathe this way and call it normal. Experience how you breathe:

Put your right and on your stomach and your left hand of your chest. Now take a quick big breath. Observe what happened. In most cases, your chest went up and your abdomen tightened and even pulled in.

This breathing pattern evokes a state of arousal and vigilance and activates your sympathetic nervous system. You tend to automatically tighten or pull in your stomach wall to protect your body. When we’re in pain, afraid, anticipate danger or have negative and fearful thoughts, “Do I have enough money for the rent,” or “Feeling rushed and waiting for a delayed Muni bus,” we instinctively hold our breath, slightly tense our muscles and breathe shallowly. Unfortunately, this makes the situation worse—symptoms such as pain, anxiety or abdominal discomfort will increase. This type of breathing is the part of the freeze response—a primal survival reflex. It may even affect our ability to think.  Experience how dysfunctional breathing effects us by doing the following exercise (Peper & MacHose, 1993; Gorter & Peper, 2011).

Sit comfortably and breathe normally.

Now inhale normally, but exhale only 70 percent of the air you just inhaled.

Inhale again, and again only exhale 70 percent of the previously inhaled volume of air. If you need to sigh, just do it, and then return to this breathing pattern again by exhaling only 70 percent of the inhaled volume of air.

Continue to breathe in this pattern of 70 percent exhalation for about forty-five seconds, each time exhaling only 70 percent of the air you breathe in. Then stop, and observe what happened.

What did you notice? Within forty-five seconds, more than 98 percent of people report uncomfortable sensations such as lightheadedness, dizziness, anxiety or panic, tension in their neck, back, shoulders, or face, nervousness, an increased heart rate or palpitations, agitation or jitteriness, feeling flushed, tingling, breathlessness, chest pressure, gasping for air, or even a sensation of starving for air. This exercise may also aggravate symptoms that already exist, such as headaches, joint pain, or pain from an injury. If you’re feeling exhausted or stressed, the effects seem even worse.

On the other hand, if you breathed like a happy baby, or more like a peaceful dog lying on its side, the breathing movement occured mainly in the abdomen and the chest stays relaxed. This effortless diaphragmatic breathing promotes regeneration by allowing the abdomen to expand during inhalation and becoming smaller during exhalation as shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1

Figure 1. Illustration of diaphragmatic breathing in which the abdomen expands during inhalation and contracts during exhalation (reproduced by permission from Gorter, R. & Peper, E. (2011). Fighting Cancer-A Non Toxic Approach to Treatment. Berkeley: North Atlantic).

The abdominal movement created by the breathing improves blood and lymph circulation in the abdomen and normalizes gastrointestinal function and enhances regeneration. It supports sympathetic and parasympathetic balance especially when the breathing rate slows to about six breaths per minute. When breathing slower, exhaling takes about twice as long as the inhalation. When you inhale, the abdomen and lower ribs expand to allow the air to flow in and during exhalation the abdomen decreases in diameter and the breath slowly trails off. It is as if there is an upside down umbrella above the pelvic floor opening during inhalation and closing during exhalation.

Most people do not breathe this way . They suffer from “designer’s jean syndrome”. The clothing is too constricting to allow the abdomen to expand during inhalation (Remember how good it felt when you loosened your belt when eating a big meal?). Or, you are self-conscious of your stomach, “What would people thinks if my stomach hung out?” Yet, to regenerate, allow yourself to breathe like peaceful baby with the breathing movements occurring in the belly.  Effortless diaphragmatic breathing is the cheapest way to improve your health. Thus observe yourself and transform your breathing patterns.

Interrupt breath holding and continue to breathe to enhance health. Observe situations where you hold your breath and then continue to breathe. If you expect pain during movement or a procedure, remember to allow your abdomen to expand during inhalation and then begin to exhaling whispering “Shhhhhhhhh.” Start exhaling and then begin your movement while continuing to exhale. In almost all cases the movement is less painful and easier. We observed this identical breathing pattern in our studies of Mr. Kawakami, a yogi who insert unsterilized skewers through his neck and tongue while exhaling—he did not experience any pain or bleeding as shown in Fig 2.

Figure 2

Figure 2. Demonstration by Mr. Kawakami, a yogi, who inserted non-sterile skewers while exhaling and reported no pain. When he removed the skewers there was no bleeding and the tissue healed rapidly (by permission from Peper, E., Kawakami, M., Sata, M. & Wilson, V.S. (2005). The physiological correlates of body piercing by a yoga master: Control of pain and bleeding. Subtle Energies & Energy Medicine Journal. 14(3), 223-237).

Shift shallow chest breathing to slower diaphragmatic breathing. Each time you catch yourself breathing higher in your chest. Stop. Focus on allowing your abdomen to expand during inhalation and become smaller during exhalation as if it was a balloon. Allow the air to flow smoothly during exhalation and allow the exhalation to be twice as long as the inhalation. Over time allow yourself to inhale to the count of three and exhale to the count of 6 or 7 without effort. Imagine that when you exhale the air flows down and through your legs and out your feet. As you continue to breathe this way, your heart rate will slightly increase during inhalation and decrease during exhalation which is an indication of sympathetic and parasympathetic restorative balance. A state that supports regeneration (for more information see, Peper, E. & Vicci Tibbetts, Effortless diaphragmatic breathing).

For many people when they practice these simple breathing skills during the day their blood pressure, anxiety and even pain decreases. While for other, it allows clarity of thought.

 

 

 

 


Great resource: Dr. Mike Evans-The Single Most Important Thing You Can Do for Your Stress

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.

 

 


Energy Gain Wisdom: Strategies for Maximizing Support and Emotional Wellbeing for Caregivers & Patients

Are you exhausted and not sure there is anything you can do to change it? Learn strategies to mobilize your self-healing potential as you cope with cancer. Regardless of the severity of disease, learn skills to increase energy.

Watch the following  presentation by  Dianne Shumay, PhD, Associate Director, UCSF Psycho-Oncology,  and Erik Peper, PhD, Professor Holistic Health, SFSU. This invited lecture was presented January 19, 2014 at the NorCal CarciNET/UCSF 2014 Patient Conference, hosted by: NorCal CarciNET Community & UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center, at the Krutch Theater (Clark-Kerr) on the UC Berkeley Campus.


Harmony and Homeostasis. Youtube interview of Erik Peper, PhD, by Larry Berkelhammer, PhD

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

There is Hope! Interrupt Chained Behavior

“I was able to self-heal myself. I didn’t need anyone else to do it for me.”

“I was surprised that I actually succeeded and had some really great results.”

“How much control I really had over being able to change several of my habits, when I previously thought that it was impossible.”

“That I actually have control.”

                                    Students who have practiced stress management at SFSU

This blog summarizes our recent published article that describes a teaching healing approach that can be used by many clients to mobilize their health.  The process is illustrated by a case report student who had suffered from psoriasis for more than five years totally cleared his skin in six weeks and has continued to this benefit (Klein & Peper, 2013).  At the recent one year follow-up his skin is still clear.

Low energy, being tired and depressed,  having pain, insomnia, itching skin, psoriasis, nervously pulling out hair, hypertension and other are symptoms that affects our lives. In many cases there is no identifiable biological cause. Currently, 74% of patients who visit their health care providers have undiagnosed medical conditions. Most of the symptoms are a culmination of stress, anxiety, and depression.  In many cases, health care professionals treat these patients ineffectively with medications instead of offering stress management options. For example, if patients with insomnia visits their physicians, they are most likely prescribed a sleep inducing medication (hypnotics). Patients who take sleeping medication nightly have a fourfold increase in mortality (Kripke et al., 2012).  If on the other hand if the healthcare professional takes time to talk to the patient and explores the factors that contribute to the insomnia and teach sleep hygiene methods, 50s% fewer prescriptions are written. Obviously, you may not be able to sleep if you are worried about money, job security, struggles with your partner or problems with your children; however, medication do  not solve these problems. Learning problem solving and stress management techniques often does!

When students begin to learn these stress management and self-healing skills as part of a semester long Holistic Health Class at San Francisco State University, 82% reported improvement in achieving benefits such as increasing physical fitness, healthier diets, reducing depression, anxiety, pain and eliminating eczema or reducing hair pulling (one student with Trichotillomania reduced her hair pulling from 855 to 19 minutes per week) (Peper et al., 2003; Bier et al., 2005; Ratkovich et al., 2012). The major factors that contributed to the students’ improvement are:

  • Daily monitoring of subjective and objective experiences to facilitates awareness and identify cues that trigger or aggravate the symptoms.
  • Ongoing practicing during the day and during activities of the stress management skills as adapted from the book, Make Health Happen (Peper et al, 2003)
  • Sharing subjective experiences in small groups which reduces social isolation, normalizes experiences, and encourages hope. Usually, a few students will report rapid benefits such as aborting a headache, falling asleep rapidly, or reducing menstrual cramps, which helps motivate other students to continue their practices.
  • Writing an integrative summary paper, which provides a structure to see how emotions, daily practices and change in symptoms are related.

The first step is usually Identifying the trigger that initiates the illness producing patterns. Once identified, the next step is to interrupt the pattern and do something different.  This can include transforming internal dialogue, practicing relaxation or modifying body posture. The mental/emotional and physical practices interrupts and diverts the cascading steps that develop the symptoms (Peper et al., 2003).

Interrupting and transforming the chained behavior is illustrated in our article “There Is Hope: Autogenic Biofeedback Training for the Treatment of Psoriasis” published in the recent issue of Biofeedback. We report on the process by which a 23-year-student totally cleared his skin after having had psoriasis for the last five years. Psoriasis causes red, flaky skin and is currently the most common autoimmune disease affecting approximately 2% of the US population. Many people afflicted with this disease use steroids, topical creams, special shampoos, and prescription medication. Unfortunately, the disease can only be suppressed, not cured.  Thus many people with psoriasis feel damaged and have a difficult time socially. Stress is often one of the triggers that makes psoriasis worse. In this case study, the 23-year-old student learned how to train his mind/body to transform his feelings of stress, anxiety, self-doubt, and urge to scratch his skin into a positive self-healing process.

Initially, the student was trained in stress management and biofeedback techniques that included relaxation, stress reduction, and desensitization. He learned how to increase his confidence by changing his body posture while sitting and standing. He also took time to stop and refocus his energy when he felt the need to fall back into old habits. What did he really do?

The moment he became aware of skin sensations, he would:

  1. Stop, take a deep breath into his abdomen and slowly exhale
  2. Assess how he was thinking-having negative and hopeless thoughts
  3. Change the negative thoughts into positive affirmative thoughts
  4. Breathe deeply
  5. Imagine as he exhaled feeling heaviness and warmth in his arms and feet
  6. Talk to his body by saying, “My skin is cool, clear, and regenerative.” “I am worthy.”

To become aware of his automatic negative behavior was very challenging. He had to stop focusing on the task in front of him and to put all of his energy into regaining his composure. This is very difficult because people are normally captured by whatever they are doing at that moment. As he stated: “Breaking this chain behavior was by far the hardest things I’ve ever done. It didn’t matter what situation I found myself in, my practice took precedence. The level of self- control I had to maintain was far beyond my norm. I remember taking an exam. I was struggling to recall the answer to the last essay question. All I wanted to do was finish the exam and go home. I knew that I knew it, it was coming to me, I began to write… Yet in that same moment I felt my right elbow start to tingle (the location of one of the psoriasis plagues) and my left hand started to drift towards it. Immediately I had to switch my focus. Despite my desire to finish I dropped my pen. I paused to breathe and focused upon my positive thoughts. Moments like this happened daily, my normal functions were routinely interrupted by urges to scratch. Sometimes I would spend significantly more time doing the practices than the task at hand.

Similarly, whenever he observed his body posture “collapsing” and “hiding” — thus falling into a more powerless posture — he would interrupt the collapse and shift to a power position by expanding and being more erect.  He did this while standing, sitting, and talking to other students. As he stated: “I hadn’t realized how my collapsing posture was effecting my self-image until I began practicing a more powerful posture. In class I made myself sit with my butt pushed back against the back of the chair instead of letting myself slide forwarding into a slouch. Just like the urge to itch I had to stay conscious of my posture constantly.  At work, at school, even at home on the couch I practiced expanding body posture. The more I was aware of my posture the better my posture became, and the more time I spent in power pose the more natural it began to feel. The more natural it felt the more powerful I felt.”

After three weeks, his skin had cleared and has continued to stay this way for the last year as shown in Figure 1.

Figure 2 elbow and knee croppedFigure 1. Pre and post photos of the elbow and knee showing the improvement of the skin.

There are many diseases and ailments that require the use of medication for appropriate treatment, but when stress is a factor in any diagnosis, or when a diagnosis cannot be found, it is important for stress management to be offered as a viable option for patients to consider. As shown by the student with psoriasis, learning stress management skills and then actually practicing them during the day can play a major factor in improving the health of an individual. The same process is applicable for numerous symptoms. There is hope=-Just do it.

References:

Bier, M., Peper, E., & Burke, A. (2005). Integrated stress management with ‘Make Health Happen: Measuring the impact through a 5-month follow-up. Presented at the 36th Annual Meeting of the Association for Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback. Abstract published in: Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback, 30(4), 400. http://biofeedbackhealth.files.wordpress.com/2013/12/2005-aapb-make-health-happen-bier-peper-burke-gibney3-12-05-rev.pdf

Klein, A. & Peper, W. (2013). There is Hope: Autogenic Biofeedback Training for the Treatment of Psoriasis. Biofeedback, 41(4), 194–201. http://biofeedbackhealth.files.wordpress.com/2011/01/published-article-there-is-hope.pdf

Kripke, D.F., Langer, R.D., Kline. L.E. (2012). Hypnotics’association with mortality or cancer: a matched cohort study. BMJOpen, 2:e000850. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2012-000850 http://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/2/1/e000850.full.pdf+html

Peper, E., Gibney, K.H. & Holt. C. (2002).  Make Health Happen: Training Yourself to Create Wellness.  Dubuque, IA: Kendall-Hunt. http://www.amazon.com/Make-Health-Happen-Training-Yourself/dp/0787293318

Peper, E., Sato-Perry, K & Gibney, K. H. (2003). Achieving health: A 14-session structured stress management program—Eczema as a case illustration. 34rd Annual Meeting of the Association for Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback. Abstract in: Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback, 28(4), 308. http://biofeedbackhealth.files.wordpress.com/2013/12/2003-aapb-poster-peper-keiko-long1.pdf

Ratkovich, A., Fletcher, L., Peper, E., & Harvey, R. (2012). Improving College Students’ Health-Including Stopping Smoking and Healing Eczema. Presented at the 43st Annual Meeting of the Association for Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback. Baltimore, MD. http://biofeedbackhealth.files.wordpress.com/2011/01/2012-improving-college-student-health-2012-02-28.pdf


Simple Ways to Manage Stress- An experiential lecture for people impacted by the March 11, 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake

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.

http://cat-vnet.tv/movie/medical_health/suimin_02/001_02.html

Presentation1

*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.


Improve health with fun movements: Practices you can do at home and at work

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[1]

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.

Slide2

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. Slide3Figure 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.


[1] Adapted from a demonstration by Sharon Keane and developed by Ilana Rubenfeld


Breathing: The Mind/Body Connection. Youtube interviews of Erik Peper, PhD by Larry Berkelhammer, PhD

Erik Peper, Respiration & Health

How we breathe is intimately connected to our state of health. We can speed up breathing to energize or slow it for a calming effect. Practice becoming more aware of the speed and depth of your breathing. Breathing diaphragmatically at 6 to 7 breaths per minute is regenerative. Breathing patterns alter physiological, psychological, and emotional processes. Conscious regulation of breathing can improve asthma, panic disorder and many other conditions. A simple change in breathing can induce symptoms or resolve them. Learn to observe breath-holding. Devices like Stress Eraser and Em-Wave  teach healthy breathing at home. When we start taking charge there’s more hope. Focus on skills not pills.

Erik Peper, Mastery Through Conscious Breathing Practices

In this interview of Dr. Erik Peper, we discuss the power of Tumo breathing. This form of conscious breathing has been studied by Dr. Herbert Benson of Harvard and many other Western researchers. It is a special form of conscious respiration that increases metabolic rate and allows Buddhist monks and others who practice it to prove to themselves that they can use their minds to alter physiology. The value of such intense practices is that they allow us to gain mastery and the absolute knowledge that we have the ability to exert voluntary control over mental and physiological processes. Most Buddhist practices lead to the possibility of gaining a certain degree of  mastery of consciousness.


Biofeedback and pain control. Two YouTube interviews of Erik Peper, PhD by Larry Berkelhammer, PhD

Erik Peper, Biofeedback Builds Self-efficacy, Hope, Health, & Well-being

Interview with biofeedback pioneer Dr. Erik Peper on how biofeedback builds self-efficacy, hope, health and well-being.  How to use the mind to improve physiological functioning and health. Skill-building to develop self-efficacy, self-empowerment, and hope. Evidence-based mental training to manage symptoms, self-regulate blood pressure, chronic pain & fatigue, cardiac dysrhythmias, digestion, and many other bodily processes.

Erik Peper, Pain Control Through Relaxation

This interview of Dr. Erik Peper explores the frontier of psychophysiological self-regulation. Included is conscious regulation of pain, blood pressure, and other physiological measures. We discuss how you can take control and consciously calm your sympathetic nervous system in order to attenuate pain. Autogenic Training, yogic disciplines, biofeedback, and other methods are mentioned as ways to use the mind to gain conscious control of cognitive, emotional, and physiological processes. For example, when we experience sudden pain, we automatically brace against it in the hope of resisting it. Paradoxically, this increases suffering. Autogenic Training and many other disciplines provide us with the skills to relax into any painful stimulus. Although it seems counterintuitive, learning to fully accept and relax into the pain allows us to take control over the pain, whereas trying to control it serves to increase the suffering.  Another concept that is discussed in this video is that we can reduce pain and speed healing by extending loving self-care to any injury.