Monday, June 1, 2015

Learn to unwind, like a cat

The resting cat appears totally relaxed, or is it? Is it in the collapsed state that we adopt in the lounge chair? No, the cat’s muscles are toned, and it is available for action instantly.

We collapse in the mistaken belief that tension is bad and relaxation good. So let’s consider the right amount of tension and release in the muscles. Across the whole body, there is ‘a delicate balance and co-operation between opposing muscle groups’ (Langford p.40). The nervous system coordinates muscles through reciprocal inhibition. This involves simultaneous signalling, so for example as the biceps contract to lift an object, the opposing triceps must be inhibited from also contracting.

So what seems like relaxation ‘may really be the giving way, by one set of muscles, to a continuous strong pull from an opposing muscle group’ (Langford p.40). Going all floppy can cause serious physical difficulties (Langford p.40). The cat has this balance right. It is ready to act in a split second, whether it is lying down or nonchalantly sitting up.

The lesson for us is to be available for action, without holding unnecessary tension. Just like the cat or the tai chi practitioner who is perfectly poised.

My yoga teacher Anna Isgro has a great instruction. In our class, she asks for both release into the floor and expansion away from it. Can you see the relevance to how we unwind?

Try these simple practices 

Make them manageable by starting with a few minutes each day.

Observe yourself more. Are your muscle groups cooperating? Look for tension points, slumping, unevenness and imbalance, or awkward movement.

Think expansion of your body by directing attention to one area, then another and another.
* across the hips, ribs, shoulders and cheekbones
* along the spine from tailbone to head,
* out along the arms, wrists and hands to the fingertips

Practice constructive rest, in which you can truly observe changes in your body (and mind).
* Ask for expansion as you release.

* And think back to our animal friends. ‘A dog or cat asleep feels peaceful but lively to the touch’ (Langford p40)

Elizabeth Langford (2008) Mind and Muscle: An Owner’s Handbook. 2nd Edn. Garant, Antwerpen Belgium. Pp.39-40

See also these previous posts

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Quit the Sit and take a Stand for Better Health

Can you ‘quit the sit’ for one day in June? Or support my challenge?

There are real dangers from too much sitting, as I discussed in the last post. Growing evidence shows a link with increased risk of chronic diseases including heart disease and type 2 diabetes, as well as premature death.

On Thursday 11th June, Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute is calling on people to 'quit the sit' to raise awareness and funds to support heart disease and diabetes research.

Professor David Dunstan says "excessive sitting slows the body’s metabolism – which affects our ability to regulate blood sugar and blood pressure, and metabolise fat – and may cause weaker muscles and may have detrimental effects on our bones.” Prof. Dunstan is Head of Physical Activity Research at Baker IDI,

Research shows that doing regular exercise alone may not be enough to counteract the effects of too much sitting. “The amount of time you are inactive also impacts your health,” he says. “The best advice is stand up, sit less, move more, more often.”

To take the ‘Quit the Sit’ challenge, visit Registrations open 30 April, 2015. You will be helping to raise funds for vital medical research.

You can also support my challenge to raise funds on behalf of Baker IDI, click here.

[I have adapted this post from Baker IDI information]

Friday, March 27, 2015

Will a standing desk help me?

Evidence shows that sitting at a desk for long periods is unhealthy, even if you exercise a lot.  “Time spent sitting is consistently associated with premature mortality, diabetes, and risk factors for cardiovascular disease, irrespective of time spent in exercise “ (Vichealth 2012).

Is a standing desk the answer?
Working at a standing desk has captured our imagination. A Vichealth survey of its own workers trialing standing desks found great benefits to their use.

Here's my favourite standing desk
- the human hamster wheel.
Designed by Robb, find it at 
But be aware. You are likely to take bad habits with you, or adopt new ones.

Try answering these questions

  • Do you slump in sitting or standing?
  • Are your shoulders and arms rigid?
  • Are your hips further forward than your shoulders when you stand?

Staff at VicHealth identified limits to using standing desks. These included longer keyboard sessions, back pain, fatigue, old habits, and type of footwear (eg, high heels).

My suggestions for your work

* Leave your work station for two minutes every 20 minutes, as recommended by Baker IDI (Australia's highly regarded medical research institute). You don’t have to leave the job behind – try keeping your mental focus on the particular task. You’re just taking the body for a walk, not your mind – but feel free to do this too.

My standing desk for reading and writing
* Try before you buy. Rig up a temporary high bench using a box or pile of books. For writing and reading, do it on a sloping surface if possible. Stand in different ways, not just square on. Try a tai chi stance, with one foot slightly ahead and angled out. When you do buy, make sure your standing desk is adjustable, and not rigid in one position.

* Keep several eyes on your posture and on any tension. Try and understand your  deep seated habits. Ask colleagues to observe you and give gentle feedback on your posture. Learn how to say “no” to these habits using my blogposts, for example on slumping, tight shoulders and arms, and hip position. 

20 minute check-up 
I specialise in teaching office workers how to deal with their habits. And I have learnt much about how to set up a work station.  Why not book a 20 minute check-up. It won’t cost a fortune, and will put you in good stead for managing the many hours you spend in the office.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Can your sleep improve?

Sleeping can be a nightmare. We all want to sleep well. But it eludes many of us, especially in hectic periods of our lives.

“The Alexander Technique helped a long-standing back problem and to get a good night’s sleep after many years of tossing and turning.” - Paul Newman, actor

Here are three ideas relevant to everyone, but particularly people who want better sleep.

  • Try constructive rest on the floor before bed – even for five minutes. This softens the breathing, releases tension in the body, and allows you to calm the mind. Read my popular blogpost Resting the back is great for desk-bound people. You can also email me if you would like a tip sheet. I suggest that you first write down the list of jobs or concerning issues, so you can truly say to yourself ‘that’s for tomorrow’. Of course, you can later add another point if it is likely to prey on your thinking. 

  • Check whether your head and spine are aligned in your main sleeping position. Avoid a crick in the neck. The height of your pillow should allow a good alignment. If you lie on your back, the height needed is less. Sleeping on your stomach is not recommended. I encourage you to experiment with your current pillows before rushing out to buy new ones. The woman in this image is very badly aligned, while the man could also improve how he is lying.

  • Observe yourself before arising or changing position. Ask for any areas of tension to soften and release before you move. Direct your attention to different body parts, as you would in yoga or meditation. 

There are many resources out there to help sleep deprived people, for example the non-profit Better Sleep Council. Many years ago, I purchased the Sleep Better without Drugs self-help program, and based on that experience can highly recommend it.

May you have many restful nights.