Thursday, November 16, 2017

Allow your back to do less

First published as Look after your back in an email newsletter 

Too many of us are subtly stressing our backs, whether in standing, walking or sitting.

Even if we have a standing desk, we all do lots of sitting at work and home, in the car, and on public transport. It can add up to hours each day.

Thankfully, just a few actions can make a big difference.

Why our backs do more 

Our human body is perfectly designed for an upright life. The lower vertebrae are thickest, and we have a low centre of gravity. Unlike chimps, we have four curves to the spine; two are added as the very young child learns to stand and walk (Dr Stephen Curnow, ABC RN The Body Sphere, 30 July 2016).

But now, our lifestyle choices mean that we place more stress on our spine than in ancient times.

Furthermore, humans now live much longer and so our backs are asked to carry the strain of poor use over many more years. Our parts wear out!

Did you know that life expectancy for women increased from 51 in 1881 to 84 in 2009. For men, the increase was from 47 to 79 (ABS 4102.0 - Australian Social Trends, Mar 2011).

Changing lifestyle habits 

We have more control over the habits associated with our lifestyle than over our life span. Habits of misuse create postural problems.

With care and re-education, the tear and wear can be avoided or at least greatly reduced.

Here are some tips to get you thinking.

Find the length of your back 

Wiggle as you sit on a chair - that's more or less where your lower back starts. The tail bone curls slightly under your bottom.

Nod your head very gently as though you are agreeing with me. Notice the head is pivoting just below your ear lobes.

Now you have found the length of the spine.

Secure your base of support 

First time. Pivot forward in a chair as far as you can comfortably go, thinking about length in the front and back of the body (check the photo). Stop if you feel any pain.

Notice how your pelvis is now tilted forward (as in the photo).

Keeping this tilt, use your arms to help lift your bottom right into the back of the chair.

Now unwind so that you are fully upright.

Does your pelvis still have some of the forward tilt? Are you slumping as much as before? Are you pressing as heavily into the back of the chair?

Thanks to fellow teacher Paul Cook for this activity.

Next time, as you do this exercise, observe if there is any tightening at the other end of the spine, around your shoulders and neck. If so, ask for release in this area as you move.

Other blog posts to help 

These blog posts are also aimed at helping our backs.
* Resting the back is great for desk-bound people
* Hold your head high
* Observation is the starting point to improving our well-being. Observing ourselves in the chair - 1
* Our necks are the fulcrum for the whole body. Look up and down with ease - at the computer and elsewhere - 1

Want to take this further? 

I hope that the information and tips are useful to you. If you are struggling at all, or feel any tension, why don't you explore the Alexander Technique further?

People benefit greatly from lessons with a teacher. A package of six lessons is recommended, but I suggest that you start with trying one lesson. Why don't you ring me on 0488 956 506 or email jimxwaite @ to book a lesson today?

For the workplace, I now have a great presentation. I use it to explain Alexander Technique, the evidence for its effectiveness, and what I offer in the workplace - and how it can help with work health and safety. Who should I talk to in your organisation? Please let me know.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Arm swing, walking and bags

(First included in my December 2016 email newsletter).

Tips based on Alexander Technique can help you with walking all year round. Let's consider arm swing and stride, as well as carrying a bag.

Arms can swing more 
Our arms are designed to swing as we walk. One leg moves forward, so does the opposite arm. What's great about arm swing? It helps move the back muscles, develops flexibility in the rib cage and so indirectly aids our breathing.

A recent student had very little arm swing and one arm rose higher than the other. She felt uncomfortable swinging her arms more - until I asked her to look in the mirror. She changed quickly once she could see that a larger arm swing didn't look out of place. 

Watch people around you - how do you compare?

Carry your bag evenly 

How well do you carry your bag? Do you habitually walk with one shoulder higher than the other? Chances are that you do if the bag is hooked over just one shoulder. Does your bag interfere with arm movements?

Start by observing yourself and other people. This may be enough to even up your shoulders. Try lengthening the strap, so it goes around the neck. Consider a different bag!

In these images, she has even shoulders but little arm swing - that's OK for a short time, but it shouldn't become habitual. His shoulders are quite uneven - I wouldn't want to do this for a long time.

Try a shorter stride 

My stride used to be very long - whether I was strolling or purposefully going somewhere. American teacher Bob Britton gave some advice that led me to make major changes. Now my legs don't reach much further forward than the front of my body.

An elderly student of mine finds that a shorter stride has reduced the back pain resulting from walking.

Bob Britton argues that a long stride means the front leg has to do a lot of work pulling the body and the rear leg forward. If instead, the stride is shorter, the front leg does much less - it simply takes the weight of the body and allows the rear leg to float through until it hits the ground.

Could the barman stride out and still balance the drinks?

More on arm swing 

The skeleton image below gives us much food for thought.
  • on the left side, imagine how arm movement affects the huge trapezius muscle (blue) and the equally large latimus dorsi running from armpit to pelvis. Notice how even the head is involved.
  • On the right side, where the muscle is cut away, consider how the shoulder blade is free to move and how gentle arm movement will also stimulate the long spinal muscles (close to mid-back).

Just starting out 
What will his walking style be in future?

Want to take this further? 

I hope practicing these tips is useful to you.
Perhaps you need to do more? People benefit greatly from individual lessons with me. I can help make walking, and everyday activities, much more pleasant.
Why don't you ring or email to book a lesson today?