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.