How Posture Affects Your Health

posture and massage therapy dreamclinic seattleA common phrase heard throughout childhood is, “Sit up straight!” This postural reminder makes regular appearances in the classroom, at the dinner table and is a ubiquitous presence through middle and high school. The continual postural encouragement is dispensed to encourage healthy growth and function of the body, as well as a projection of self-confidence from the individual.

What exactly is good posture?
Good posture supports the performance of one’s daily activities with a functional range of motion and a positive flow of circulation. The bones are arranged properly in reference to one another, and the muscles that support the skeleton move freely within a normal range of motion and receive proper levels of circulation to help them do their jobs.

The American Chiropractic Association says, human beings “do not consciously maintain normal posture. Instead, certain muscles do it for us, and we don’t even have to think about it. Several muscle groups, including the hamstrings and large back muscles, are critically important in maintaining good posture. While the ligaments help to hold the skeleton together, these postural muscles, when functioning properly, prevent the forces of gravity from pushing us over forward. Postural muscles also maintain our posture and balance during movement.”

What causes poor posture?
Poor posture can be a product of many variables – weak muscles, injury, stress, improper footwear, lengthy sitting  and a growing use of technology such as laptops and tablets. In all of these instances, muscles in one or more areas of the body become shortened and less flexible than the opposing muscles that work together to keep the body upright. The tightness creates asymmetry, and posture becomes imbalanced.

For example, extended hours spent sitting in a car or at a desk, hunched forward over a steering wheel/ keyboard, shortens the muscles in the front of the shoulders. When these muscles tighten, circulation is limited and range of motion is restricted. The forward rounding of shoulders and associated muscle imbalance can lead to spinal misalignment, fatigue or pain.

As the body aims to protect itself and avoid pain, the imbalanced posture perpetuates itself. The neck is pulled forward and down, straining muscles in the upper back and shoulders, causing tension and often headaches. The rib cage is tilted forward, compressing the abdominal area, prompting digestive imbalance. Pain may emerge in the neck, shoulders or back.

How can bad posture be corrected?

Massage. Therapeutic massage lengthens muscles that have been shortened, improving circulation, reducing pain and allowing the body to resume a normal range of motion. Stress and tension are relieved, and internal organs are better able to perform their essential functions.

Exercise. Regular exercise helps lengthen and strengthen muscles and improve range of motion. It increases circulation and oxygenation, improving cognitive function and eliminating waste products from the body.

Stretch. Daily stretching helps lengthen shortened muscles and keep the muscles and joints supple. As we age, connective tissues become less flexible, so the old adage proves true: if you don’t move it, you lose it.

Yoga. Yoga stretches and strengthens the body, working muscles that counterbalance one another. It builds core strength and balance, encouraging and maintaining the habits of good posture.

Correcting poor posture requires undoing the hardening, or fibrosis, of the muscles that have been habitually contracted, allowing them to relax and the bones to move back into place. Perhaps a simple concept, but not an easy task.  Swedish massage can help increase circulation and release chronically held areas. Deep tissue massage helps wake up the body and reverse some of the fibrosis in the tissue.  And other bodywork techniques can further precipitate postural adjustments.

Meditation – The Challenges Can Be Overcome

seattle meditation class

For those of us who are constantly in motion and juggling work, family, and a social life, the idea of sitting still can seem ridiculous. Many people try meditation and find themselves feeling like they’re wasting time, or like they can’t stop thinking about all of their responsibilities. Others think they’re doing it wrong because they don’t feel peaceful or enlightened, even after several attempts.

If you feel like you just don’t “get” meditation or can’t understand the value of sitting silently for an hour, don’t worry. These doubts make sense, and are actually quite common. Although it’s true that meditation comes easier to some, anyone can become a mediation master.

If you feel like meditation is a daunting task, check out some of our expert tips to better understand this ancient practice:

  • Don’t try to imitate Buddha. It’s important to remember that your meditation is solely to help you de-stress and focus on yourself, so make sure that your style of meditation works for you and your lifestyle.
  • Good posture is key. Listen to your body, and if it’s uncomfortable, don’t hurt yourself trying to fold your legs into the traditional meditation position. Sit with a straight back, crossing your legs or sitting in a chair. If this is uncomfortable, you can try lying down.
  • Bring it back to your breathing. Breathe normally and regularly, simply focusing on the rhythm of your breath rather than trying to control it. You can experiment with deep breathing as well, but many people are able to relax with normal breaths.
  • Find a focus point. Closed-eye meditation can be disorienting for beginners, so if you’re having trouble, try lighting a candle or picking one stationary point to focus on.
  • Make it short and sweet. Start by meditating for shorter periods of time, generally five to ten minutes. Increase the duration as you get more comfortable with the concept, adding five minutes every week.

The key is to take meditation in small steps and work your way up to a 45-minute session. But, remember, even if you’re experienced, meditation can still be difficult. Sometimes, you may feel relaxed and enlightened, while other times, it may take extra focus and attention to empty your mind. Make meditation a priority, and you’ll soon notice your practice and diligence paying off.

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