Undoing bad postural habits.
Aaron Baker & Taylor-Kevin Isaacs M.S., CPT, CSCS, MELT
With coffee in hand and the window opened to the sound of garbage trucks and morning birds, I am relaxed, with my feet kicked up, leaning back in my favorite, distressed leather (Zero-G) recliner chair. My computer rests gently on my lap, atop a mobile desk (dinner tray) with my head supported by a fuzzy neck pillow (the kind you see people fashioning onboard a long airline flight). I am working... Typing emails, updating websites and writing this blog.
This style of work posture may be a luxury for many, but for me, I needed to create a lifestyle around it and mandate it as a solution of balance to my day of sitting in a car seat, an office chair, a coffee shop stool and my wheelchair.
Side note: I live with a spinal cord injury that forces me to be more in-tune and astute with my sitting posture throughout the day. Any type of prolonged sitting in one position has a severe, adverse affect on my body... Every Body!
If I aim to get better with age (like gruyere and pinot) then I must consider the absolute importance of posture management for my health, wealth and happiness.
I attribute my "posture awareness" and mechanical understanding of the physiological implications of poor posture over time to the immense and empowering education I received from my brother from another mother, Taylor-Kevin Isaacs.
Taylor, a former professor of Physiology/Kinesiology and now my business partner at C.O.R.E. (Center of Restorative Exercise in Northridge, California) has been an integral part of my recovery from paralysis for the past sixteen years. He and I have worked tirelessly together to rebuild my body and redefine my life, setting and achieving many once thought impossible goals for recovery. We are now extremely proud and passionate about sharing our experience and knowledge base.
I am pleased to introduce you to the man who has transformed my life. May his humorous and insightful teaching empower your life.
I will begin with a question- Do you have Starbucks Posture or Performance Posture?
My objective in co-writing this article with Aaron on undoing bad postural habits is to make you aware of having less of what I call "Starbucks Posture" and more of what I call "Performance Posture". In a nutshell, Starbucks posture is a low-power pose that has the adverse effects of making you feel and look slumped over like a dead man. Conversely, performance posture is a high-power pose that leaves you feeling and looking like a five-star general -- in complete control and command of your body and environment.
Let me explain what I mean by "Starbucks Posture": After watching the crowd at the local Starbucks, I made the following observations (which were the rule rather than the exception). Most of the crowd sat on with their backs rounded against the backrest and their legs extended and crossed. Their arms were folded in front of them, elbows resting on the table. Among this hodgepodge of compressed organs, one man in particular, caught my eye because his head seemed to teeter at the top of the perfectly formed "C" made by his spine. (Visualize E.T. craning his head forward to sniff a flower.)
Just from the way he had his head positioned, I thought, "I'll bet he has neck pain." Within 30 seconds, he rubbed his neck. By the time he was standing, everything from his head to his hips was bent, making him look like a "C." If his body could talk it would be screaming, "I'm bent and can't straighten up."
He had succumbed to the scourge of repetitive postural strain causing musculoskeletal pain. Simply stated, the burned hand learns. The alternative is to learn not to touch a hot stove by watching the skin melt and peel off a burned hand - the choice is yours!
To feel the pain and discomfort brought about by bad postural habits, please do this experiment. Sit up tall - really tall and straight. Now turn your head to the right. Notice how far you can turn it. Next, slump by letting your shoulders fall down and forward with your spine in a rounded position. Look straight ahead. Turn your head again to the right. What happens? If you are like most people, you can turn your head more when you sit up tall. When you sit up straight and turn your head, your neck joints have plenty of room, so turning is much easier. But when you sit in a "C" position, like the bloke at Starbucks, the joints in your neck jam together and cannot turn as easily. When you turn your head, your joints twist on each other like wringing out a wet dishrag. If you do it enough, your neck will start to hurt.
Posture is just like any other system. To improve it, you have to train it. Just like any great conditioning system, your training must match the target for the best carryover in performance. The best way to learn a skill is to marry the mental practice with the physical practice. As such, before, during, and after realigning your body into performance posture, visualize yourself sitting, standing and walking tall. After two weeks of daily study, daily practice and daily performance, you will have earned the right to say "My posture has improved and I look less like a comma and more like an exclamation mark. In the process you will progress from having low-power Starbucks posture to having high-power Performance Posture. Keep at it and always remember: the process is the progress. In conclusion, please memorize the 6 P's: "Practicing Perfect Posture makes Performance Posture Permanent." © Taylor-Kevin Isaacs
HOW DO YOU KNOW IF YOU ARE SITTING CORRECTLY?
Here's the answer:
- Sit on the edge of chair and sit up tall and as straight as you can.
- Take a pencil and hold the eraser end on your cheekbone just below your eye.
- The other end of the pencil should point directly at your upper chest or sternum, the breastbone. If you extend an imaginary line from the end of the pencil, that line should run directly into the breastbone. If the pencil's imaginary line extends farther down your body, you are not sitting up straight enough.
THE KEYS TO OPTIMAL SITTING PERFORMANCE POSTURE
- Sit with at least half of your thigh off the front of the chair. Body weight should be felt resting between sit bones and pubic bones (on the muscles of the pelvic floor.)
- Knees should be slightly lower than hips.
- Diagonal foot placement is ideal, but feet can also be placed parallel, with toes facing forward.
- Ear, shoulder and hip joint should form a straight line.
- Knee and hip joints should form a 90-degree angle.
- Remember to change your foot position often and adjust how much of your thigh is on or off of the chair.
- Head should be neutral, with eyes level.
- Shoulder blades should be down and back.
- Sternum should be raised.
- Especially when beginning postural reeducation, it is OK to take breaks and use a lumbar support for temporary assistance. Keep at it.
THE KEY TO OPTIMAL STANDING PERFORMANCE POSTURE Rx:
Name of Exercise: Wall Check.
Purpose: a non-negotiable exercise that recruits the correct musculature for a postural training/stabilization/endurance program, When you walk away from the wall, your head will be positioned more correctly over your shoulders, shoulders over your torso, your torso over your pelvis, and your pelvis over your feet - your base of support, i.e, your foundation.
- Stand with your feet flat, toes forward, hip to shoulder width apart and parallel to each other.
- Place your heels against the wall.
- Place your buttocks against the wall.
- Place the back of your head against the wall. (Keep your head neutral and eyes level.) Note: If your head can't reach the back of the wall, place a pillow in the space in between.
- Stand with your arms hanging by your sides, fully relaxed and with palms facing up. Place the back of your arms and hand against the wall.
- Inhale through your nose (like you are sniffing a flower), and watch your stomach rise as it fills with air.
- Exhale through your mouth (like you are blowing out birthday candles), and make yourself as thin as possible by pulling your stomach in.
- Hold this Wall Check Position for 10 seconds. Repeat 3X.
- When you walk away from the wall, you will be in Performance Posture.
Aaron Baker: C.O.R.E. Centers LLC. Co-founder and Shield Healthcare, Spinal Cord Injury Lifestyle Specialist - visit http://www.shieldhealthcare.com/community/spinal-cord-injury/
Taylor-Kevin Isaacs: C.O.R.E. Centers LLC. Co-founder/Restorative Exercise Director - visit http://www.centerofrestorativeexercise.com