Joy, Not Pain, for Your Body
Part of my goal with this blog is to help YOU lead your best life. To me, that includes finding out what makes your body work well, and how to keep yourself healthy and uninjured. This is the first in a series of posts on injury prevention.
Most yoga injuries are not caused by a sudden fall or snap. Instead, they are caused by hundreds or thousands of repetitions of movements or poses with poor alignment. Eventually, that leads to pain. The American Chronic Pain Association estimates that one in three Americans suffers from some kind of chronic pain. My own experience, as well as reading up on the research, indicates that two very specific things within your control have an impact on whether you end up in pain: (1) daily and habitual posture, and (2) repetitive motions or activities. Calvin's mom was onto something when she told him not to make those faces all the time.
Throughout the late 1980s and 1990s the media inundated every office with warnings about repetitive stress injury (RSI). Suddenly offices were awash with ergonomic gizmos, and consultants made a killing (as did some injured workers); carpal tunnel syndrome caused by constantly scanning thousands of coupons and groceries became a potential motive for murder on TV. Unfortunately, a large percentage of us spend most of our work hours seated, and encouraged to sit (not move). Also unfortunately, the vast majority of us are going to work with less than ideal furniture, chair and desk combos, or other body-unfriendly equipment. I can't really blame the employers, as it's expensive to replace office furniture, and impossible to create a uniform, professional look when everyone “needs” a different chair. As a result, I think lots of people think about how to move (e.g. where to put the mouse so your wrist doesn't get smushed) but not many think about how to sit and how often to get up and take breaks.
Even though I teach yoga and recognize poor postural habits as the majority of my students' woes, I have to admit I am just as guilty as they are of sins against posture: the laptop hunch, the computer lean, and the iPhone fold sneak into my office practices every day. During the months of September and October, a company called BackJoy sponsored the #PainFreePledge and I agreed to test their signature product, the SitSmart Posture Plus, to see if it could help me adopt better sitting habits at work. (I'm a little behind on this post, but I spent a bunch of time out of my office and I wanted to make sure I had used the SitSmart enough to give it a knowledgeable review.)
BackJoy launched the #PainFreePledge with the following suggested actions:
1.) Understand the cause of your back pain, don't just treat the condition.
2.) Keep a pain journal.
3.) Use natural alternatives when it comes to treating/preventing back pain (no meds)!
4.) Avoid skinny jeans for the month (or too tight of clothes).
5.) Do a spine-strengthening stretch.
6.) Eat anti-inflammatory foods (nuts, seeds, fish).
7.) Try to avoid carrying a purse, heavy backpack or child in one arm.
8.) Be aware of your sitting posture/don't cross your legs!
9.) Don't sleep on your stomach.
10.) Move more!
Each of these little actions has the potential to make a big impact–I know, because I worked on #7 and #9, and both improved how I move and feel. For the #PainFreePledge I pledged to pay attention to how I sit, and specifically when I tend to cross my legs (#8). I didn't really think about it much, but over time the default at my desk had become “sit on top of left foot, lurch forward over keyboard.” Not ideal. Please note that I've got a fantastically expensive office chair (one of those Herman Miller Aeron chairs). It adjusts up and down, it adjusts the tilt of the backrest, it adjusts the tilt of the sitting surface. It's not a bad chair at all but it IS very, very easy to take on a slouchy posture while sitting in it–especially if (like me) you have the tendency to cross one ankle over your leg or (worse!) sit on top of one foot. That might be a function of how my desk and chair interact, but it is NOT good for me.
The SitSmart is a foam and plastic gadget that goes on your chair. Unlike many better posture devices, this one does not go behind your back, but under your butt. It is not a lumbar support, but more of a…butt rest. The SitSmart works by keeping your buttocks from rolling underneath you which, in turn, prevents your pelvis from tilting backwards (which leads to your low back reversing the natural curve–rolling out backwards instead of maintaining the neutral-posture curve into your body–and your upper back becoming more rounded). The illustration below should help you visualize it.
After about a month of sitting on the SitSmart, not only is it quite comfortable, but I feel “off” sitting in my chair without it. After two months of paying attention to my seated posture in a variety of settings, I believe it is helping me to maintain better body memory of my posture even when I am not sitting in my office chair. I notice immediately when I slouch, or when my pelvis starts to tip backwards or I begin to slouch. (I spent a lot of time sitting in hotel conference chairs, which are clearly designed to be the least comfortable. Or maybe the design is purely about stacking them, with no thought at all to comfort.) I didn't expect to feel as much of a difference as I do. I'm going to continue to use BackJoy's SitSmart in my office. Since I'm preparing to do some crazy running as part of the MS Run the US relay in 2015, I might just have to check out some of BackJoy's other products, like the PostureWear Elite shirt and sports bra.
BackJoy's #PainFreePledge is over, but it is never too late for you to develop more body-friendly habits. Change your posture, change your life!
I have one red BackJoy to give away. (If you really, really want the yellow one I've been sitting on, I'll let you have that one instead.)
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Follow the BackJoy page on facebook for tips and practices, and join in their sponsored twitter chats with #GiveBackJoy.
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