The Pillow You’ve Been Waiting For!

The Pillow You’ve Been Waiting For!

People have been asking me for years, “What kind of pillow should I get?” I hated that question because I didn’t have a good answer. The only answer that I could give was, “It’s a matter of trial and error. You will probably have to by 3 or 4 or 5 pillows and spend $150-200 dollars to find what works for you.” I know this because that’s what I had to do every time I needed a new pillow. Ask me how many pillows I have in my house that I don’t actually sleep on…too many!

For the past few weeks I have been trying out ONE pillow, the Pillow of Health(R), a completely adjustable pillow! I came upon this pillow at a chiropractic convention and I cannot believe it hasn’t been around before now. The absolute best thing about it is that it comes with extra stuffing so that you can customize the pillow yourself (or you can remove stuffing if it is too fluffy). It is soft, yet supportive. And, in addition, it is:

~highly breathable and very cool
~dust mite resistant, antimicrobial and hypoallergenic
~washer and dryer safe
~returnable within 30 days if you aren’t satisfied
~made to last a lifetime (a welcome change from the planned obsolescence with which most items are currently manufactured!)

If you are in the market for a new pillow, it’s worth checking out the Pillow of Health(R) at:
http://www.pillowofhealth.com

[Note: See Chapter 6 in Good Posture Made Easy for proper sleeping postures and scroll through the Posture Tips on this site for other sleeping posture advice.]

Free Your Feet and Improve Your Posture!*

We just don’t pay enough attention to our feet. There are 26 bones (one quarter of the total in the human body), 33 joints and countless muscles in the feet. OF COURSE our feet affect our posture…and our posture affects our feet! [Note: People with hammer toes often have a significantly forward head posture resulting in their toes “digging in” to keep them upright!] The concept of posture is not limited to the spine, head and trunk. Posture is also how each joint relates to another when still or in motion (during movement, this active relationship is called the “kinematic chain”).

Research shows that the more cushion, firmness and heel that a shoe has, the more it increases the stress on the ankles, knees and hips while walking, particularly affecting those with osteoarthritis of the knee. Osteoarthritis is caused by undue wear and tear on a joint, often from previous injury, but just as often from the misalignment and uneven weight-bearing on a joint that is out of alignment with its proper posture.

The idea of “striding” and landing on our heel when we walk or run is not helpful and is encouraged by thick padding on the soles of shoes, eliminating our feeling of the earth and increasing our impact. Biomechanically, there is no need for increased height on the heel of a shoe. It makes no sense. It causes undue force on the joints of the lower leg and hips and pitches us forward when standing or walking (for which we must compensate by altering our posture). If you watch small children run, especially before they have been hobbled with shoes, they have considerably more up and down motion to their walking and running, which is more helpful in absorbing the shock and impact of each step. If you study barefoot running, or even begin to walk barefoot, you will find that it is necessary to change the gait to one more like a child, to unlearn the high impact, stomping, striding gait of an adult in shoes and to learn to “tread more lightly upon the earth”.

People who know me know that I am a proponent of going barefoot as much as possible and that for the past 4 years all of the shoes that I wear have a “minimalist” or “barefoot” construction (yes, even my winter boots!) This means that the sole is as flexible as possible and there is zero “drop” from the heel to the front of the shoe. The sole purpose (pun intended!) of a shoe is to protect the foot from sharp objects and the hard surfaces of pavement and cement, and to keep it warm in the winter. This can all be done with a flexible sole that allows the foot to function as if barefoot, as it was, indeed, designed to function.

*Please use caution when transitioning to a barefoot lifestyle. This post is a general report on going barefoot, not a prescription or recommendation for all who read it. Not all feet that have lived in shoes for 30 or 50 or more years can go back to the way they were designed…though many will still benefit by doing so!

Shake It Up!

Part of the reason we have asymmetries in posture is that we have asymmetries in strength and body position due to our handedness (whether we are right or left handed, right or left footed, so to speak) and habits. This not only puts our posture and muscles in a rut, but our brains as well. It can be of great benefit to the body-brain connection to build new neural pathways by doing things differently than we have always or usually done them. Here are some ideas to try with your non-dominant hand/foot to get you started:

~ Brushing teeth with non-dominant hand

~Opening doors (both turning door knobs and pushing doors) with non-dominant hand

~Putting your underwear or pants on starting with the foot opposite usual

~Eating with fork or spoon (more challenging than fork) with non-dominant hand

~Rising from a chair/seat (notice if one foot/leg is ahead of the other and do opposite)

~Writing with non-dominant hand. (This is just for fun because it will be slow and illegible and frustrating if you are writing for a purpose! I do my crossword puzzles with my non-dominant hand because I am not in a hurry and the little boxes guide me!)

~Anything else you catch yourself doing the same way, over and over again, especially if it involves body asymmetry. Often the challenge can be in simply figuring out that the activity is even possible to do another way!

I can pretty much guarantee that when you look at the activities above you will notice that you always do them with the same hand/foot and rarely, if ever, with the other.

Bonus: This doesn’t really have anything to do with posture (or does it?) but with habit. We tend to get in ruts and do things the same ways, including our driving/biking/walking routes to familiar places like stores, work, school, and church. This is another area in which new neural pathways in the brain can be created by taking a different/new route and mixing it up now and again. Have fun with this and get creative…your brain and your body will thank you!

Symmetry ~ Another Key to Good Posture

If you are in a position for more than a few minutes at a time, it is helpful to be aware of the body’s symmetry when viewing from front/back (see center picture in diagram below).

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Ideal Posture Image from Good Posture Made Easy by Carrie Mayes, D.C.

When we are children, we are much more flexible than adults and we get used to being in distorted, asymmetrical positions without discomfort. These habits can cause problems later when we become more, hmmm, mature. Sleeping on one’s stomach is a prime example.

Asymmetry looks like:

turning/twisting of the head, shoulders, hips, etc.

one leg pulled up underneath while sitting

leaning to one side (as in on the arm of a chair,  a center console or armrest of a car)

legs crossed, either at knees or ankles

To avoid turning/twisting, be certain to face whatever you are looking at (ie. The television, the person you are speaking with). I remember an experience on an airplane that left me with a very sore neck and a chiropractic visit. I was too polite not to look at the interesting stranger sitting next to me while we talked for the two (or was it three?) hour flight, which was a big mistake. Since then, I tell people sitting next to me that I am paying close attention even though I’m not looking at them all of the time because I want to save my neck!

Also, be aware that our asymmetrical postures tend to be even more asymmetrical because we tend to do them more frequently on one side or in one direction: when crossing the legs, for example, most people almost always cross their legs in only one direction. Another common asymmetry is watching television from an angle so that the head must be turned to see it.

Do yourself a favor and be on the lookout for your own asymmetries today!

Imbalanced Standing Posture

As mentioned in May’s post, it is possible to have as bad or worse posture while standing as sitting:

“It is important to remember that you can have bad posture standing as well as sitting. When standing, strive to keep your weight distributed equally on both feet and keep your ear, shoulder, hip, knee and ankle in alignment. (If you were to connect the dots of your ear, shoulder, hip, knee and ankle from a side view, it would make a straight vertical line.)”

A common bad standing habit is that of shifting weight more to one foot/leg than the other, most often with hips pushed out on the same side. Generally people are aware of this if they stop to think about it. Shifting weight to one leg can have disastrous consequences on body biomechanics. If done often enough, changes in muscles, ligaments and tendons can occur so that it “feels normal” until such time as it becomes painful. At which point people generally say with surprise, “but I’ve done this for years and I’ve never had pain before!” If you have the standing on one leg habit, one way to see if your body has adapted is to try standing in that position with your weight more on the opposite leg. Since many people habitually favor the same side, changing sides often feels awkward and uncomfortable. If this is you, it is important to get that habit changed and weight distributed evenly on both feet ASAP!

Frequently this weight over one leg habit begins with an injury to a leg and keeping weight less on (or off completely) while the injury heals. However, often that habit persists after recovery from the injury. If you have had a significant leg injury, check your standing posture for the above mentioned imbalance.

One way to catch even subtle differences in weight bearing balance is to get two scales and stand with one foot centered on each scale. It is important to feel as balanced as possible on the scales and to keep the head up and eyes forward. Looking down at the scales, shifts the weight balance, so it is important to have someone else actually record the numbers on the scales. This is not really necessary, but it is interesting!!

Once again, awareness is key…catching yourself in unbalanced postures and correcting them as much as possible can lead to more balanced habits!

“Text Neck” – Beyond Neck Pain

The list on our home page shows how many aspects of life besides neck and back pain are affected by our posture. Breathing/lung capacity and digestion are on that list. Studies show that hunching over a mobile device (something the average American does for 4.7 hours a day) can result in up to 30% less lung capacity. You can test this by sitting up straight and tall and taking a deep breath (your belly should expand as you do so) and then slumping or bending over at the waist and taking a deep breath. The results should speak for themselves: breathing is harder when slumped over. Why is this such a big deal? Consider where your brain (and every other cell and organ in your body) gets oxygen for everything it does…from your lungs…are you willing to compromise that by even 10%? Do yourself a huge favor by sitting up straighter and picking your head up while holding those mobile devices up higher, or consider using them less, or, better yet, do BOTH!!

Sources: Hours per day the average user spends on smartphone (Informate Mobile Intelligence, Feb 2015) ; “Text Neck” (CNN, “Your smartphone is a pain in the neck, “Sep 20, 2012)

 

Desk Work: To Sit or To Stand?

Have you been told a standing work station is better than sitting? Have you wanted to try it? I personally don’t believe that standing all day is any better than sitting all day. My opinion is that having a work station that allows you to sit OR stand for different portions of the day would be ideal.

It is important to remember that you can have bad posture standing as well as sitting. When standing, strive to keep your weight distributed equally on both feet and keep your ear, shoulder, hip, knee and ankle in alignment. (If you were to connect the dots of your ear, shoulder, hip, knee and ankle from a side view, it would make a straight vertical line.)

So, if you are curious and not certain that standing would work for you, but don’t want to invest a lot of money in committing to finding out, here is a reasonable option that you might want to explore to give a standing work station a trial. Check out this affordably genius little construction* at http://oristand.co.

*Note that I have not personally used the Oristand, nor do I have any relationship with the company. I am merely pointing at an inexpensive way to trial a standing work station.

Walk this Way: A Subtle Strategy to Prevent Rounded Shoulders

Rounded, slumped forward shoulders not only affect appearance, but crowd the internal chest organs and can affect breathing and digestion. Stand in front of a mirror with your weight balanced on both feet, arms hanging relaxed at your sides. It is important that you be able to see your hands. Are the knuckles/backs facing forward? Are the palms facing forward? Are the thumbs facing forward? (If the little finger side of the hand is facing forward, something is broken that I can’t fix! 😉 Okay, back to serious. In many, many people, the knuckles are facing forward, which means the shoulders are rounding forward. It is a very subtle difference, but if this is you and you turn your hands/arms out so the thumbs are facing forward, you will notice that it unrounds the shoulders ever so slightly (but importantly) and you feel more upright. This isn’t a forceful exercise, but if, when you are walking about throughout your day, you intentionally ensure that your thumbs face forward, it will keep you more upright and help to slow/prevent the rounding forward slump of your shoulders over time.

Shake up Your Mouse Habit

Especially if you have right arm and/or neck pain and stress, consider changing your mouse hand to your non-usual/non-dominant side. It will give your dominant/usual side a much needed rest and often leads to recovery from the pain experienced. Also, it’s good to learn new things (it is said that people over the age of 40 rarely think or do anything new out of what is habitual…something worth thinking about)! Admittedly, you won’t hit anything with that little cursor arrow for about 2 hours after switching, but eventually you will get the hang of it and create new neural pathways in your brain (which is a good thing). Then you can alternate hands by the month and keep both sides stress free!

Improving Posture = Improved Stress Response

Now that the traditional stress of the holidays is over, we are back to good old everyday stress! As difficult as it may be to do so, try to be mindful of your posture in stressful situations. Having proper, upright posture will actually help your body and mind respond more favorably to the stress! And the best way to remember to hold upright posture during stress is to pay attention to it when you are not stressed…that way it will become a habit in all situations, stressful or not!

The question: Do slumped and upright postures affect stress responses?

Short answer: Yes.

Longer answer: In a fascinating study published in Health Psychology in June 2015, results showed that, “Upright participants reported higher self-esteem, more arousal, better mood, and lower fear, compared to slumped participants. Linguistic analysis showed slumped participants used more negative emotion words, first-person singular pronouns, affective process words, sadness words, and fewer positive emotion words and total words during the speech. Upright participants had higher pulse pressure during and after the stressor. Conclusions: Adopting an upright seated posture in the face of stress can maintain self-esteem, reduce negative mood, and increase positive mood compared to a slumped posture. Furthermore, sitting upright increases rate of speech and reduces self-focus. Sitting upright may be a simple behavioral strategy to help build resilience to stress.”

[http://psycnet.apa.org/psycinfo/2014-37739-001/]