Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Wake up Your Posture Pathways

One of the primary reasons that poor posture can develop over time is because so many of the movements we do every day become automatic for us. This means that we do not need conscious control to do them anymore. So, when we do things like hunching over the keyboard, slouching on the couch, and clenching our jaw enough times, our brain pathways accommodate these movements so that we can do them without thinking.

As this adaptation is occurring, we also weaken the pathways that control the things we don’t do as often anymore, such as sitting up straight with our shoulders comfortably back. We therefore loose conscious awareness of the muscles needed to perform these actions, and they then become difficult for us to actively use.

So now the incorrect positions we are in all day become ingrained, and the better postural choices become more difficult to hold.

It is therefore necessary to re-awaken the nerve pathways that control the muscles necessary for correct posture. One way to help the body remember what it feels like to be properly aligned is to perform slow, controlled mobilizations into and out of the positions we are trying to reconnect to.

Let’s use the upper shoulder muscles as an example. It is very common to hold your upper trapezius and levator scapulae muscles in a contracted position during times of stress, or when working at a desk. These are the muscles that raise your shoulders up toward your ears. After years of holding them tight, many people end up adopting this as normal.

I am sure many of you have had a massage therapist or other health professional tell you that one shoulder is higher than the other, as if it is some kind of amazing discovery. This is usually nothing more than chronically contracted upper shoulder muscles, often from things such as holding a purse on that shoulder, and contracting the muscles to counter balance the weight of the purse, or from working with a mouse for hours on end. Eventually, you hold the shoulder up without even realizing it, whether or not you are at the computer, or have a purse on your shoulder!

Ok, so I have drilled in the adaptive process, but how do you retrain the brain to once again hold these muscles in a relaxed state?

First of all, really contract the already contracted muscles. So, in the case of the upper shoulder muscles, raise your shoulders up to your ears, as hard as you can. Hold them in this position for a few seconds, and really pay attention to how it feels to have them tight like this. Then relax them down, and take a few deep breaths, noticing how the muscle feels when it is relaxed, and also the position of your shoulders. Repeat this a dozen times, each time bringing your mental awareness to what your body is feeling. This will help dust the cobwebs out of the nerve pathways to the brain. Do this a few times every day, as the process takes a long time to become automatic.

Now you can adapt this to any area you have posture issues. If you slouch, then exaggerate your position for a few seconds. Hunch forward, rolling your shoulders forward and dropping your head down. Then extend your spine up straight and tall, rolling your shoulder back and raising your head up and back slightly, so that you are looking straight ahead.

Performing exercises like these regularly will, overtime, help them once again become automatic for us.

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“Denise Mackinnon is a registered massage therapist and
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