Conscious Posture for a Conscious Mind

Recently, Amy Cuddy, a social psychologist at Harvard University, who gave the second most viewed TED TALK ever back in 2012, “Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are,” came out with a new book.

Her newest work, Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenge, presents research and stories on how use behavior, body language, and mind-set to embrace and conquer some of life’s biggest challenges.

In an interview she was asked a question that is so relevant to my work as chiropractor. Cuddy was asked:

Q: What does all this [your research] say about the effect that hunching over our laptops and our iPhones has on us–not just on our spines and our health, but on our behavior and our careers?

There’s so much work on the connection between slouched behavior and depression. Depressed people have different postures, we know that. And we know that when you force them out of that posture, they become less depressed. That link is so tight. The posture we adopt when we’re over those phones looks like a depressed person’s posture. The fact that physiotherapists are finding these dowager’s humps in teenagers now–that’s alarming.”

The Body Was Not Made to Sit
It’s such an important point, and one I see played out in the lives of my practice members every day. The simple truth is, the body was not anatomically designed to sit. The body was designed to move.

Yet, for many of us, our lifestyles dictate that we sit for long hours, every day. When you add in using laptops, tablets, smartphones, we are creating more postural stress. As Cuddy points out, stress in the body plays out in the mind and vice versa. Given that so many of us sit for work, I often talk to my practice members about the importance of setting up their workspaces in a way that is ergonomically supportive.

Your Posture When Sitting
When you are sitting all day, in a way that causes strain on your body or spine, it can lead to decreased lung capacity, decreased absorption of nutrients. It can interfere with digestion and removal of waste from the body. It can increase aging and puts more stress and tension on the low back. Sitting actually increases the pressure on the lower vertebrae by three times or more as compared to standing or lying down.

Our bodies normally have natural curve, but when we are using laptops, tablets, and phones we tend to be more forward in our posture.  Our shoulders get rounded. When this becomes a habit, the vertebrae can get out of alignment leading to subluxation, misalignments of the bones leading to nerve interference. Our bodies begin to straighten and with enough time and stress, then curve in the opposite direction, which can bone spurs and bones to fuse. This interference in the way the nervous system communicates, can cause pain and discomfort, illness, disease, and loss of function. (Bad posture, a form of stress can lead to bone spurs, and then bones that actually fuse together because the body is trying to support itself in these unnatural positions.)

Technology and Posture
I’m sure we’ve all seen people in their 70s, 80s, or 90s, with their heads so far forward of their shoulders that it is almost a buzzard-like posture. In the worst-case scenarios, people become so hunched that they are looking at the floor as they use their walker. As Cuddy and many others have pointed out, we are now in a world where this is starting to happen to teenagers who spend hours hunched over a mobile phone or tablet.

These are dangerous habits we all have to be aware of and vigilant in correcting, in ourselves and for our loved ones because these habits have lasting, painful consequences. What it all comes down to is bad posture is a form of stress. It puts stress on the body to be used in a way it was not designed for.

I try to talk to my practice members about their cellphone habits. I recommend you don’t hold the phone down and in front of you or in your lap. Hold it straight in front of you, closer to shoulder height or eye level, so you don’t have to crane your neck down to read it. Or in cases where you are going to be on the phone for awhile, for example when kids are playing games, have them lay on the floor and hold it above their head.

Workplace Ergonomics and Posture
The other thing I encourage all my practice members to do is assess their own workspace. Ask yourself, “What do I spend the most time doing in my workspace?” Start there, and look at how you may be causing strain on your body in that position.

Recently, I want to practice member’s house to help her assess her workstation because we both believed it was affecting her health. She said spent most of her time looking at images on a screen. Based on that information, we made small changes in her workspace, including rearranging her workstation, adjusting her chair, and putting a pillow behind her lower back. These changes were aimed at preventing strain in her body when she is doing what she does most often in that space.

This is a testimonial she gave after her experience.  Thank you, Dr. Jenn for coming over to my office and reviewing my computer workstation. As a graphic designer I spend a lot of hours in front of my computer and was concerned about my posture not being correct causing back & neck pain. You observed my current set up and within minutes was making your professional guided improvements so I’m much more comfortable and can feel peace of mind that I’m now correctly seated at my desk for optimum health. I feel so much better after a long day of work!”

I recommend all my practice members look at how they hold their bodies when they are driving, when they are using the computer or phone, even when they are sleeping. If you work in an office, (or for any activity you do regularly) ask yourself what do you spend the majority of your time doing? Then assess your posture during that activity. You might consider screen height, screen direction, keyboard height, what you have to reach or turn for, and how you are seated.

Sitting at work doesn’t mean you can’t have healthy posture but it does mean you have to be conscious about cultivating healthy posture. Simple, often no to low cost, changes can have a profound effect on your overall energy, health and well-being.  It’s critical that we do so because, following Amy Cuddy’s work, what we do with our bodies influences our minds, and vice versa.