Most of my clients work 10 hours a day at the computer, commute, care for their families, and get in a workout whenever possible. Most of them don't realize that they aren't breathing fully enough to help reduce their stress. Every one of these clients has elements of what we call the Red Light Reflex (also know as the Startle Reflex) in their posture: rounded and slumped shoulders, a neck that juts out slightly, tight abdominals, and shallow chest breathing. This posture, commonly associated with aging, is more and more common among young people who spend hours on the computer, playing video games, and using cell phones or iPads.
Hunched posture is a response to stress.
The "fight or flight" state of stress is a primal survival instinct that kicks in when there is real or perceived danger. In Hanna Somatics, the physical posture is the Red Light Reflex of protection and withdrawal: hunched and rounded shoulders, a neck that juts forward, and tight abdominals that suppress breathing. This posture occurs due to fear, anxiety, danger and on-going emotional stress. It can also become habituated through the repetitive functional action of holding a small baby to one's chest to nurse.
For many people in today's modern world there is a tendency to get stuck in this reflexive posture - even when there is no emergency or threat to one's own survival (or after the functional action is finished). For many people just the idea of how much needs to get done on a daily basis is enough to cause them to stop breathing, hunch their shoulders and stiffen their necks, as if danger is right around the corner. Repeat this all day long, and the end result is neck and shoulder pain, joint pain and/or sheer fatigue from shallow breathing and lack of oxygenation to one's brain.
Hans Selye, the endocrinologist who discovered the General Adaptation Syndrome, is considered "the father of stress research." He stated that all disease is disease of adaptation - meaning that humans adapt to stress, which alters metabolism and other physiological states in our bodies - and that we have a limited amount of adaptive energy to deal with stress. If ignored, a continuously stressed body in a "fight or flight" state of high alert, will lose its ability to defend against illness.
We're no longer being chased by predators, yet too many of us experience the stress of our lives as if such a scenario were taking place. The real danger today occurs when we habitually respond to non-life threatening events as if they truly were. When the Red Light Reflexbecomes "the norm" in our bodies, here's what can happen:
- We don't breathe fully.
- Our brain and heart don't get the oxygen they need.
- Our mental and emotional well-being is adversely affected.
- We contract the muscles of the front of our bodies, which slumps and collapses us forward.
- We lose our equilibrium, causing other muscles to compensate and work harder than normal to keep us in balance.
- Neck and shoulder pain, TMJ/jaw pain, mid-back pain, headaches, fatigue, digestive problems and sleep problems can develop.
Try this Somatic Movement to release the tight muscles of the front that contract when we're worried, fearful, anxious - or slumped over a computer all day. You will improve breathing, reduce stress and begin to reverse the effects of the Red Light Reflex on your entire nervous system.
To buy my book, Move Without Pain, and my pain-relief DVDs, click here.