Pain-Free At Work: A New Essential Somatics® DVD To Relieve Workplace Pain

"Workplace pain" is muscle pain that can develop due to the on-going or repetitive demands of your job. You don't have to sit at a desk, however, to experience "workplace pain." Teachers, nurses, construction workers, data processors, salesmen and women, lawyers, doctors can all develop chronic muscle pain. Sitting for long hours at your job can have an adverse affect on one's health. Office-Somatics-DVD

Stress has another downside: it puts your nervous system into a "fight or flight" mode. Somatic Exerices and frequent breaks to stand, move the arms, walk up and down the hall or simply stand up and "reach to the top shelf" allow the nervous system to relax.

A more relaxed nervous system has been shown to contribute to increased mental focus and creativity. It also directly contributes to improved self-awareness and optimum muscle function. This alone can save you countless visits to the chiropractor, doctor and physical therapist.

Available Now: Essential Somatics® Pain-Free At Work DVD

On this DVD you will learn seven easy, short Somatic Exercises you can do at your desk in order to remind your muscles that they don't have to stay tight and frozen in one position all day long.  Consider downloading this DVD to your desktop so you can remind yourself daily how to release and relax you neck, shoulder, back and waist muscles so that they function more efficiently throughout the day.

Click here for a complete selection of the Essential Somatics® Somatic Exercise DVDs.

Seated Somatic Exercises for the Office Worker

About 90% of my Somatics clients sit all day long at their work. Many who don't have desk jobs sit more than they need to merely out of habit. Long-term sitting is a fact of life for a majority of the population and it has become a public health hazard. Nowadays many people are catching on to the fact that there is an alternative to long hours spent seated at the desk. One of my blog readers works at a standing treadmill desk and finds it very useful for preventing back and hip pain.

Personally, I'm an advocate of seated Somatic Exercises for about 5 minutes every hour, then getting up and moving any which way you possibly can, whenever possible.

When people sit for long periods of time - especially under stressful conditions, they forget how to do basic, necessary human movements that should be a part of our daily life. Sitting facing a computer demands that we look straight ahead - no twisting, bending, reaching, or squatting necessary. Emotional stress adds another level of stress to our muscles. Our brains - the command center of our muscles - teach our muscles to accumulate tension based upon the task at hand. We become used to slumping, sitting over-arched in our backs, or twisted or collapsed in our torso as we reach for our computer mouse to that we no longer are able to distinguish proper, healthy posture and biomechanics from potentially harmful holding patterns.

Diane came to me several years ago with excruciating headaches, and chronic neck and shoulder pain that required her to go on disability. She had a high stress job working 10-hour days in the financial sector; it was both stimulating, and demanding. She explained that she would sit down at her computer in the morning, open up her emails, and often not look up or move from her desk for hours at a time.

Diane had seen chiropractors, medical doctors, physical therapists, and had cortisone shots; nothing helped her find the answer to her muscle pain.

I saw her four times over the course of six weeks for private clinical Somatics sessions. We use assisted pandiculations and gentle somatic exercises to teach her to eliminate accumulated muscle tension in her back, waist muscles, hips, legs and abdominals. She began to feel her body differently as the pain diminished over time. She went back to work with a renewed awareness of her body, the ability to move her neck, shoulders, and back without pain, an understanding of how to sit properly, and tools to help her self-correct should she find herself falling back into the same unhelpful patterns.

Sitting correctly relieves back, neck, and shoulder pain.

The single most valuable piece of experiential learning for Diane - which she learned in the very first session - was the "seated awareness exercise" from my Pain Relief Through Movement DVD.

Diane wasn't aware of her habit of over-arching her back; she thought that she was sitting up "straight," when in fact, she was contracting her back muscles tightly every time she sat down to work. Her upper body was pitched over her thighs, her shoulders were in front of her hips, and her spine was arched in a bow, rather than stacked on top of her sit-bones. When she learned to release her back muscles and sit up on top of her sit-bones, the tension released all the way up to her neck and shoulders.

Check out Pain-Free at Work for Somatic Exercises you can do at your desk for renewed energy, reduced muscle tension and improved movement.

Tips For Getting The Most Out of Your Somatic Exercise Routine

Somatic Exercises, when done between 10 - 15 minutes daily, are profoundly effective at keeping you pain-free no matter what your stress. However, the single biggest benefit of Somatic Exercises is one of IMPROVED SENSORY MOTOR AWARENESS. This means that the exercises help remind your brain to FEEL (sensory) and MOVE (motor) your muscles so that your self-awareness is more accurate and your muscles move more efficiently. Recently a reader told me that he does his Somatic Exercises faithfully, but finds that the same problem - a tight back, sore neck, achy shoulders, "that low back pain on the right side" - keeps cropping up. Why is this?

The answer is that you need to apply the awareness you gain from the Somatic Exercises to everything you do during your day. Here are a few coaching tips to help you apply the improved awareness and muscle control you gain from Somatic Exercises to your daily life:

  • Become aware of movement patterns inherent in your job. If your is a repetitive physical job (gardening, landscaping, typing on the computer, driving, lifting packages, holding children), begin to notice the pattern of movement and the muscles involved that contribute to your pain.  Gardening is usually one-sided, as is holding children. Driving requires sitting and using one leg to accelerate or brake more than the other.
  • Become aware of how you sit. Is your pelvis at an angle? Is your back over-arched? Do you shift/slouch into one hip? Do you slump forward? Arch & Flatten, the Back Lift, Cross Lateral Arch & Curl, and the Seated Awareness Exercise target the back and abdominal muscles and help to improve awareness of how you sit. Find them on my Pain Relief Through Movement DVD.
  • Do a few minutes of seated Somatic Exercises every hour if you work at a desk. Even 5 minutes every hour can remind your muscles that they don't have to stay "frozen." This will keep your brain in voluntary control of your muscles so they can be as relaxed as possible.
  • Become aware of how you drive. See "how do you sit" above. Many of us clutch the steering wheel when stressed. This locks down the shoulders and creates upper back and neck pain. The "seated twist" is great for reversing tension that comes from driving.
  • Use a mirror to help you see your own posture. Becoming aware of what you really look like - as opposed to what you think you look like - helps you to self-correct so that what you sense internally agrees with what you see in the mirror.
  • Become aware of how you reflexively respond emotionally to upsetting events or the need to get something done. This is hugely important!  Our brains adapt to stress by tightening our muscles - even when we're not moving. The Somatic Exercises teach you to regain voluntary muscular control, but you are the only one who knows how emotional upset affects you. Do you tighten your back? Hunch your shoulders? Stop breathing when worried? The Steeple Twist and Human X are wonderful catch-all movements that relax the front, sides and back of the body for a full body stress-buster.
  • Add more movement to your day. There are lots of great functional movements you can do that take only a few minutes. This helps to differentiate your movement habits.  Here's a link to some great ideas for "movement snacks" from Frank Forencich of Exuberant Animal. My Reach To the Top Shelf movement takes 2 minutes to do and can be done anywhere:

Stand with feet apart and both arms up. Slowly reach up with the right arm and let the entire right side of your body lengthen. Allow the left hip to slide upwards (look closely at the middle photo) as you roll up onto the ball of the left foot.

Come back through neutral and reach up with the left arm as if reaching for something high on a shelf. Allow the right hip to slide up as you roll up onto the ball of the right foot. Be sure to keep both knees straight. Repeat this sequence 3-5 times, reaching with one arm, then the other. You're lengthening one side of your body as you shorten the other side! It's like a full body yawn!

Standing Up is Better For Your Health

Sitting and the damage done to most of us through hours of sitting at desks, computers and in cars, is a healthcare problem.

It's tough on the hip joints, lousy on posture and breathing, and contributes to back, hip, knee, neck and shoulder pain. Many people don't even realize that they're probably not breathing correctly, or as fully as you could in order to be healthy.

I saw a video clip of an interview between Donald Rumsfeld and Piers Morgan in which Morgan expresses his chagrin at how "odd" it is that Rumsfeld doesn't sit at his desk - but stands instead. Rumsfeld responds,

"Why do you act like that's odd? Sitting is weird!"

Bravo. Now I'm not sure whether Morgan was putting on an act or not, but he added to his "this proves that Donald Rumsfeld is definitely "weird" list, Rumsfeld's daily ritual of exercise:

"At 78 years old?! Why do you still work out?"

Rumsfeld's attitude is excellent: sit infrequently and move as much as you can. Now, putting politics aside, I have to say that with his attitude about health, Rumsfeld should probably have gone into the health profession. Age has nothing to do with whether or not one should stop moving.

In developing countries like India and Africa, not moving isn't an option. Adults move because there is work to be done, not because they want a work out, as does Rumsfeld. Chances are many of these people are stronger and more physically resilient than your average American.

Sitting in  a chair at right angles for long periods of time can create tight hip joints, rigid back muscles and neck, shoulder and back spasms. When we sit at work, rarely are we relaxed. I know I'm not. I tend to stand at my kitchen counter when I do online sessions with clients.

If you are someone who is always rushing around, which causes the back muscles to contract strongly (the Green Light Reflex or Landau Response), you'll pitch yourself forward and over-arch the lower back when seated. This will cause the hip flexors to contract to keep you upright. They stay tight until given the signal to relax. When you get up you'll stand up from your chair slowly because the front of your hips will still be contracting.

If you tend to slouched while seated (Red Light Reflex), you will collapse in the middle of your body as the abdominals contract tightly. This will cause your breathing to be shallow rather than relaxed. This rounded posture, which rounds the pelvis under, and causes what is now called "head forward posture," is a sure-fire recipe for back and neck pain.

Why sitting is no good for you

  • decreased circulation
  • decreased creativity due to lack of movement
  • tighter hips, due to habituation to sitting with an over-arched lower back or slumping
  • shallower breathing

Why standing is better

  • increased ability to move the entire body as much as you want
  • increased ability to imbed learning and memory (movement causes the brain to release BDNF)
  • improved posture and proprioception (body awareness)
  • improved breathing due
  • increased circulation
  • improved muscle tone due

Try it out if your workplace is amenable to such an experiment. Notice your own patterns of posture and movement. Relax your belly when you breath and notice how much better that feels. Make sure your weight is evenly distributed and that you can easily shift your weight from side to side.

Some of the basic Somatic Exercises can even be done standing (Arch & Curl, Reach to the Top Shelf, the arm movements of the Washrag). Or you can create your own - if you do, please share them with me so I can share them with my readers.

Sitting - Movement = Bad Health

I will soon be on my way to Sri Lanka and India, and this morning two people sent me the same New York Time article: Is Sitting A Lethal Activity? Considering the fact that I'm not looking forward to sitting in a cramped coach seat for 19 hours, I didn't want to be reminded of what I will be experiencing. I'm thankful that I tend to move (even when I sit) because sitting and I have never really gotten along. I tend to do seated Somatic Movements - Arch & Curl, gently pushing of one knee and then the other forward (which releases the sacroiliac and back muscles to lengthen).

In an airplane, Somatic Exercises need to be modified – there's only so much room between you and the person in front of you. These movements will help you to prevent back, neck, shoulder and hip pain that can occur when sitting, cramped in an airplane. There are many helpful movements on my Pain-Free At Work DVD to help you stay moving, even in a tight space. You can apply this to your office or cubicle at work.

I have written before about sitting and the effect it has on our bodies, especially for an extended period of time, which teaches our muscles to stay frozen and tight, leading to the development of Sensory Motor Amnesia (SMA). The NY Times article was especially interesting, because it didn't deal with what most of us already know and feel as we sit - that sitting hurts the body. The study in the article was more about calories, weight gain and lack of exercise, and how some people in the study gained weight while not exercising and others didn't. Dr. Jensen, a Mayo Clinic researcher, explains,

“The people who didn’t gain weight were unconsciously moving around more,” Dr. Jensen says. They hadn’t started exercising more — that was prohibited by the study. Their bodies simply responded naturally by making more little movements than they had before the overfeeding began, like taking the stairs, trotting down the hall to the office water cooler, bustling about with chores at home or simply fidgeting. On average, the subjects who gained weight sat two hours more per day than those who hadn’t. "

The upshot of this study is that you can change your environment to encourage more activity, even if the bulk of your work requires that you work with a computer. The more you move, the healthier you'll be. It's just how it is.

While visiting India in 2008 I visited one of the Tibetan Children's Village schools. The children had no desks. They sat on the floor and were allowed to squirm around. They changed positions, sat cross legged or on their bellies. They incorporated movements into their English lessons as well. Apparently this kind of classroom environment is now being experimented with more in the United States. Not having to sit in the same position, with "hands on the desk, eyes straight ahead" could go a long way toward supporting good overall physiological health.

The need to sit and focus for long hours on external events (like a computer screen, cell phone, television, blackboard) not only has detrimental physiological effects on our bodies, but it also teaches us to stop paying attention to the sensations of our own bodies. Proprioception - your awareness of your body in space - begins to take a backseat. When you can't feel your body and movement, you learn to stay tight, to limit your muscular range of motion and your ability to move naturally. This "unlearning" of movement is what Thomas Hanna called a true public health crisis some 25 years ago. Not being aware of what you're not aware of is a dangerous place to be when it comes to your own body.

If you want to learn to move again - intelligently, effortlessly, efficiently - and without pain: attend a workshopbook a clinical Somatics session, or visit the Essential Somatics® store for instructional DVDs.

                             Life is movement, movement is life. Make the most of it!

Pain-Free Sitting at Work

Tonight I'm teaching a class called, "Pain Free At Work." The beauty of Hanna Somatics is that it's full of easy to understand and easy to apply principles and techniques that can be done anytime, anywhere - even while sitting at your desk or work station. In tonight's class, we're going to do simple, seated Somatic Movements to remind muscles that they don't have to stay tight and "frozen" while you're at your desk. Many people underestimate how the way they SIT can contribute to back pain, sciatica, hip joint pain, neck and shoulder pain, and poor posture.

Tonight, students will learn how to sit up "straight," bend to the side, move their hips, and relax their muscles when they have to sit for long periods of time. These movements are great for those who drive a lot, commute, or work on computers.

In a Somatics class several weeks ago, students learned a sitting  exercise that taught them to  experience the difference between sitting with a tight back and sitting with a relaxed back. If you slouch, sitting with a straighter spine will feel odd, only because whatever you do habitually becomes "the norm" for your muscles. When you learn to change your posture and sitting from the inside out,  it will take time for that new posture to feel "normal." All that is need is patience practice, much like improving your golf swing or learning a new dance step. This is called "sensory motor learning."

After this particular class I heard two of the students remarking "how amazing it is to learn to sit properly!"

These two women were business executives who sat all day long at their desks. I heard them talking about their chairs - which ones were advertised as "the best for your back," and which ones were, in fact, really comfortable. One woman laughed and said, "well, my chair is cheap, and comfortable, even though it's not supposed to be!" Interesting.

Many people think that the solution to a problem, (finding a "good" chair or a common sense approach to chronic pain that works) needs to be expensive and complicated, but this is not necessarily true. Pain can disappear after only a couple of clinical Somatics sessions, and a good chair doesn't have to cost $1000. The photo on the right shows the chair the "Anne" recommends. It's the Nominell Swivel Chair from IKEA. It costs $139.00.

One of the businesswomen contacted me a few weeks after the class and told me that what she noticed about her IKEA chair was that it allowed her to sense her body weight, balance, and posture. It provided good feedback so that when she slouched, or over-arched her back, she was better able to self-correct.

Sitting on chairs, with our legs at right angles to our hips, isn't a great thing to do for hours at a stretch, but you can learn how to sit without pain.

Somatic movement explorations (and a good chair!) can go a long way toward helping you be pain free at the office - or in your car - whenever you want! So come to class and learn how to work pain-free: Nov. 11, at Shakti Yoga and Living Arts in Maplewood, NJ - 7:45 - 9:00pm.

The Way You Move Can Help Relieve Your Pain

How many of you tried jumping to see how you felt? Did you notice how you jumped? Arms in the air? Legs pulled up? An enormous number of Americans nowadays work in a sedentary job - at a computer, desk, or in a car.  If you are one of them, think for a minute about that sedentary posture - hips at right angles, back tight, shoulders hunched, or for some, pinned back tightly. Try this: sit like that intentionally. Then get up and look down. Clasp your hands together in back of you and hunch your shoulders. Now jump. You don't get very far, do you?  As a colleague of mine said, "The sedentary posture is the antithesis of the ability to jump." I would add that it's also the antithesis of the ability to run quickly, squat down, or twist to the side.

Sitting is, as I've written before, a repetitive task. It creates tight, frozen muscles that can cause back, neck, shoulder, hip or knee pain. It keeps us from being able to do fun things like jump, run, reach, bend over or even fall properly. Anything that is repeated - factory work, loading packages (as a postal worker would do), carrying children, cooking - creates the condition for certain muscles to remain contracted and others to become underdeveloped.

To return to jumping: If you don't move enough, you'll find that you have no strength in your legs. If you're "de-conditioned" to move, you won't have proper muscle development to balance, push off, and relax certain muscles while others work. Going to the gym and doing the same repetitive exercises everyday might build a certain amount of strength, but it won't necessarily give you the freedom of movement to "mixing things up" and move in a variety of ways.  It may even cause repetitive strain. It is important to be strong; it's as important to be adaptable and able to move quickly, in many different planes of gravity.

In our Hanna Somatics classes we teach that movement, like life, is about choices and options. There are many ways to move - you just have to begin to explore them. In exploring, you'll find that muscles "wake up," pain begins to recede and awareness of one's self and one's movement creates positive, and enduring physical as well as  mental and emotional improvement.

Chairs - Are They Really So Useful?

I'd like to create a retreat at a place where there are no cars, no computers, and no chairs. When you sit on the ground you learn a lot about your body. Just like when you take your shoes off and walk you learn a lot about your own movement; walking without shoes can feel scary and threatening to some people. So can doing away with your chair and sitting on the floor.

Expensive does not mean effective

You may be familiar with the iconic Aeron chair by Herman Miller.

herman-miller-aeron-chair1This chair costs a whopping $963! Its description explains that thePostureFit® technology used in its construction "supports the way your pelvis tilts naturally forward, so that your spine stays aligned and you avoid back pain."

But here's the issue: A chair cannot teach you to sit naturally in such a way that you can prevent back pain!

Relying on an external force (the chair) to mold your body to a "correct" position in order to avoid pain is a misguided approach to sitting painlessly and effortlessly. It ignores a person's existing Sensory Motor Amnesia (SMA) which causes muscle pain, and forces the body into an unnatural position.

How should I sit to avoid back pain?

Read my Effortless Sitting article to learn in detail how to sit naturally and avoid back pain. Several clients have told me that after they learned to sit properly (through the techniques outlined in the article linked above) their back pain disappeared. Sitting with the pelvis tilted forward, as with the Aeron chair, teaches the back muscles to stay arched and overly contracted. This causes the back muscles to work harder than necessary and ultimately contributes to chronic back pain.

Use it or lose it

Here's the thing about sitting on the floor: if you never stopped getting up and down off the floor, you would never forget how to do it. Use it or lose it. I have many clients here in the United States who tell me that it is uncomfortable when they sit on the floor, and that, once seated, they struggle to stand up. We are a chair culture and it is hurting us in the long-run.

In Indian, African, and Japanese cultures (to name a few) it is still very common to sit on the floor or squat when eating, waiting, or using the toilet. When I was in India, I saw many elderly people squatting, then standing up with ease. It is clear that they never stopped squatting, and they never spent decades sitting with hips rigidly at 90 degrees and backs arched in a chair.

Sit on the floor more

So try something for a couple of hours every day: get some cushions and put them on the floor.

Sit down to eat, work on your computer, or read a book. Use your coffee table as a desk. Notice how you'll need to shift your position every so often (this is good - the muscles need to be able to move). Notice things about your body you didn't notice before. And let me know how it goes.

5 Steps to a Painfree Workspace

Do you ever find yourself with work-related neck, shoulder, or back pain? Try this awareness exercise that, in 5 steps, can change how you sit:  

Step 1

Sit in your chair and, if you have a mirror, take a look at how you're sitting.

green-light-seated

red-light-seated

The Green Light posture is one with an arched back with the weight pitched forward. The back muscles are contracted from the tailbone up to the base of the neck.

The Red Light posture is one with a rounded back, and slumped neck and shoulders, with the weight in back of the pelvis.

 

 

Both postures are very common in those who work on computers all day long. Arched or rounded, either extreme can create chronic muscular pain. We adapt to our environment in order to make our job easier, so how you sit is merely a habit - a form of adaptation.

Step 2

Now close your eyes and sit up to your normal sense of straight. Look in the mirror. Are you arched? Rounded? Notice how you feel, but don't try to change it. Now close your eyes.

Step 3

Inhale and arch, letting your head tip back. Relax your belly and let your pelvis move. Then exhale and round gently, letting your head drop down. Repeat 2-3 times.

Slowly come back up to neutral ("straight"). Sense your weight. Is it on top of your sitbones? In front? In back. Do some self adjustment. Rock side to side on your sit-bones. Feel your hip flexors at the groin line. Are they relaxed?

When you feel relaxed and balanced, open your eyes. See if your internal sensations agree with what you see in the mirror. If you're still arched or rounded, close your eyes and do it again until your internal sense of your back muscles agrees with what you see in the mirror.  This exercise can permanently change the way in which you sit. You'll be able to sit effortlessly without fatigue.

Step 4

Repeat this exercise several times a day until your feel that you've successfully "reprogrammed" yourself to sit correctly.

Step 5

Place your hands up to your keypad. Notice where your arms are; your shoulders should be relaxed, not raised and tense. Sense your shoulders. Are you holding them up in order to reach the keypad? Are you tightening your shoulders down?

The key is: AWARENESS - REPETITION -  SELF-CORRECTION

For those of you who discover after doing this exercise, that your workspace is  ergonomically out of sync with your new-found seated posture, you'll probably want to change the placement of your workstation.