“I stand here on the summit of the mountain. I lift my head and I spread my arms. This, my body and spirit, this is the end of the quest.”
Posture is not just how you hold your shoulders and head. It’s a total body position. We just think of the shoulders and head because we sit all the time. When sitting, all you can see of a person is the top of his body. So we forget the rest of it.
When you move forward, backward, sideways, your body is constantly balancing its long self. It’s technically a couple of thin sticks with a really heavy bowling ball on top. Takes a lot of finesse to move that sort of thing through the world. The finesse is curated by an accumulation of nerves, bones, muscles, tendons, and ligaments. All of your body works to enable you to move through your environment with care.
Sitting in a chair, your body from the butt down is taken out of the equation. You leave it up to your torso, shoulders, and neck to balance your bowling ball. Because it’s been attached to your neck for so long, it’s hard to realize how hard it is to balance something of the weight of your head.
Your head weighs just around 11 pounds. Take a virtual, eleven pound bowling ball and stick it on top of a broomstick. Let’s say you’ve got really strong glue to hold it there. Now hold that broomstick just a few inches down from the ball, where your neck might be. Using the stick, virtually move the bowling ball forward, then backward, keeping it upright. Imagine the effort you need to keep it balanced.
Now tilt the bowling ball forward a few degrees. Hold it steady. You don’t need the real thing in your hands to know that this is quite a task. Now virtually hold it in that tilted position for the next two hours. Or four hours. Or however long it is that you sit at your desk at a time, you crazy human you.
Are your virtual hand muscles cramping yet? Sweating? Achy? How about your virtual forearms? Fatigued eh? You get the point. Your neck, shoulders, and torso work all day in this ridiculous balancing act as you sit slouched. What should normally be done in conjunction with your hips, legs, and feet, at least for a larger part of the day, you are doing with just your upper tippity top body.
No wonder there’s strain on the neck and back.
Your postural muscles, namely the neck, are mostly made of slow twitch fiber. Slow twitch muscle fiber gives small but steady output over sustained periods of time. This type of muscle is much more resistant to fatigue than fast twitch fiber, which gives big output for a short period of time.
Slow twitch fiber is ideal for sustained duties like maintaining posture. They take longer to get tired and only need a small amount of energy at a time. But fatigue is still possible. If slow twitch fiber is strained too long, it will fail. And when it fails, it fails hard.
Slow twitch fiber is known to crumple up into knots when it fatigues. Ever wonder why you keep getting those tight spots on your upper back? Do you sit at a desk for hours every day? Do you have a slouched posture? Do you drive for long distances or time? Think slow twitch fibers fatiguing. You’re hanging your bowling ball at an angle, and the strong glue that is your neck and upper back muscles are pulling back on it all day. At the same time, your chest, front shoulders, and biceps are getting a break. Except that they are resting in a shortened position, because your body is slumped forward.
Long term result: overstretched, fatigued neck and back; shortened, inflexible chest and shoulders. We could put a name to this specimen – the modern human.
Short term fix:
- mobilize your chest, abdomen, biceps, and front shoulders
- lay on a tennis or lacrosse ball on the floor and roll out knots
- drink water and salt
- breathe deep, relax your muscles
Long term fix:
- adopt awareness of your posture – there is always something doing work
- sit with your head balanced – may need to raise your screen and have your keyboard close (laptops are non-ideal)
- time limit your sitting – does not work without an alarm
- change your environment – sit on the floor, drive less, stand or squat when talking with someone
Live powerfully and live upright,
Rand, Ayn. (1999) Anthem. First published 1938.
MACKENZIE, B. (1999) Muscle Types [WWW] Available from: https://www.brianmac.co.uk/muscle.htm [Accessed 27/9/2016]