Happy, Healthy Alignment! This week is all about the musculoskeletal system-the bones of the skeleton, muscles, cartilage, tendons, ligaments, joints, and other connective tissues that provide form, support, stability, and movement to the body. By now we know all about the 3 important “pillars” of diet, exercise, and emotional health, but a 4th pillar is structural health. Over time, poor posture takes a serious toll on your spine, shoulders, hips, and knees. In fact, it can cause a cascade of structural flaws that lead to back and joint pain, reduced flexibility, and compromised muscles, all of which limit your ability to burn fat and build strength. Using purses, bags, and backpacks that are designed to minimize back strain can influence good posture. And unfortunately women need to take heed and avoid regularly wearing high-heeled shoes, which can affect the body’s center of gravity and induce compensatory alignment of the entire body, thus negatively affecting back support and posture. (Besides wearing “comfortable shoes”, when standing for long periods of time, propping a leg up on a foot rest, wearing supportive shoe orthotics, or placing a rubber mat on the floor can improve comfort.) Once upon a time, women were encouraged to “balance a book” or other items on their heads while walking as part of “etiquette” training, but also while in high-heels. Since we’ve come a long way from there in our understanding, here are our top 10 important tips about reforming your Posture: 1. Slouching while sitting is deadly. Pay attention to how much you “open up” your range of motion throughout the day and how much you are hunched over. To stay limber, try to get up for a couple minutes every half hour and stretch, walk, or stand. And every morning and night, lie down on the floor and make slow “snow angels” with your arms for 2 or 3 minutes. Then while standing, tilt your head forward, back, left, right and then gently roll your head in a circle to the right and left. Do shoulder rolls forward to back and visa versa. Exhale and slowly roll down one vertebra at a time, chin to chest and then as far as you can go towards the floor with straight legs. Roll up slowly as you inhale. Stretch your sides by putting legs a bit more than hip width apart. With your stomach in, take right arm and put it straight up overhead, bending at the waist to the left. Repeat sides. Get on your hands and knees and curl back upwards like a cat, then sink your spine towards the ground with your head back, looking up, repeating several times. 2. Say hello to the foam roller, your little friend. Altering natural muscle lengths affects posture and strength, and can also decrease circulation to certain muscle groups and areas of the body. Foam rolling and other methods of Self Myofascial Release (SMR) are excellent ways to alleviate pain, help muscles return to their normal lengths, increase circulation, and decrease your chances of injury in both work and activity. Some key areas to roll include the quadriceps, trapezius, deltoids, latissimus dorsi, inner thighs, and calf muscles. Here’s how you go about it: using a foam roller or ball, roll over the belly of the muscle group until you find a trigger point or pain point. Avoid rolling on or close to your joints. Apply pressure to that point for at least 10 to 15 seconds, but no more than 45 seconds if you are just starting out. Rest as needed, and repeat this process for the rest of the muscle group. Keep in mind that the rolling itself is only used identify the knots in your muscles. The static pressure you apply to that trigger point or knot is what flattens it out. 3. Exercises targeting the back extensors, neck flexors, pelvic muscles, and side muscles are crucial. Trainers at gyms can help; there are even special machines that target these muscles. Keep in mind: there’s a big difference between developing flexibility, which would be in your muscles, and laxity, which occurs when your ligaments are no longer intact. Tendons connect muscle to bone. These tough yet flexible bands of fibrous tissue attach the skeletal muscles to the bones they move. Essentially, tendons enable you to move; think of them as intermediaries between muscles and bones. Though similar to tendons, ligaments connect bone to bone and help to stabilize joints they surround. They are composed mostly of long, stringy collagen fibers that create bands of tough, fibrous connective tissue. Ligaments are slightly elastic, so they can be stretched and gradually lengthen, increasing flexibility. But if stretched beyond a certain point, ligaments can become overstretched and compromise the integrity of the joint they are supposed to be stabilizing — so stretch them with caution. 4. Your “core” is where it’s at. The core refers to the muscles of your abdomen and pelvic area. These muscles form the foundation of good posture, and a strong core can have many other benefits, from improving your athletic performance to preventing urinary incontinence. A stronger core can even make sex more fun. Core strengthening exercises are most effective when the torso works as a solid unit and both front and back muscles contract at the same time, multi joint movements are performed and stabilization of the spine is monitored. Abdominal bracing is a basic technique used during core exercise training. To correctly brace, you should attempt to pull your navel back in toward your spine. This action primarily recruits transverse abdominus. You should be able to breathe evenly while bracing and no hold your breath. There are many exercises that will strengthen the core. A large number of core strengthening exercises can be done at home with no equipment while some require the use of equipment and gadgets. 5. Get better balance with a balance ball. Using a stability ball may lead to improved stability of the spine and reduce the risk of back pain in sedentary individuals, according to a study published in the May 2006 edition of The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. You can also sit on a large balance ball chair instead of a regular desk chair, which forces you to use your core to maintain a centered position, keeping spine in its natural curve. (Make sure your workstation is set up in general to promote correct posture. Sitting up with good, tall posture and your shoulders dropped is a good habit to get into. Sit with your back against your chair and feet flat on the floor. When you look at a computer screen, your eyes should be level with the center of it. If they aren’t, raise or lower the monitor. Or if you are using a traditional chair and just can’t seem to remember these things, simply turn it around with the back at your chest, allowing your spine to naturally arch instead of falling into concave slumped position.) 6. Prevent bone density losses and fractures with weight-bearing exercises and supplements. The vertebral compression fractures that subtract from our height—and can lead to the “dowager’s hump” in the upper back that’s a hallmark of old age—are due to the bone-thinning disease osteoporosis (and osteopenia, which is a less severe, mild thinning of bone.) Weight-bearing exercises force your body to resist gravity and stimulate cells in the body that make new bone. If you don’t get enough calcium every day through diet or supplements, your body will be deficient of this mineral. Then your body will break down the bones to replenish it and bone loss will increase. When your body is depleted of vitamin D or has an insufficient supply, the blood levels of calcium also decrease. Vitamin D can be obtained through minimal sun exposure (10 minutes a day), your diet, and supplements as well. (Note: some findings show that colas, more than other carbonated soft drinks, contribute to bone loss. It may be that the extra phosphorus in cola drinks binds with calcium and prevents it from being absorbed in the body.) 7. Many disc problems are the result of years of neglect such as wrong posture and that’s where chiropractic care comes in. Chiropractic adjustments help restores proper motion and position of malfunctioning spinal bones, reducing nervous system involvement. If caught before permanent damage occurs, disc tissue often returns to a more normal size and shape. And then there is Craniosacral Therapy (CST) or cranial-sacral therapy, cranial osteopathy, and cranial therapy- all forms of BodyWork using therapeutic touch to manipulate the synarthrodial joints of the cranium. A practitioner of cranial-sacral therapy may also apply light touches to a patient’s spine and pelvis. Practitioners believe that this manipulation regulates the flow of cerebrospinal fluid and aids in “primary respiration”. 8. Find the mattress that is right for you. While a firmer mattress is generally recommended, some people find that softer mattresses reduce their back pain. Sleep with a pillow. Special pillows, called “cervical pillows”, are available to help with postural problems resulting from a poor sleeping position. You can buy a cervical neck roll or neck pillow that is made specifically to naturally reshape the top portion of your spine. (Or simply roll up a regular bath towel to a height that fits naturally under the middle of your neck while you’re lying down on your bed.) Avoid sleeping on your stomach. Sleeping on your side or back is more often helpful for back pain. If you sleep on your side, place a pillow between your legs. If you sleep on your back, keep a pillow under your knees. 9. Posture braces can address poor control in the lower back or in the mid to upper back and shoulders during the initial phase when you have no or little postural awareness. As your posture improves with your posture exercises to address muscle strength and endurance you can transition from a heavy to lower support posture brace. Further weaning to kinesiology postural taping may be taken to help achieve the final transition to perfect posture without a posture brace or posture taping. 10. Acupressure therapy can be used to relieve pain and tension in the back. Acupressure uses gentle to firm finger pressure in the pressure points and meridians much like acupuncture does with the use of needles. As these acupressure points are stimulated, muscular tension releases, circulation of blood is promoted, and the body’s life force energy is enhanced to aid in healing. (Have you tried magnetic therapy? Keep a chart of reflexology Shiatsu points to know where the most effective placement are for your ailments. Wear your magnetic bracelet on your left wrist for back pain, the acupressure points for the spine are nearby.) What once was questionable in the western world and even mocked as “quack” medicine is now shown to be a viable and extremely beneficial treatment backed by scientific studies and centuries of wisdom. Next week will be Week 10 of our new Team RLEI Reset Program to Live Amazing and we’ll share some more tips on managing and healing pain. Embrace the week ahead by embracing some realignment!