Thursday, August 15, 2013

Futuristic Sensor Device May Train You to Slouch Backward

The following article and video about LumoBack appeared in yesterday's Wall Stree Journal.  LumoBack is a new, wear-able posture-sensing device. It's promoted as a digital "Mom" reminding you to sit up straight.  

Have you ever been reminded to stand or sit up straight?  Did you find the reminder truly helpful?  If you then attempted to straighten, was it comfortable, or did you feel frustrated and think that you could never have "good posture" and feel good?  This device may not be much more help than "Mom" (and it won't make you dinner or send you cupcakes in the mail).  

See the article and video below:

LumoBack is a bluetooth device that you wear discreetly around your waist that connects to your smart phone.  It buzzes when your posture is off and gives you more detailed feedback on the phone app, which include illustrations of correct posture. 

The writer says:

This illustration [on the phone] helps you know how to adjust your sitting or standing position. But it's unrealistic to constantly look at a screen to check your posture so most of the times I felt these vibrating nags, I had to guess how to improve my posture.

I agree, that it's unrealistic for us to trust our own judgement regarding our body position, unless we've had some training.  I would go a step further to say that the drawings on the phone are likely not terribly useful as people will probably attempt to imitate the images by stiffening, which may not be any more comfortable or sustainable than slouching.  The writer also says:

I know it's good for me, but I don't necessarily enjoy it.

Truly "good" posture should feel relaxed and comfortable.  It should feel "good" and lead to what ever you are doing feeling more enjoyable and sustainable.

Referring to a typical "momism", she goes on to say:

LumoBack or no LumoBack, your mother will probably still bug you about your posture. So save her the trouble: Keep your shoulders back.

Nearly all of my students explain to me that someone has told them to keep their shoulders back.  Most people have the idea that a military sort of posture of lifting the chest and pinning the shoulders back is the proper and healthy way to sit, stand, and counteract slouching.  To combat the fear of slouching forward, most people actually end up "slouching" backward.  Take a look in the mirror at yourself from the side.  Hold your shoulders back will pin your shoulder blades together and down, causing tension in the upper and lower back, restricting rib movement for breathing and compressing the spine.  When my students stop doing this, they typically report relief of pain or discomfort in their backs and that it's easier to breath.  Truly "good posture" is upright, balanced and comfortable, but typically, verbal instructions and images are not enough to change long-held postural habits.  We get used to our habits and unable to accurately gauge our body position and whether or not we're using the right amount of effort in the right places.

Here I am bending a plastic knife.  This photo on the left mimics what we typically call "slouching" (dropping or pulling forward and down into the chest.)  

This photo on mimics pulling the shoulders back.  It looks like the same image, just flipped around with the "slump" in the opposite direction.

While viewing the video that accompanies the article (see at the top of the post), I learned that LumoBack may exhibit some of the same postural misconceptions as "Mom".  Pay close attention to the sequence of the woman in the burgundy shirt being monitored by the devices as shown on the smart phone on the right side of the screen. If you take a look at about 1m18sec into the video, you'll see a woman stand up out of a chair and the stick figure on her device "mirror" what she's doing.  When she is fully standing, she's leaning back (pulling her shoulders back aka "slouching backward").  The stick figure is standing perfectly straight, indicating that she exhibits good posture here, while she's actually leaning back and in effect pulling her upper body back and down.

Though I think that this device may help people become more aware of their posture and of how much time they spend sitting, it doesn't appear to always give accurate feedback, and even if it did, it doesn't provide a kinesthetic experience, like an Alexander Technique lesson does.  It could be useful, especially if used hand-in-hand with kinesthetic education, but left to its own "devices" I think it's likely that people will continue to find sitting up straight to be a pain and a strain.

Monday, August 5, 2013

The Up Side of Tension

As I was just looking through some photos I took of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge yesterday, I thought I'd write a post in support of my good friend, tension, because I get a lot of support from him/her . . . it.                     

Tension gets a bad rap.  Relaxation = good.  Tension = bad.  Tell that to this bridge!  Suspension bridges maintain their support and structure through tension and balance and so do we.  You may associate tension with stress, when in fact, it's tension that keeps us upright.  You wouldn't be sitting at your desk or standing and holding your smartphone, walking, running, jumping or doing anything at all without tension.  

So, what happens when we get stressed?  We end up tensing muscles that we shouldn't be tensing, muscles that are intended for movement instead of postural support.  These muscles are only supposed to work in short bursts and fatigue quickly.  This chronic tensing of muscles that shouldn't be tense all the time often feels uncomfortable and results in strain and pain.  Because of this misplaced tension, our postural muscles, the muscles that should be holding us up all of the time,lose tone.  Postural muscles work to hold us up without any conscious effort on our part.  If you have the intention to stay standing or sitting, they'll work to hold you up without you having to tighten or move them, but they don't work so well if other muscles are doing the work for them.

Then what's the problem here if it isn't tension?  The problem is balance.  Your muscle tone throughout your body gets out of balance when you react to stress by overusing muscles that shouldn't be working so hard all the time.  If you are stressed and straining at your desk all day, holding your shoulders up or pressing them down, tensing your neck, arms, and your thighs, then you will train your muscles and brain to understand that this state is normal and is how you should hold yourself up.

Alexander Technique lessons help people feel that what they are doing normally isn't necessarily natural and may be the source of discomfort and pain.  If you learn to react to stress differently and not tense your moving muscles all day, then you're postural muscles will tone up and sitting and standing can feel comfortable.  We have our own suspension system and if any area is too slack or too tense,the whole structure becomes distorted and tends to pull down and in on itself.  Return to balance and you'll expand up and out, reducing strain on any particular part.  That's the "up" side of tension. 

Good thing that bridges don't have desk jobs!