Friday, September 16, 2011

Benefits of having a good posture

Do you have a good or bad posture? As you are reading this, how is your posture right now? Are you sitting upright? Are you slouching your back? Have you totally sunk into your chair?

Why Have A Good Posture?

There are 5 key benefits from maintaining a good posture.
  1. Facilitates breathing: A good posture naturally enables you to breathe properly. I started appreciating this after I started meditating regularly a few months back, coupled with a good posture. I found a really a huge difference in the amount of air I could inhale between sitting up straight and slouching. This is why yoga, pilates and meditation exercises pay so much attention on getting your posture and sitting positions right.
  2. Increases concentration and thinking ability: When you are breathing properly, you increase your thinking ability too. Our brain requires 20% of oxygen to do its job properly. More air, more oxygen. More oxygen, more brain food. More brain food leads to more thoughts and ideas.
  3. Improve your image: People with good postures look smarter and more attractive. Have you ever seen someone with a bad posture and felt the person seemed unkempt, even though the person has not said or done anything yet? On the flip side, someone with a good posture naturally exudes an aura of assertiveness and appeal.
  4. Feel even better about yourself: When you have a good posture, it helps to make you feel more self-confident, without even doing anything else different. Try sitting in a bad posture now for 30 seconds. Now, switch to a good posture for 30 seconds as well. Is there any difference in how you felt?
  5. Avoid health complications: A bad posture results in several complications over time, such as increased risks of slipped disc, back aches, back pain, pressure inside your chest, poor blood circulation. When I was studying in business school, I had a professor back who suffered from a slip disc when he was younger. Unfortunately, he can’t straighten his back ever since the incident and he now walks with a permanent slouch.

So, What Is A Good Posture?

Contrary to popular belief, a good posture does not mean keeping your spine totally straight. I used to have that misconception and it deterred me from keeping a good posture since it was just so tiring having to keep my back so straight all the time. If you feel it is exhausting whenever you try to maintain a good posture, it’s probably because you are trying to keep your back fully straight. Trying to keep your back/spine fully straight is actually as detrimental to your back as a slouched posture. By constantly tightening your back muscles, you end up straining it in the process.
A good posture means maintaining the two natural curves at your back – (1) the concave curve from base of your head to your shoulders and (2) the concave curve from your upper back to the base of your spine. It’s like the shape of 2 C’s on your back. Refer to the image on this page for an illustration.
When you are in the right posture, it should feel almost effortless to maintain the position. When you stand, your weight of your body should be evenly distributed across the balls of feet (not the heels or the front).
Take a minute out now and examine your current posture in front of a mirror (full-length if possible; otherwise get one that allows you to see at least the upper half of your body). Does it fit the description of a good posture? If not, spend a few seconds to adjust your posture to the right one before you continue to read the article

How To Improve Your Posture

Here are 13 tips which can improve your posture and keep it that way. :D I’ve tried all of them (except #13, since I don’t have back problems) and they work great in maintaining a good posture for me :D
  1. Identify your key motivation for having a good posture: Why do you want a good posture? Is it to improve your breathing? To boost others’ perception of you? Feel more confident about yourself? To avoid health problems? Be clear on your underlying desire so you can remind yourself of it whenever you feel lazy to do anything about your posture.
  2. Pretend your body is held by a string: This is an analogy I read somewhere before which I find helpful. It might sound weird, but it’s pretty effective. Pretend that your spine and head is held up by a string from the ceiling all the time. If you are lying down, pretend the string is held in a direction parallel to the ground. Focus on keeping your spine and head aligned with the string while relaxing other parts of your body. Usually people end up tensing all other parts of their body when trying to keep a right posture. What this does is it keeps you focused on keeping your back straight and loosening your other muscles.
  3. Set a reminder to check in on your posture: Many of us may have the intention to keep a good posture, but we usually forget about it after like 5 minutes! A reminder in the form of a post-it note, item in your calendar, alarm, etc definitely helps. The frequency is up to you, from once a day to as frequent as every 15 minutes. With sufficient reminders, you will start kicking into a good posture naturally soon.
  4. Get a head, shoulder and back massage: If you have always been in a bad posture, you will find that it’s hard to change your posture due to the hardening of your joints. I found that getting a massage loosens up my joints, which makes it easier for me to get into a better posture afterward.
  5. Eliminate bad habits that cultivate bad postures: This includes watching TV/reading while lying down, working under dim light (which results in slouching), sleeping on your stomach (apparently 7% of people do that!).
  6. Get a good quality chair: A good chair will be one that has a sufficiently firm and dense cushion with back support. For me, I prefer the back of the chair to run up to at least my shoulders so I can place them against it.
  7. Place your butt at the innermost edge of the chair: This seemingly benign tip actually helps set the right base for your posture. Many people have bad postures because they place their butt on the middle or towards the end of the chair. This causes them to lean/slouch forward and hunch since there is no support behind their backs to press against.
  8. Get a back cushion: This was pretty effective for me when I first started improving my posture. Buy a seat cushion and put it at the back of your chair. Whenever you sit, make sure your back is wedging the cushion against the chair. Whenever you lean forward, the cushion will fall down, which will act as a reminder to shift back into your proper posture.
  9. Ground both your feet when standing or sitting. This means having both feet planted flat on the floor and not resting your weight on a particular foot, which is a very common habit. While sitting, try not to cross your legs. This helps to keep the upper part of our body straight.
  10. Invest in a good bed and pillow: Get a mattress that is firm and not too soft. The soft mattresses where you sink into may feel nice and comfy initially, but is not good for your back/posture. In the hotels I’ve stayed in before for my past business trips, some of the hotels had really soft mattresses and pillows which just left my back and neck aching in pain the next day!For your pillow, consider investing in an orthopedic pillow. There are quite a few different designs in the market now. The most common is contour pillows, which are pillows that arch and support your head – I have been using one since I was 17. Another type is the neck pillow, a horse shoe shape pillow which is great for traveling.
  11. Avoid carrying heavy items: Just the act of carrying heavy items is bad for our shoulders and back. Attempting to do so over an extended period of time gradually leads to hunched shoulders and backs. If you are a student, you probably do this every day with all the books for classes. For professionals, it might be your laptop and work materials which you have to lunge around to and fro. If it’s not possible to reduce the load of things you carry around, you can consider getting a trolley bag or roller bag – these are really convenient and are becoming common place.
  12. Engage in exercises which strengthen your back: These include pilates, yoga, exercise balls and simple stretching. If you do sit-ups or crunches, ensure you are using the right technique (click on the link for more details) – otherwise, you will end up hurting your back instead.
  13. Get a professional assessment: If you have an extremely bad posture and a history of back injuries or back aches, it will be good to visit a chiropractor or physical therapist for a professional assessment. He/she can advise you on how to better take care of your back

Thursday, September 8, 2011

De-Stress in 3 minutes or Less!

What is the single, most common problem that most dieters face when trying to lose weight? Will power? Nah. Temptation? Sometimes. Emotional eating? Bingo! That’s why it takes so much more than good intentions and information about nutrition and exercise to be successful. The ability to manage difficult situations and feelings effectively—without turning to food and eating—is a necessary foundation for a successful weight loss plan and healthy lifestyle.

Fortunately, there are many proactive steps you can take to keep functioning on all your mental cylinders during tough times. These steps range widely from basic relaxation techniques to the development of a reliable support network. Other options include:
  • Keeping a food journal to help you identify your emotional eating triggers
  • Cultivating mental and emotional well-being through practices like meditation, mindfulness, massage, and yoga
  • Developing good problem solving skills
  • Turning to the Message Boards for help and support when you need it; offering help to others as a way to get your mind off your own troubles and gain a little perspective on things
But all of these things take time, and there are many instances when you need something you can do right now, to keep yourself grounded, focused and able to make good decisions. After all, you don’t always have time to take a walk, relax in a hot bath or call a friend to talk things over. That’s what we’ll be talking about here—a 3-minute trick for handling stressful situations in the moment.

Minute 1: Stay Grounded
Emotional eating happens when you lose your connection to your grounded self. Stress itself is not what makes you reach for something to eat. In fact, stress is often a good thing and your grounded self knows this! We need the physical stress of exercise to keep our bodies in good shape just as we need the stress of intellectual and emotional challenges to keep our minds healthy.

Nine times out of ten, what really leads to emotional eating is getting caught in a "mind storm" of worst-case scenarios, projections, misinterpretations, and all the emotional overreactions that come with these thoughts. This "storm" turns a manageable challenge into something that makes you feel helpless, overwhelmed, ashamed or afraid—and sends you to the kitchen to find something to stuff those extreme feelings. When you can stay grounded in the moment of stress, you have many more options.

Here are some simple ideas to keep you grounded when something (or someone) pushes your buttons and your feelings start to spiral out of control:
  • Take a few deep breaths. (You can also count to 10, if that helps.) If the stressful situation involves someone else, take a timeout and agree to continue the discussion in a few minutes.
  • Remind yourself where you are. Take a look around, noticing and naming the colors and shapes in the space around you.
  • Notice the physical sensations you are experiencing. Whether it's a sinking feeling, turmoil in your stomach, tension in your hands or jaw, restricted breathing, or heat on the back of your neck, try to name the feelings that go with the sensation. Is that sinking feeling fear, or dread? Is the heat a symptom of anger?
The idea here is to stay in your body and in the moment—with what’s real—instead of going inside your mind where all those unreal scenarios are just waiting to get spun out-of-control.

Minute 2: Reality Check
Once you’re calm enough to start thinking productively, put all those thoughts that are clamoring for attention inside your head through a quick reality check. Here are several very common thought patterns that have no place in reality. Do any of these apply to you?
  • All or nothing thinking
    Example: You go over your calorie limit or eat something on your “forbidden” list, and then decide to keep eating because you’ve already “blown it” for today. Reality: Weight loss is not a one-day event. If you stop overeating now, you’ll gain less and have less to re-lose later. That’s something to feel good about!
  • Reading your own thoughts into someone else’s words
    Example: Someone made a mildly critical or unsupportive remark to you, and you feel completely devastated. Reality: The more bothered you are by such remarks, the more likely it is that you are being overly critical of yourself. When you treat yourself with respect, what others say won’t matter nearly so much.
  • Either-Or thinking
    Example: You make a mistake or have a bad day and feel like a complete and hopeless failure. Reality: No one does well all the time. Mistakes are a necessary and valuable opportunity to learn—if you don’t waste them by getting down on yourself.
  • Taking care of other people’s business
    Example: Something is going badly for someone you care about, and you feel responsible, or pressured to fix it. Reality: People need to learn from their own problems. You aren’t doing anyone a favor by trying to fix things just to make yourself feel better.
Minute 3: Putting Things in Perspective
Most common problems that you face in everyday life are much easier to handle when you keep them in perspective and avoid making mountains out of molehills. Here are some questions you can ask yourself to make sure you aren’t in the mountain-making business:
  • How big a deal is this, anyway? If I knew I was going to die in a week, would this be something I would want to spend this minute of my remaining time on?
  • Will any bad things happen if I postpone thinking about this until I have more time to figure things out?
  • Do I have all the information I need to decide how to respond to this? Do I really know what’s going on here, or am I making assumptions? Am I worrying about things that might not even happen? What do I need to check out before taking action?
  • Is there anything I can do right now that will change or help this situation?
  • Am I trying to control something I can't, like what other people think, say, or do?
  • Have I really thought through this problem, and broken it down into manageable pieces I can handle one-at-a-time?
Use this approach whenever your thoughts or situations begin to feel overwhelming, and you'll quickly find that the mountains that seem impossible at first can quickly morph into what they really are—manageable hills that you DO have the ability to climb. All it takes is three little minutes of your time.