When you work at your desk or computer for long hours, you know that tension and stress in your neck, shoulder or back can be an obstacle to a productive, feel-good day. Most of us go through our work day and don’t even notice how much stress and pain we’ve collected. We are unaware of our posture, how we are sitting, how much tension we are holding in our shoulders, how tight our necks are until it hurts too much. We wait until we are in pain before we take action to relieve it. Spending day after day with this kind of tension and stress can lead to chronic pain which can not only hinder your enjoyment of life and work but can eventually require medical attention.
Relief is now available. Sports author, Jack Heggie, has developed A Healthy Back — a series of specially developed exercises that gently and effectively increase the range of motion and flexibility of the spine, which relieves that tension and stress. They are designed to be done while sitting in a chair at home or work. No special clothing or equipment needed — just a few minutes and a chair. As a result, you look better, feel better and relax more fully.
Once you get to that point of it hurting too much a typical response is to address the pain with a pain stretching, reliever or eventually seeking help from a health care professional — which may be medical treatment, massage, a spinal adjustment, or some other intervention. Once the tension and pain are treated we feel better. But these measures most often provide temporary relief. If you take an aspirin it wares off; if you stretch it feels better but the stress quickly returns; if an intervention is made by a health professional — be it massage, a spinal adjustment, or stronger medication — you will tend to repeat those measures to continue to get relief from stress and pain. But we will continue to sit and move in the same ways we did before the treatment. Which simply re-creates the stress and pain.
“If you only treatment for pain is medication, then you’re not really dealing with the cause,” explains Dr. Bob Rountree of Helios Health Center in Boulder, Colorado. “A Healthy Back exercises address the source of the pain by naturally and easily re-educating your spine, joints, and muscles to move together more efficiently.” As a result, you release tension; your posture improves; you sit more comfortably; you move with greater ease — without effort!
According to Heggie, “We tend to move the same way over and over, only using a small percentage of our whole range of movement possibilities. If you work at your computer or desk for long hours and get tense, you’ll tend to repeat that pattern of tension hour after hour, day after day — which is a reason for chronic tension and pain. But you can change those patterns by doing A Healthy Back exercises. You can discover new, more efficient patterns of movement.”
Why is this? We tend to sit and move in habitual patterns. These habitual patterns were acquired over time without conscious intent. They developed outside our conscious awareness influenced in a number of ways — by modeling our parents’ or a significant others’ posture, emotions, activities, and injuries. These habits, unchanged, can lead to tension and pain and even physical problems such as scoliosis or a slipped disk.
Your posture is an automatic phenomenon. You don’t think your way into sitting better and be able to maintain that posture without continuing to think about it. The centers in the brain that run posture are not under your direct conscious control. You can’t make yourself sit up straight and do it efficiently because you are actually trying to use the voluntary muscles and nerves which are not designed to hold you in one position for a long time. The muscles and nerves that maintain your posture are involuntary and outside your conscious awareness and control. What you will discover as you do these exercises is that they engage the involuntary nerves and muscles and your posture begins to change, and you don’t have to think about it — it just happens.
You look at things hundreds or thousands of times a day — you sit in front of your computer and stare at the screen, you look ahead when you drive or walk, or you watch the television. Every time you look at something you are stiffening the muscles in your neck and shoulders without thinking about it. So if you sit for hours in front of your computer, you are sitting there stiffening the muscles in your neck and shoulders.
The idea behind these exercise is that we learn what we practice. If you work at your desk or computer in a posture that causes stress and pain, then you are practicing sitting in a chair causing yourself stress and pain. Or if you are pushing yourself to the maximum, and you sweat, strain and hurt yourself, then you get to be real good at sweating, straining and hurting yourself. But when you are learning, you will learn best by cultivating a feeling of ease. Which is why these exercises encourage slow, gentle movements. If you watch people who do almost anything well — especially in sports — you will see someone running very quickly or performing some kind of incredible feat yet the do it elegantly and easily.
A Healthy Back exercises address those habits of sitting and moving. These exercises have been specifically developed to address the underlying patterns of sitting and moving that we’ve acquired unconsciously. These exercises work naturally and gently to re-educate the way you move and sit.
In a two-week test study, ten people ranging in age from their mid-20’s to mid-60’s with neck, shoulder and back pain ranging from frequent tension to chronic pain used the program. The average reported drop in pain after doing just one exercise was 48%. Participants averaged 40% reduction in pain over the two week period. Some participants experienced as much as a 72% reduction in pain by the end of the two weeks.
A Healthy Back was originally conceived for people who work at computers and desks all day. “But we found that many other people benefit from the tapes as well,” says Al Wadleigh, executive producer. “Everyone from gardeners to golfers, business people to construction workers benefit from these exercises.”
The exercises can be done almost anywhere anytime. But we recommend taking short breaks while you work and doing a portion of each exercise. As a result, you work more comfortably and productively. You don’t get as tired, and you feel better throughout the day.
Sitting in a Chair Exercise
1) Sit in a firm chair. As you sit there, stick your feet way out in front on the floor. Notice what the rest of your body does when you stick your feet out. Without really thinking about it you will find that you are leaning back against the chair.
2) Now try pulling your feet in underneath the chair. You’ll find that you sit up and actually lean forward a little bit.
3) What you can see is there is a connection between the angle of the knee joint and the angle of the hip joint. They actually tend to reflect each other. If you stick your feet out so that the knee joint gets straighter, then you lean back, and the hip joint tends to straighten out. If you pull your feet in underneath the chair, so the knees are bent more than 90 degrees, then there’s a tendency to lean forward. What we can get out of that is that if we put our feet right under our knees so that the knees are at right angles, then there’s a tendency for the hips to be at a more or less right angle and that’s the foundation for good posture.
4) Pull your feet underneath your chair and try to sit in what feels like good posture. You’ll find that there’s a little effort required. It doesn’t feel quite right.
5) Straighten your knees and try to sit in what feels like good posture. You’ll feel like there is some effort required then to keep the hips right.
6) Now bend your knees at a right angle, then you tend to sit up straight.
Try A Healthy Back Lesson 1: Turning Left and Right
To do this lesson make sure you are sitting in a firm chair that does not swivel. Start your feet on the floor under your knees and sit toward the edge of the chair.