Balance: New-Yorkitis

During my years as a massage therapist I have noticed a similar pattern of tension in virtually all of my clients – I’ve named it New Yorkitis. You may know it well, the uncomfortable tension in the neck and shoulder blade areas, combined with a dull ache in the lower back and hips – made worse after a long and stressful day at work.

The vast majority of physical tension that we experience comes from the postures that we hold. When the posture is balanced and the spine is aligned the body is perfectly supported by the skeletal system. But any time we deviate from this skeletal balance the muscles must work to hold the posture. Many of us have developed poor postural habits that have been ingrained into the body for years. Imagine doing bicep curls all day long, every day for a decade – of course the bicep muscle would be tired and painful. The same is true for our postural muscles when we deviate from the natural balance of our skeletal framework.

We hold these unbalanced postures for a number of reasons ranging from emotional trauma to injury to the basic patterns of our daily lives. New Yorkitis stems from a few postural habits that can easily be corrected with a little work and attention. The best solution is to develop a postural / physical awareness that integrates into our daily experience. We tend to loose ourselves in our work, conversations, and musings, and daily routines. Whenever we catch ourselves slouching or deviating from a balanced posture: breathe calmly and smoothly and remember the body. (more on this in – Balance: The Benefits of Physical Practice)

Following are several common postural habits that lead to physical tension:

Carrying a bag on one shoulder: causes us to shrug the shoulder and tense the related neck and shoulder muscles. Over time this creates painful tension in the upper shoulder and neck – made worse by the heavy bags many of us carry. Solution: Use a backpack

Talking on the phone: Similar to the bag example above, talking on the phone for long periods causes tension in the muscles of the neck and upper shoulder. This is made worse when the phone is held between the ear and shoulder. Solution: Use a headset – relax and breathe, remember the body.

Long Hours at the Computer: Working at the computer all day is the single greatest cause of postural tension faced by our culture. It is easy to get sucked into the work, hunching forward into the computer, jutting our heads forward, and maintaining prolonged tension in the shoulder while using the mouse. Day after day the postural habits related to computer use create great amounts of physical stress in the body. The key is to devote a portion of our awareness toward our bodies at all times. The arrow of attention is double pointed – not only does our attention flow out to the world, it simultaneously flows back along the same line to our bodies. It is a helpful to unite the experience of physical awareness with our breathing. Whenever we notice that the connection to our bodies has been lost – just breathe, feel the body and continue with the task at hand. (see Balance: The Benefits of Physical Practice for more information)

Standing on one leg: Many of us favor one leg when we stand. This leads to the build up of tension in the hip / low back on the side favored. In addition this causes related tension in the shoulder and the muscles of the spine in order to keep the torso balanced. Solution: stand equally on both feet.

Stress: The experience of stress magnifies all of the physical tension we feel and is often the root of many ailments including: anxiety, weight gain, and numerous diseases. When undergoing stress, the adrenal gland releases the chemical cortisol into the system. Cortisol is part of the fight or flight response that ensures that we have enough immediate energy to survive – i.e. when we are running from a tiger or fighting an enemy. Within our culture though, stress has become a part of our daily experience and the body is constantly flooded with cortisol. This chronic build up of cortisol is the root of much of the physical tension we experience. Solution: Unless running from a tiger, just relax, remember the body and breathe. Get a massage – massage is the best way to reduce cortisol levels in the body.

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