Smart Phones. Don’t let them slow you down.
I’m excited to share this blog with you, as I’ve been traveling the world with my surf board over the past several years and am now integrating my knowledge and experience of health and happiness in the big city of San Francisco!
It’s a sunny Sunday afternoon and I’m sitting in the windows of a local coffee shop on the busy street of Geary. Taking moments to pause from studying and pondering, I observe the passersby. Per the usual these days, the majority are entrenched in their phone enjoying conversation or with their head straight down in full blown text mode.
What’s the problem, you ask? What better way to pass the time walking from one place to the next by catching up on correspondences, right?
Well, besides the obvious hazard of walking through crosswalks with no attention toward oncoming traffic, the sad truth is that often in this day and time we are so caught up in our electronics that we forget to enjoy the beauty of our surroundings. At that moment, something else occurred to me, illuminating the very real risks to our bodies, alignment, and mobility that being caught up in smart phone land poses….
As a yoga teacher, health advocate, and athlete, I teach and practice alignment. I recently began a Yoga Therapeutics training with Harvey Deutch, a superb physical therapist and yoga teacher, at San Francisco’s Yoga Tree yoga studios. Harvey has taken his knowledge of anatomy, biomechanics, kinesiology, rehabilitation, and yoga, and blended them into a safe yoga class deemed “Yoga Therapeutics”.
One day in our training, a student and patient of Harvey’s joined us so that we could observe his body in movement and question him about the pain he was experiencing, his past injuries, and so on. As we had recently studied the optimal natural curvatures of the spine and various disorders and dysfunctions of the spine, upon this man’s entrance I immediately noticed the kyphosis of his thoracic spine (upper to mid back).
Kyphosis is a condition in which there is an excessive curvature of the spine, commonly referred to as hunchback. Kyphosis causes the appearance of poor posture and can cause back pain, chronic muscle fatigue, stiffness in the back, and a loss of mobility. This loss of mobility creates difficulty in our daily tasks (such as difficulty getting up from a chair, or out of bed), and may cause the loss of balance or a feeling of being “off-balance”, which increases the risk of falls and injury. As it becomes more extreme, it also limits the amount of space in the chest due to the excessive curvature of the back, and thus the compression of the front body, which can create difficulty in breathing. Severe Kyphosis is even associated with diseases like osteoporosis and scoliosis.
So why do I mention the excessive amount of smart phone use and subsequently the condition of kyphosis in the spine? Because as I observed those passersby in the window, nearly EVERYONE I saw exhibited signs of kyphosis! Even those not staring down at their phones and walking normally displayed a forward head. While there are plenty of other daily activities we partake in that also contribute to this forward head posture, i.e., staring at a computer, driving, slumping in your chair, and so on, none of these activities have us looking straight down like staring down at our phones in our hands (therefore it is safe to assume that texting has a greater impact on our spinal health than most of our daily tasks!
In my feeling of shock at the real risk this poses for longterm effects on our health, I was inspired to write this little article in hopes to bring awareness to the issue, and to provide some solutions for reducing, and even reversing the effects of kyphosis on the body. Most fortunately, yoga is a great way to realign our spines into a proper curvature!! Below is a therapeutic exercise, as well as a few asanas that can be practiced alone, or integrated into a full yoga practice to rediscover the feeling of optimal spinal alignment.
The goal in this exercise is to counteract the kyphosis, with the help of a bolster or a rolled up towel, and regain a healthy curve in the spine. We can do this by reopening the front body. When we are in a kyphotic state, the front body becomes compressed, and the muscles shorten. To open and lengthen the muscles of the front body, lie on your back on the floor, knees bent with the soles of your feet on the floor and hips’ distance apart, and place your bolster or a rolled blanket under the mid-back, just below the shoulder blades but not as low as the lower ribs.Open your arms to the sides, creating a 90-degree angle at the elbows. Keep your knees bent so that the lower back doesn’t overarch. So long as you don’t feel pain, or pinching in the spine, stay in this supported backbend for two to five minutes and breathe normally. When you are ready to come out of the posture, gently hug your knees into your chest and roll over off of the bolster and onto your right side. Stay there for just a moment to allow the body to recalibrate, then slowly push yourself back up to a seated position.
It is equally important to strengthen the back body after stretching the front body. Salabhasana (Locust Pose) is a simple exercise that strengthens the erector spinae, the muscles that hold us upright. Lie face down on the floor with your arms by your sides.Press your toes into the floor, engage your belly muscles (think about pulling your belly button into your spine and then upward towards your heart, this will engage your core) and lift your chest three to four inches from the floor. Keep your pubic bone pressed into the floor to protect your lower back from overarching. Protect your neck from hyperextension by keeping your gaze on the floor just ahead of you rather than on the wall in front of you. Hold the pose for several seconds then release the entire body back to the floor. Work towards holding yourself in Salabhasana pose for 30 seconds and repeat it three or four times.
Now for the simple, yet highly effective pose to help integrate your awareness of your alignment back into your body and into your daily routine. Stand in Tadasana (Mountain Pose), feel your legs extending down into the earth and your spine lengthening upward. Remember where the bolster/rolled blanket pressed into your mid-back? See if you can find that same feeling of opening in the chest, without allowing the ribcage to pop out (keep your core engaged) and lift up from there. Feel newfound space opening in the upper lobes of your lungs. Be sure to keep your shoulders and neck relaxed.
So while owning a smart phone has its’ obvious advantages, don’t allow it, ironically, to take away your mobility! We must bring great awareness to our posture in everything that we do daily so that we aren’t creating problems and pain for ourselves in the future.