Breathing for Posture and Focus

Breathing for Posture and Focus
In terms of Ergonomics and the approach to work, two major concerns are
. The Posture in which work is done and
. The mental focus the person is able to place on the work

Correct posture includes not only posture of the trunk, but posture of each joint. The purpose of 'correct' posture is to enable the body to move most freely and to enable the muscles to function at their best. the position of most strength and stability is generally the position of least stress.

Focus affects the ability to handle the mental workload of cognitive tasks and attention to the physical tasks involved such that accidents, and errors of commision and ommission are avoided. Without 'correct' posture and adequate to maximal focus, good ergonomics are impossible. The more stressful or exacting the task, the more important these componets become.

Aging affects on Posture

As we get older, we begin to experience the effects of long term exposure to gravity. These show in wrinkles and in general posture. The spine begins to compress. During the day, we loose approximately 2 inches of height. During the night, if we sleep well, we regain most of the height - but there is incremental loss.

Gravity also has small effects on our ability to maintain a truly upright (ears above shoulders above hips above knees) posture through the day. The head is very heavy (between 8 and 12 pounds), and it is perched on a very small balance point. When the neck or trunk muscles tire, it tends to fall forward. When the head falls forward, the upper spine curves with it - and when one spinal curve changes, they all change. As we age, these postural changes tend to habituate and eventually become 'normal'.

Adding to this, from around the age of 35 or 40, vision begins to change. It becomes harder to see things that are in normal reading distance. If you work with books or computers, this may affect your posure as you lean forward or crane your neck in order to see more clearly. Because this happens over several years, most people don't notice it until they have already been stressed for years (for most, 5 years or more). Some habituation has taken place.

Maintaining good posture is a means of minimizing the effects of aging on our bodies(see articles on chairs or seating for ways to lessen this by adjusting the workstation).

Affects of Complete Breathing

Complete breathing is practiced by many exercise and mental focus groups. It is called Power Breathing or Reverse Breathing by martial artists, Conscious Breathing by stress counselors, Yoga instructors and Pilates instructors, and may go under many other names. All of these people recognize the value of the full, complete breath on physical and mental function.

Among all our physiological systems, breathing is activated by 2 different nervous systems - the voluntary and the involuntary. These reside in different parts of the brain. This duality lets us have some control over an essentially involuntary function.

The complete breath exercise can be practiced sitting upright, lying down flat, or standing upright. Your shoulders should be relaxed to the point that your your upper chest relaxes. The breath action is felt primarily in the lower half of your body and laterally (side of the rib cage). Here are the steps of the simpliest breath.

1. Get in an upright posture, or as close an approximation as you can ((ears, shoulders, hips and knees lined up). Your posture should be loose, not stiff.

2. Shoulders and chest should have minimal motion during this exercise.

3. Begin filling your lungs from the bottom up. Take as full a breath as you can.Hold for a count of 5.

4. Purse your lips and forcefully blow the air out in a steady stream, as if you were blowing through a straw. Push as much air as possible out of your lungs.

Repeat 5 times
Feel your posture and the changes that have occurred.

Be aware that you may get a little light headed (hyperventilation) if you haven't done this recently. After a few days, your body will accomodate.

Needless to say, you can't do this all the time. The exercise can be effective is done once or twice daily.

At work, just be aware of your breath and approximate the technique and the feel of the postural change as best you can. It's a good idea to set reminders on your calendar so that at least once an hour you are cued to remember your breathing.

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