Let's play a quick game; then you can choose whether you'd like to read on or not. No pressure.
I want you to read the next few sentences while being aware of your body. Notice your shoulders; are they lifted and shrugged, or relaxed and dropped? Are your shoulder blades rounding up or drawing down? Observe your chin next, is it sticking out, or is it tucked to your chest? If it's sticking out, notice the back of your neck. As you notice these things, you might be making adjustments and trying to relax those parts of your body while elongating your neck. But now, are you clenching your jaw? Is your tongue at the roof of your mouth, or relaxing at the bottom?
Lastly, I want you to observe your breath. How big are your inhales and exhales right now? Do they stop at the throat or chest or stomach? You're probably craving a deep breath right now; go ahead and take it.
I call this exercise body awareness. Paying attention to these subtle things has helped me loosen up parts of my body that I didn't realize were stiffening or tensing. Here's a back story of how I got here.
When I was in my early 20's, I messed up my back pretty severely. I displaced three discs in my lower back, which pinched on my sciatic nerve, and it was a super challenging road to recovery. What made it more difficult was that I didn't take it seriously because I was young (and naive) enough to think I was invincible and it would heal on its own. It didn't. Additionally, my physical problems proved to impact other parts of my life negatively. These compounding effects took a toll on my health, and I had to start working proactively to improve my overall well-being. In the same way that investing in the stock market compounds over time, so does taking care of our health.
The philosophy I'm sharing has strong scientific backing, as I've been studying and understanding the connection between the brain, mind, and body for some time now. The concepts have less to do with injuries or working out, and more to do with posture and breathing. Our bodies are complex machines, and our output is dependent on our input. I'll be going in-depth on the connection between specific body movements and brain activity later.
For now, I want to give some examples of things a lot of us are proactively already doing to take better care of ourselves.
Standing desks have been a thing for a few years now. I know several people, including my wife, that use standing desks, so they're not sitting for extended periods. Next time you're using a standing desk, let some time pass, then start to observe your body. Are you rounding your upper back? Is your weight distributed evenly between both of your feet? Are you leaning your weight on one hip? Is your chin sticking out? The truth is, we're trying to improve our health by sitting less and standing more, which is excellent, but we also need to be aware of how we're standing.
Another example is working out. I remember when trying to lift heavy weights was a thing for me; I would try to bench as much as I could, but the problem was, I would be holding my breath while pushing the weights up, and my lower back would be arching off the bench. Even with yoga, I catch myself being guilty of similar things. Now, I've started to notice these things in my regular life as well - while driving, carrying grocery bags, cooking, watching TV, and obviously, using my phone.
In moments of anxiety or tension, whether realized or unrealized, we tend to neglect our breathing, and we tense up our shoulders, neck, and jaw. I came up with this game we just played by noticing my own body while I was writing this post. I caught myself being guilty of all of the above, whether it's shrugging my shoulders or straining my neck or clenching my jaw or holding my breath.
These positions negatively impact our spinal curve. We're also fighting gravity by lifting our shoulders. If our chin is sticking out, then we're impacting the curve of our neck, which also inhibits communication between the body and brain. Again, more specifics to come later, but hopefully, you can already see that these postures are not ideal.
The goal of body awareness is simply to observe our physical beings within space and to identify when we're tensing rather than being relaxed - in nearly any activity (even lying down!).
I'm continually applying myself to learn more about the body, breath, and brain connection with every passing day, and I'm excited to take you on this journey with me. I don't know all there is to know about this, and I'm not sure I ever will, but my goal is to learn and share whatever I can between these connections that have helped me improve my overall well-being. The truth is, we all have stressors, and our bodies become tense. Our responsibility to our health is to be aware of some of these moments and try to make whatever corrections/adjustments necessary.
The goal is to get 1% better every day. We might tense our bodies 100 times a day, so even if we catch and make one adjustment, we're compounding towards a healthier life.