Archive for December, 2010

When most of us think of posture, we recall memories of our parents, grandparents, and other caretakers chiding us to “sit up straight” and “stand up tall”.  If only they had told us all the reasons why, we might have actually listened!  The sad fact is many of us have bad posture.  Blame it on all the work and traveling that is done sitting down hunched over a desk or in front of a wheel.

As it turns out, posture is a big deal, bigger than I ever realized before I began researching this post.  It effects not only whether we will suffer from back and neck pain, but also our circulatory system, our blood pressure, our lungs, our digestive system, our endocrine (hormone) system, our energy levels, and even our thoughts, our confidence, and how others perceive us.  Let’s take these all one by one:

Circulatory System: Hunching over a computer or other bad posturing can restrict blood flow to the back of the head which can cause tension headaches or worse.

Blood Pressure: A study published in the August 2007 issue of “The Journal of Neuroscience” suggests that strain in the neck muscles (from hunching over your desk for instance) may contribute to higher blood pressure, as this type of strain can trigger brain cells to raise blood pressure.

Lungs: When hunched over your lungs are physically unable to take a full breath.  This can also contribute to raised stress levels, as deep breathing helps create relaxation while shallow breathing contributes to feeling stressed.  It has also been suggested that if a spine is out of alignment, it will cause a misalignment of the rib cage, which in turn will put undue pressure on both the lungs and the heart.

Digestive System: The bulk of our digestive system is located in our torso area.  When we are hunched over, we sort of crush and squeeze these digestive organs, thus hindering digestion.  Here is an experiment that can help you understand this in a visceral way.  During the holidays, after you have eaten that too large meal, try getting up and going for a short walk directly after, being sure to keep good posture the whole time.  Notice how your body feels.  Then, next time you eat a similarly large meal, force yourself to just sit there, hunched over, and notice how that makes your body feel.  Now, to be clear, the movement of walking does stimulate digestion, which gives that first experience an extra advantage, but there is something to be said for giving your digestive system the space in which to properly digest.

Endocrine (Hormone) System: Hormones play an important role in the overall health of our body.  Because poor posture forces our muscles to work harder to keep us upright, this creates unnecessary physical stress on our musculoskeletal structure, which in turn causes disruption to the release and concentration of stress hormones in the body, which then causes imbalances in the entire endocrine system.  (There is another component of how certain posturing affects our hormones, which I will touch upon later on.)

Energy Levels: Our energy levels are affected by bad posture (and conversely by good posture) because restricted airflow and extra stress on our muscles cause us to fatigue quicker and more easily.

Our Thoughts / Levels of Confidence / Other’s Perception: If you think of posture as how you occupy a space, you can easily begin to understand how it could affect what others think of you, as well as what you think of yourself.  Here’s an easy example:  If you were to walk in a room with your head down, shoulder’s hunched, fleetingly making eye contact with those you meet, you are going to perceive that experience through that posturing.  Likewise, the people you encounter will read you a certain way through that same posturing, thus causing them to treat you according to their perception of you, which will then reinforce the view your posturing initially gave you.  Conversely, if you were to walk into a room with your head high and your shoulders back, boldly making eye contact with all you meet, that experience will be the polar opposite, both for you and for others, and you will be treated differently as well.

Another compelling example of the power of posture has to do with the findings of a recent study.  Basically, it was found that if a person were to spend as little as 2 minutes striking certain power postures and poses (for example, standing with your arms stretched out wide, standing in front of a desk with your palms pressed on it, or reclining in a chair with your hands behind your head and your feet on the table), their testosterone levels would rise, and their cortisol levels would dip, leading to an optimal hormonal balance to help that person feel more powerful, confident, and able to take risks.

Another study found that if you sit up straight you are more likely to believe your thoughts.  I bet that if they did a similar study they would find that others would more likely believe your thoughts too.  Good posture displays confidence and openness, while poor posture tends to relay the opposite message.

Yoga is an entire discipline based on various postures and poses aimed at creating harmony, balance, and calm in our bodies and our lives.

All in all, good posture is much more than something your mom nagged you about as a kid.  How we hold our bodies and how we occupy the space around us has a profound affect on us physically, mentally and emotionally.  Changing your posture can literally change your body’s chemistry, its functioning, and its energy.  It can also change your perception and other’s perception of you.  It is much more powerful than most of us ever gave it credit for.  I don’t know about you, but I plan on calling my mom later today and thanking her for every time she told me to “Straighten up!”

Sources:  “The Power of Posture” Courier Post

The Effects of Bad Posture on Heart Health,

The Importance of Good Posture,

Poor Posture and Health,, October 5, 2009

Natural Remedies for PMS

OK, so before the men who read this blog completely check out, I’ll ask that you reconsider.  This post may help you to listen and to understand the women in your life a little better.

PMS has been around a lot longer than the name itself – pretty much since the beginning of the human race, and women in particular.  Experts say that the definitive cause of PMS is unknown, but many think it has something to do with the flux in hormones.  First, lets brush up on some of what happens during a typical menstrual cycle. From the onset of menstruation (when you get your period) until ovulation, your body is essentially ripening an egg.  It is the pre-ovulation stage, the first stage of the menstrual cycle.  Estrogen is a hormone made by your body throughout your entire menstrual cycle, but it peaks right around the time of ovulation, the 2nd and 3rd week respectively, and declines before you menstruate.  Once you ovulate, we move into the luteal phase.  During this phase your body also produces the hormone progesterone.  So, basically, PMS is the time when your body is experiencing a decline in estrogen, as well as the effects of progesterone.  Both these hormones affect certain neurotransmitters that influence mood, by the way.

Some of the common symptoms of PMS include breast swelling and tenderness, headache, cramps, nausea, abdominal bloating, depressed mood, irritability, fatigue, trouble sleeping, food cravings, swelling of the hands, ankles, and face, anger, increased emotional sensitivity, and anxiety, to name a few.  If you have these symptoms and they are severe or debilitating, you might be suffering from PMDD and should seek medical treatment from your gynecologist.  Interestingly, PMS symptoms are often most pronounced for women in their 30s and 40s, so unfortunately if you are PMS-free now, you may not always be.  Also, if you are in your 20s and you do have PMS, it may worsen as you get older.  All the more reason to do what you can now to lessen the symptoms.

There are some key dietary changes you can make that will help control your symptoms of PMS.  Calcium has been shown to reduce the severity of symptoms.  Supplementing with Vitamin E has also shown some effectiveness.  There is some evidence, although less, that supplementation of magnesium and Vitamin B6 can also alleviate symptoms.  (Both magnesium and B6 can have side effects if you consume too much, and magnesium should not be supplemented if you have heart or kidney disease without consulting your doctor first.)

On a whole, it is important to eat well.  Specifically it is helpful to reduce salt and sugar intake, as well as decrease the fat in your diet.  Reduction or elimination of caffeine is also helpful as it can aggravate anxiety, depression, and breast tenderness.  Keep your blood sugar level stable by choosing sturdy, whole grain, complex carbohydrates and by eating small, healthy meals throughout the day.  Keep your fiber intake up.  Adding flaxseed can be helpful for this as it contains both insoluble and soluble fiber.  It also contains plant estrogen, which may help when your body experiences that decline in estrogen.  Eat lots of vegetables and fruits, as well as omega-3 rich foods, as they will help with mood levels.

Exercise has also been shown to reduce PMS symptoms.  Exercise is a great stress reliever and mood-improver.  Stress is a big culprit for aggravating PMS symptoms, so it is advisable to adopt regular stress-relieving practices like meditation and yoga.  Some deep breathing at various times throughout the day can also help regulate stress.

As for herbal remedies, women have used evening primrose oil for quite some time to relieve PMS symptoms.  It is generally considered safe, but it is still recommended to check with your doctor before taking it regularly.  Another common herbal remedy is chaste berry, often brewed into teas.

As someone who experiences PMS every month, I can say that in my personal experience I have noticed that as my lifestyle got healthier over these past few years, my PMS symptoms have lessened.  I, myself, plan to try some of the other remedies I found in my research to see if they, too, can help me decrease my symptoms.  Having said that, there is something to be said for the natural cycles and rhythms of our bodies.  I think some of the stress caused by PMS, which then worsens PMS, is because we fight it.  We fight the days when we feel a little more down than usual, a little more sensitive, a little more tired.  If, after incorporating all or most of these remedies, you still find yourself experiencing some mild symptoms of PMS, then I would advise you to surrender to them.  If you fight them, it will just cause extra stress, which will then in turn make your PMS symptoms that much worse.  The menstrual cycle has its natural phases, just as the moon does.  It’s part of who we are as women.  (But, let me reiterate the importance of doing all you can to lessen the symptoms first, especially if you find that your PMS is disruptive in any way to your life or relationships.)

In conclusion, I will leave you with some food for thought.  When I came across this in my research, it sure opened my mind up to a new possibility.  The following is a quote from an article by Dr. Christiane Northrup, noted author and gynecologist.   “The luteal phase, from ovulation until the onset of menstruation, is when women are most in tune with their inner knowing and with what isn’t working in their lives…. In fact, it has been shown experimentally that the right hemisphere of the brain—the part associated with intuitive knowing—becomes more active premenstrually, while the left hemisphere becomes less active. Interestingly enough, communication between the two hemispheres may be increased as well.”[1] Now, doesn’t that put a whole new (and positive) spin on PMS?   Maybe if we stop thinking of PMS as the time of the month when we go a little crazy and instead start regarding it as a time where we may gain insight into our lives, it might then alter our experience of it?  Wouldn’t that be nice?

Sources: :  How To Use Flaxseed Oil to Treat PMS : PMS-Free Diet? What You Eat May Effect PMS : Natural Ways to Help with PMS : Natural Remedies for PMS : Premenstrual Syndrome

[1] Wisdom of the Menstrual Cycle by Dr. Christiane Northrup,

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