The Importance of Awareness
As we continue to follow the Total Somatics’ Theme of “2020 Focus and Insight” for this year and beyond, today we will delve into the importance of paying attention. We will consider why noticing what is happening throughout your day can enhance or impede your health and wellbeing.
Every step you take, every move you make!
If you are a regular reader of my blogs you will know how I have covered the amazing functions of your mind and body over the years. I would like to bring your attention to an amazing part of your body which is very active as you read this blog. Have you noticed you have a favourite way you like to sit, read, watch tv, walk and stand? Did you know that these learned movements, postures and behaviour have been created by the vestibular and proprioceptive systems? Your vestibular system is responsible for providing information about motion, head position and spatial awareness.
It is pretty amazing because it also has a great deal of involvement with motor functions such as how you stabilise your head and body during movement plus maintain your balance and posture. The two key roles this system does for you is to help with your movement and maintain equilibrium. This is all happening in your inner ear and passing the information to your cerebellum and brainstem. From there, information is relayed to many areas such as your eye muscles and cerebral cortex. If you have ever had an inner ear infection, you know how quickly it disrupts your movement and equilibrium, creating vertigo in many cases.
The second amazing area we will consider is your proprioceptive system. As you will know from previous blogs, I have discussed the sensory receptors within your muscles. There are also receptors within your joints. Together they detect and process movements, speed, pressure, and variations in the position of your joints. Some people refer to proprioception as the sixth sense because it helps keep track of and also controls different regions of the body. This sixth sense works brilliantly when we are moving and holding a posture temporarily, however it is unable to provide information to tell us if the way we are moving or sitting is healthy or not. Over time due to habit and adaptation you will find slumping forward in front of a computer or loading weight on one leg can then become harmful and create a shopping list of health issues. This change in posture is happening subconsciously and begins with muscle spindles that are also know as stretch receptors. These amazing receptors are what I often refer to when I say “if you do an action or posture long enough, it becomes ‘the new normal.’” Without you realising, in the background your proprioceptive system has been adapting and causing certain muscles groups to tighten.
Focus and Insight Practice: Stop & notice
Stop and notice how you are sitting at this very moment. Which muscles are shorter? Is your head jutting forward to read this? If you do, there is a very good chance that your shoulders are rolled forward, your ribcage is depressed and your abdominal muscles are tight. Let us use this as your first Focus and Insight practice. How long can you “straighten yourself up” before you feel it is difficult to maintain? Does it feel it is more comfortable to slump forward again?
As you read this, notice your lower back. Does it feel tight? Do you feel you have a “sway back?” If you are seated, maybe your lower back is snuggled into your chair. All these changes in muscle tone have been created for many reasons, however because you regularly hold this posture, it has become your default or dominant pattern.
From this simple exercise and gaining insight in to your habits, can you see how the vestibular and proprioceptive systems adapt without you even knowing? As a result, you are unaware of the changes because they are so gradual. There are many times I will take a photo of a client’s posture and we will review it in our consultation. It is not uncommon to hear them say “I don’t look like that, do I? I thought I stood straight!” That is how subtle it is. That is when you begin suffering with discomfort or find that ‘niggly’ pain that you may have had from time to time begins to increase in frequency and duration. Pain is starting to intensify. It is at that point you realise something has to change.
One thing at a time
In order to complement your lifestyle and provide realistic take away skills from my blogs this year, I would like you to notice one thing each week to heighten your awareness to. When you focus on one area at a time, you allow your Reticular Activating System to filter and notice that particular behaviour, posture, movement or habit. When we fine tune this area of our brain, we can begin to reverse unhealthy habits for good ones.
Let us begin with your head position. When your head is sitting too far forward or too far back it affects muscles through your body. Let us try this for a moment.
Place your hand on your belly and spread your fingers so you can feel your ribcage. Jut your head forward and notice how the tension underneath our hands changes. Do you notice it gets tighter? If it didn’t get tighter, there is a good chance that your abdominal muscles are already tight. So with your hands still on your belly, could you lift your head up so it sits directly on top of your shoulders, rather than jutting forward? Did you notice a difference under your hands? Maybe you felt the front of your body open up and create more space. With the average human head weighing 5kg, it is no wonder that your head position will alter muscle tone and tension.
Now let us explore your head direction another way. Place your hands on your lower back muscles. This time, could you draw your chin in, to create a glamorous double chin?! Notice how that changes the level of tension in the back of your body. Which areas tighten or change for you?
For this final exploration, could you place your hands on your waist, so you can feel your waist muscles. Tilt your head to your right hand side. What do you notice in your waist muscles? Tilt your head to the left. What do you notice in your waist muscles on this side? Imagine habitually holding your head to one side, maybe when you are engrossed at the computer, leaning into the side you have your mouse. Can you see how muscles on one side of your body can change, creating hip, back, neck and shoulder problems?
This simple exercise is bringing your focus and awareness to your head position. By exploring these movements and postures, you are noticing how the proprioceptive and vestibular systems are working. You have started taking what has been a subconscious behaviour (a habit) to the conscious regions in your brain. This simple practice is developing mindfulness. Imagine how you could start to ease neck, shoulder and back tension, by becoming more aware of how you hold your head and how to change it?
Moving forward in your daily actions and habits is important for growth and development. When you gain greater insight into how you operate, you can begin to focus on creating a healthier lifestyle, helping you to become mindful of what you are doing throughout your day. When you are educated with knowledge and skills, you feel empowered with your health and wellbeing and this enhances your physical, emotional and mental health. That is why I created The Total Somatics Approach to Health & Wellness Online program. Within the online program, I provide videos, tutorials, audios, somatic movement classes and so much more to skill you up, so you feel educated and empowered. These skills and knowledge in turn will enhance the quality of your life. I am here if you ever want additional questions answered. My goal is to provide the skills and support to help you reduce pain, improve posture, increase mobility and develop mindfulness. When you have these areas of your health addressed, you can enjoy a good quality of life.
I look forward to teaching you these amazing skills and knowledge.
Heidi Hadley xx