“Text neck” is a new problem of the digital age, so much so that some experts are calling it an epidemic. Neck, head, or back pain can result from letting your head drop forward while texting, playing games, or otherwise being immersed in a smartphone or other electronic device, and extra strain on neck and back muscles can lead to rounded shoulders, making things even worse. But, thankfully, it isn’t inevitable.
“There’s nothing inherent in texting or working on a computer that makes it impossible for us to be healthy,” says Esther Gokhale, author of 8 Steps to a Pain-Free Back and creator of The Gokhale Method, a system of teaching people how to have good posture. “We have poor habits to begin with, and then we use those devices for hours and hours without moving, in a situation where we’re turning off our feedback loop from our body,” she says. “We don’t even know we’re uncomfortable.” But healthy posture is likely different from what your parents, gym teachers, and even fitness trainers taught.
A Princeton biochemistry grad who is also trained in yoga, dance, and acupuncture, Gokhale began to suffer from debilitating chronic back pain during her first pregnancy. Unable to get relief from all the possible treatments, including back surgery, she embarked on a crusade to solve the problem, spending years researching native cultures in Brazil, India, and other faraway places. And it worked. After healing her back by correcting her own posture, she has helped many others do the same.
Conventional Wisdom Is Wrong
Conventional theories about posture are also harmful, says Gokhale. We’re taught that the spine should have an S-shape, but human history begs to differ. In tribal cultures that never experience back pain, and in ancient Greek and Egyptian statues depicting ideal physiques, the spine has a J-shape. Babies and little kids, if left to their own devices, will naturally sit and stand this way.
“In the small of the back, it’s pretty flat,” says Gokhale, with the vertebrae stacked in a column. “There is no exaggerated lumbar curve like we have come to believe in modern times is normal,” she adds. In fact, lumbar supports in office chairs contribute to the problem by forcing your spine into an unnatural position.
The curve in the “J” is at the bottom of the spine, which naturally makes your rear end stick out a bit. Unfortunately, we’re often taught to tuck the bottom of our pelvis forward, like a 1920s flapper or a celebrity posing on the red carpet, creating a distortion. Advice to keep your “chin up,” “chest out,” and “shoulders back” reinforces an unnatural shape.
In addition to preventing pain or discomfort, a naturally J-shaped back has bonus benefits. It engages abdominal, butt, and back muscles as you move throughout the day, helping to keep them toned. “We don’t have to give up our devices,” says Gokhale. “We just have to learn to use them better.”
WHAT TO DO
To start restoring your natural posture, Gokhale recommends a few exercises. Each one is a gentle movement.
Lying Stretch:Before you go to sleep, lie on your bed with knees bent and prop up your upper body on your elbows. Dig your elbows into the mattress and downward toward your feet, letting your back slowly unroll until you’re lying flat. You should feel your back lengthening. Bonus: “You’ll wake up a little taller,” says Gokhale.
Sitting Stretch:Sit with your butt and back pressed against the back of a chair, with a folded towel or small cushion above the small of your back. While pressing against the towel or cushion, slowly slide your butt down and forward. You should feel a stretch in your back, much like the lying stretch.
Shoulder Rolls:While sitting or standing, keep your torso still and slowly rotate one shoulder: forward, up, and back, and let it relax; then rotate the other shoulder. Do this a few times and you should feel more relaxed and comfortable. It improves circulation all the way up and down your arms, and can help relieve carpal tunnel syndrome and tendonitis.
While using a phone or other device, it helps to sit up as you normally would and tilt your eyeballs downward, rather than craning your neck to look down.
For more posture tips and free online and in-person workshops, visit gokhalemethod.com.
aye, there’s the rub!
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