2 Things to Keep at Your Desk For Better Posture

Take a second and look around your desk.  What do you see?  Work papers, check.  Stapler, check.  Coffee cup, check.  But! there are 2 more items that everyone should add: a ball and a resistance band.

No, we won’t use them to make a slingshot (although that would make for some office fun), they are going to help realign our posture!

 

Our human bodies are designed for a wide variety of movements.  Long ago our ancestors’ days were divided between running, walking, sitting on the ground and lying down. A good deal of time spent in each position.

 

Unfortunately, most of our waking hours are now spent sitting.  And sitting with poor posture to boot!  We drive, type at a desk, eat dinner or sit to unwind after the day is done and we do so in a position that will cripple us in the long run.  Our spines are flexed with discs compressed.  Our chests are caved in with shoulders rounding forward.  And our heads stick out like a chicken having a snack!

 

The muscles in the front of our body get short and tight, while the muscles in the upper back tend to get very weak with disuse.  Our neck muscles have to work extra hard to support our 10 lb heads in a suboptimal position.  No wonder we have so many aches, pains and back problems as adults!

 

Considering the amount of hours we spend in this position, it takes a concentrated effort to negate the detrimental effects and realign our posture.  Along with a well balanced strength training program there are a few small things we can do throughout the day to help.

 

This brings us to the 2 items that everyone should keep at their desk.
1) A ball (tennis, softball, lacrosse ball etc)
2) A resistance band

 

We will use the ball to help loosen up tight muscles.  For postural purposes we will focus on the lower back, upper back and chest.

 

With the resistance band we can do a few exercises to strengthen the small muscles in the upper back that help keep us in a healthy posture.  Band pull-aparts and external rotations are two that will help us in our battle against poor posture.
Check out the video below to see just how to use your posture-fixing tools.

Better Posture with a Ball and a Band

If you can take a short break twice a day to do 2 minutes of soft tissue work and 25-50 repetitions of each of the band exercises demonstrated in the video you’ll help realign your body. And before you know it, you’ll be feeling and looking better!

Mental and Physical Fitness

Part 1: What’s On My Mind

Take 1-2 min and just sit with your eyes closed.

What did you experience?

Most of us experience our mind chatting away about a hundred different things, one right after another.  Our minds are constantly going, all day, every day.  This mental chatter is so constant and all pervasive that we do not realize that this inner voice  is not the real us.
The mind is only a small part of consciousness.  But it’s the one that dominates our lives.

In physical training we often talk about ‘energy leaks’ in the body.  If someone does a squat and they are not in proper alignment, they lose or ‘leak’ energy that could be used more productively for the lift.
The constant mental chatter we experience is an INTERNAL energy leak.  We don’t realize that it’s happening because we’ve grown accustomed to it.  But the constant stream of thought drains us of energy.  It limits our creativity and often prevents us from being as happy as we could be.

We believe that we control our thoughts. But most of what we think is throughout the day is involuntary, automatic and largely repetitive. It is mental static that serves no real purpose.  Generally speaking, we don’t think, thinking happens to us (like digestion or circulation of blood).  We don’t realize that we are possessed by the mind.  And this mind is not our true self.
Cogito Ergo Sum.  ‘I think, therefore I am’ leads us to believe that the thoughts running through your head are the essence of you.  This is not true.  Most of what we think is the ego running wild.  When we quiet these constant thoughts, we discover the real “I”.

So what do we do?  How do we quiet this constant mental chatter and open ourselves up to more energy, greater focus, more creativity and inner calm?  We do it in the same way that we improve our physical fitness…we train it.

Now this training is not necessarily easy.  It is just as challenging as learning to play the piano or any physical training we could go through.  But the rewards are vast and life changing.  More creativity, more productivity, more joy.  Who wouldn’t want to set aside a few min a day for that?

Part 2: Take A Deep Breath

Here’s how we can start training to quiet the mind.  First we must find a link between the body and consciousness.  Breathing is perfect for this.  Even though we breath hundreds of times a day our breathing tends to get very disfunctional over time.  It becomes shallow and high in the chest.  Here’s a simple exercise to reset our breathing pattern to it’s natural state.

-Stand up nice and tall.
-Find your center by pointing to a place 3 finger widths below the navel.
-Inhale and expand from that point, filling your abdomen from bottom, to middle, to top.
-Exhale. Expelling the air from top, to middle to bottom.

Next we’ll try a simple 5 minute meditation.
-Sit erect with your spine like a string of pearls suspended from the top.
-Gently bring your focus to your breath.
-Inhale bottom, middle, top. Exhale top, middle, bottom.  The breath should feel long, slow and relaxed.
-If thoughts come into your mind, let them float away like clouds in the sky.  Without effort. Without judgement. And bring your focus back to your breathing.

What did you experience?  It’s likely that you find your mind wandering all over the place the first few times you try this.  That’s perfectly ok.  It takes some time and effort to quiet that mental chatter.  With a little persistence it will certainly happen.

Practice this meditation 5-10 min, twice a day to start (you can gradually increase over time).  It will change your life more than anything else you could do.

Part 3: Put It Into Action

So how do we relate this to our daily lives?  A good place to start is to incorporate the breathing awareness exercise into a few small activities.  Have some dirty dishes that need cleaning?  Try to turn off any potential distractions and focus on your breathing as you wash and dry the dishes.  Just like the sitting exercise, let any thoughts that arise pass through like clouds in the sky and bring your awareness back to the long, slow, deep breaths you are taking.
There are dozens of activities you can put on autopilot while you practice this.

As a trainer and an athlete I get to see how this can improve physical performance.  Quite often in training or on the playing field we will have an unnecessary mental failure before a physical failure.  Here’s an exercise to help get rid of some of the mental blocks that can hold us back.

Isometric squat test.
-Come into a low squat position.  Do your best to keep a neutral spine with the top of the thighs parallel to the ground.
-Hold this position as long as you possibly can.

There are two ways to finish the exercise.  If you stop by standing up, this means that you gave up mentally.  If you have the strength to stand up then you had the strength to hold the squat just a little longer.
But if you end the exercise by falling down when your muscles can no longer support you, then give yourself a high five!  You have broken through the mental barrier that says ‘I cant do this any longer’ and pushed yourself to your physical limits.

With a few minutes a day of this breathing and awareness practice we can unlock many of the hidden potentials that lay dormant within us.  Try it consistently for 30 days and let me know what you experience!

Achieving Peak Performance

No matter who we are or what we do, there are moments in our lives that we must rise to a special occasion and give our best performance in an activity.  Whether you’re an athlete getting ready for a big competition, a chef preparing an important dish,  a business person going into a high stakes meeting, or even going out with a smokin’ hot date, we all need to dig deep and give a transcendent performance at one time or another.
The trouble is, most of us have no idea what this state of peak performance is like, or how to get into it before the big event.  We step up to the plate with sweaty palms and butterflies in our stomachs.  Some even try to get psyched up by becoming angry, hyper or overly emotional to ready themselves.  But ultimately, this all leads to sub par performance.

What is Peak Performance?

“There’s nothing more deadly or more proficient than a happy fighter. Everybody believes the mean, and the surly fighter is the tough fighter but that’s not true. The guy who’s most relaxed and loves what he does, and is happy to be in there doing what he does (is the best fighter).”  -Mike Tyson

Anyone who performs at a consistently high level will tell you that a calm, clear mind and relaxed body will lead to a person’s best performance.  This is when we can let creativity flow through us with an uncluttered mind as our bodies move uninhibited by tension.  This is the state in which we all perform our best.

Getting Into State

Tension, both mental and physical,  is the enemy of peak performance.  So how do we get rid of this tension and anxiety?  One of the most effective ways is to create a simple routine that puts you in a clear, relaxed state.  For example, you could perform a routine of:
-5 min of deep breathing followed by
-a few minutes of a stretching sequence, then
-listen to a song that you enjoy.
It’s that simple!

Once you find a routine that works for you, it’s time to practice.  With consistent daily repetition, the physiological activities of the routine become connected to a clear state of mind and relaxed body. Each time you complete the routine you should feel great,  ready to face whatever is next in your day!   Once your routine has become a habit you can use it before going into a high pressure situation with the same result: a clear mind and relaxed body that’s capable of performing a the highest possible level.

Build Your Routine

So how do you go about building your routine?  Ideally it will consist of a few simple activities that you enjoy.  It could be doing cartwheels, punching a pillow, dancing a jig, or whatever you like!  I do strongly suggest that a deep breathing exercise is included.  It is the best way to bring the mind and body together which is essential in any high pressure situation.

It’s also a good idea to create a routine that you can take on the road.  Including equipment that is cumbersome to travel with can make it difficult to perform your routine if you’re away from home.  You’ll often need your routine the most while traveling, so keep it simple and portable.

How long should this routine be? It’s helpful to have a long version taking as much time as you like.  A 30-60 minute routine can be helpful to unwind after a long week or whenever you find yourself with a little free time. It is very important to have a short, condensed version of your routine that takes just a few minutes and can be used at a moment’s notice.

With consistent repetition this peak performance routine becomes your ‘ace in the hole’.  It’s the ideal tool to use whenever you need to perform your very best.  Put together a routine you enjoy, use it liberally, and you’ll find yourself going above and beyond when the game is on the line!

Be sure to check out this video on building your routine by my friend Coach Jim Shorts!

The Original Fitness Inspiration

When I was about 10 years old, I saw an infomercial for a fruit and vegetable juicer.  The man promoting it was a little 80 year old dynamo!  I’d never seen anyone with such energy and vitality.  His enthusiasm for health and fitness was palpable.  I soon found out that this was the one and only Jack Lalanne and he had been doing this for 60 years!

Lalanne 1

Nowadays fitness personalities are everywhere.  But in the early to mid 1900’s there was one man who was light years ahead of all the rest.  Jack, the Godfather of Fitness, was a pioneer of in the health and wellness industry.   In a time just after the industrial revolution where physical activity became an ever decreasing part of our daily lives and packaged/processed foods were becoming the norm, Jack Lalanne stood atop a proverbial mountain shouting the gospel of daily exercise and whole food nutrition.
Let’s take a look at the long illustrious life of this fitness legend…

In his early years, during the roaring 20’s, Jack was a self proclaimed sugar and junk food addict.  He attributes his severe behavior and health problems to his poor nutritional habits.  But that all changed one day when Jack was 15 years old.  He attended a nutrition lecture that changed the course of his life.  The speaker promised that if he would exercise and eat a proper diet he would regain good health.

After that day he was “born again” focusing on good nutrition and daily exercise.  This transition wasn’t without it’s challenges.  Much like the workplace culture of today, Lalanne felt that his healthy habits alienated him from his peers.

“I had to take my lunch alone to the football field to eat so no one would see me eat my raw veggies, whole bread, raisins and nuts. You don’t know the crap I went through.”

But Jack persevered.  In his early 20’s he opened one of the first health clubs in the nation, packing it with free weights as well as many cable and pulley machines that he invented himself!  And although doctors warned that lifting weights would give people heart attacks and take away their libido, Jack built a chain of health clubs to teach people the value of vigorous exercise.

His TV program, “The Jack Lalanne Show”  aired for 30 years!  From the 1950’s to the 1980’s he came to people’s living rooms encouraging them to “get out of your seat and onto your feet”.  Jack was a living example that age should not be an excuse to slow down. To prove this point, he orchestrated some amazing feats of strength and endurance that he would perform on his birthdays. A few of his many famous birthday feats include:

-Age 40 he swam from Alcatraz to San Francisco while handcuffed.

-Age 45 he completed 1,000 pushups and 1,000 chinups in 1 hour 22 min on live television.

-Age 60 he swam from Alcatraz to San Francisco while handcuffed, shackled and TOWING A 1,000 LB BOAT!

-Age 70 once again handcuffed and shackled, fidgeting currents he towed 70 boats with 70 people for 1.5 miles in Long Beach to the Queen Mary.

Read that last one again.  The man was 70 years old when he did this!

With all of the quick fix exercises and diet pills we are bombarded with today, Jack’s philosophy on lifelong health is like a breath of fresh air.  He was a real life example that age need not be an excuse to slow down.  And if I have a day where I don’t feel like breaking a sweat, I’ll remember this: the day before Jack Lalanne passed away at 96 years old he did his daily 2 hour workout.

lalanne2