Ive recently moved to London from a comparatively sleepy Australian city. I say comparatively because Melbourne has approximately 4million people compared to London’s 8.7million, spread out over a greater area. Once you get over the initially overwhelming volume of bodies cramming themselves together, in what can only be described as an urban battle for space on trains, on the streets, in cafes, well, basically everywhere. Its an ‘attack and defend’ experience in every aspect of existence. For me the yoga studio, gym and my apartment have brought the term ‘sanctuary’ into its own.
Living in London as a transplant, like any busy metropolis, requires some getting used to. The first few weeks I will freely admit I felt like i was swimming in people soup and it wasn’t pleasant. Now, 6 months in, I am still not a fan of the constant jostling about, but with a little stress inoculation to navigate the cavalcade of humans, their collective energy, insular focus, lets just say you tend to get on with it. Yes, I believe people get more self-enclosed the bigger and busier a city gets, more protective, more demanding, more arrogant and more fearful.
I find myself doing a very ’trainer-centric’ activity more and more. Perhaps because i have gone from driving my own car daily, to using the London tube system. I say ‘trainer-centric’, but this quirk relates to anyone that has studied movement and biomechanics. Indeed anyone that has an awareness of these aspects for their own training, body management or care. I learned very early on to analyse and problem solve peoples movement patterns/posture issues. Its a throw-back to being a dancer and a habit fostered through my personal training that comes in handy when idle and bored on a monotonous 30min train journey.
What have I discovered? Fear has a posture all its own. You can tell a lot about how a person lives, thinks and feels about themselves and their environment by looking at how they stand, sit and move. Body language experts have been telling us for years that you have seconds to make a great first impression. But are you aware of the signs and signals you are giving complete strangers every moving moment of your day?
A study from the University of San Francisco has shed some light on how walking with a slouched, despondent body posture can lead to feelings of depression or decreased energy. Luckily, walking in a more upright position can reverse those feelings. Professor of Health Education Erik Peper found that altering body posture to a more upright position improves mood and energy levels. “We tend to think the brain and body relationship goes one way. In fact, the passages go both ways,” Peper said. “When you choose to put your body in a different mode, it’s harder to drop into depression.”
For anyone that exercises regularly, you will be acutely aware of how much better you feeling after moving. You have increased mental clarity, great sense of wellbeing and feel physiologically ‘charged up’ too. Movement and posture shifts can either change your mental state from negative to positive or visa versa. The key is being aware of it, which from my London Tube travel observations, most people are not.
Pain in the neck
More than 80% of neck and back problems are the result of tight, achy muscles caused by years of bad posture. Smartphone use has had a major negative impact on the number of neck related issues, particularly tight ‘scalene’s’ and that nasty neck tendon the ‘sternocleidomastoid’. When you have spent too much time hunched over your computer or smartphone, that sucker will be the source of your pain and boy do you know about it when you get it treated.
A study from Columbia University and Harvard University argues that stress is increased by bad posture. The study showed that people who adopted powerful postures, open shoulders, and straight spines had a 20% increase in testosterone levels and a 25% decrease in cortisol level. Those who slouched had a 10% decrease in testosterone and a 15% increase in cortisol. What do all of these changes in hormones mean? High stress and greater fat storage around the gut, so bad posture contributes to making you fat.
A hunched posture (cue the ‘smartphone addict stance’) directly impacts how we breath. Yogis and meditation practices have long extolled the virtues of deep belly breathing as a means to calm the nervous system, increase immune system function, lower blood pressure and regulate the hormones (lowering stress hormones and increasing serotonin, dopamine and endorphins which are positive mood regulators). The shallow breathing and carbon dioxide circulation that shallow breathing causes flips all those positives on their head, placing stress on the system and taxing the heart. The result is a vicious cycle where stress prompts shallow breathing and in turn creates more stress on the body.
Interestingly enough a lot has been reported recently about the increase in depression cases amongst teenagers correlating to smartphone use, is it the phone itself or the posture adopted in using the devices? Ponder, ponder!
Poor posture can affect not only how confident you feel, but also how confident others see you. How often have you been in a new situation or meeting new people and you felt far from confident? Im sure we have all been there, what is the immediate response? Closing the body in and protecting your core (the vital organs). Here the old saying ‘fake it till you make it’ is so true and something that actors and dancers get taught very early on in stage craft. It does take awareness until it eventually habituates as your normal. Chin up, shoulders back, take a big deep breath and…GO!
So next time you are rushing to work on the tube, enjoying a brew at a cafe or even walking down the street, take a moment to reflect on those around you and their posture and movement patterns. How they walk; is it fast, even paced, or erratic tempered or perhaps more considered strides, do they stay their course and direction as others dodge them or are they constantly weaving out of others way? All these say so much about those around you and of course seeing these aspects in others brings greater awareness and understanding of our own internal states, external modalities and how we may be percieved.