Category Archives for "Featured"

These VerticAlign blog posts contain information about different exercises and stretches that can assist with posture and alignment.  These particular posts FEATURE Zeena Dhalla’s favorite blog entries. The exercises featured aim to help reduce back pain, neck pain, hip pain and knee pain. Each movement can be used to help build core strength, overcome an anterior pelvic tilt (arched back), posterior pelvic tilt (flat back) or kyphosis (hunchback) posture.  Each exercise has a detailed description to help the reader understand exactly how to do it properly.  Exact form is ideal for doing each of these movements. It’s important for the client to know exactly what to do, and how to do it.   It’s also important to know what ORDER to do these movements in. Clients can use these descriptions to do workouts at home. Exercising at home is a powerful way to help overcome pain and feel better. Daily movement to improve posture will make you look slimmer, taller and leaner.

Why a Standing Desk is NOT the Solution

Once of my favorite media friendly phrases is, “Sitting is the new smoking”. It’s THE catch phrase used by health professionals to blame our sedentary, technology-driven lifestyle for our posture problems.

It’s a true phrase. Sitting makes us lazy. We hunch, we cross our legs, we slump over a computer because sitting makes us tired.

Of course, there are biomechanical challenges to sitting such as: de-activated glute (butt) muscles, weakness and tightness in the hip flexors, less dynamic tension in the calves, and more demand on the upper body to compensate for generalized hip weakness. 

So of course the marketplace saw an opportunity here… let’s make everyone STAND! Standing desks have become all the rage, charging companies thousands of dollars to upgrade each employee’s workstation at the expense of becoming ergonomically friendly.

I hear it ALMOST every day… are standing desks better?

Short answer…. YES.

Long answer… Not really.

My YES statement is based on the fact that YES, a standing desk can add value to the body by loading the hips better, removing the restriction on the glutes, and adding more blood flow throughout the system.

HOWEVER (and this is a big however), standing still for hours on end comes with its own problems. Upper body hunching is still prevalent at a standing desk. The position and placement of a keyboard can still cause neck and back pain (practice how easy it is to “hunch” even when you are standing). 

It’s common to thrust your hips forward when working at a standing desk causing “sway back”. This particular postural deviation can cause dysfunction in the shoulders, again, creating tension in the neck and upper back. Here is an image of me in sway back while working at my standing desk:

So wait, what is the solution to the problem if standing desks only resolve part of the problem?

This is a huge question. One that is hard to answer, because at the end of the day there is no perfect solution to the fact that your job, your lifestyle, and your technology has contributed to this need to be physically STILL and staring at a computer screen. At the end of the day, the problem here is that our bodies were designed for LOAD and DEMAND to be placed on them on a regular basis.

We were designed to squat, bend, lift, walk, climb, push, pull, and carry our food, our children, our dwelling. We were designed for manual labor. 

So what happens now that our everyday life no longer matches how our bodies were designed? Clearly there is a disparity that is causing unprecedented levels of musculoskeletal pain and dysfunction… how do we resolve this? 

Here are some ideas:

  • Go ahead and invest in a sit/stand desk and alternate throughout the day. This way the body gets varying different demands throughout the day and you’re not SITTING or STANDING for extended periods of time at any given moment.
  • Get movement throughout your day that activates the proper muscles in the posterior (back) side of the body. Make a habit of walking up and down the stairs and doing posture type exercises in breaks throughout your day. VerticAlign offers an amazing program with our “10 Minute Daily Desk Pain Solution” which takes the guesswork out of which exercises to do and gives you the accountability of a daily coach to assist you.
  • When sitting, use a chair such as a ball chair or this ErgoErgo chair to help get more movement into your sitting time.
  • Exercise daily. Don’t just run or walk or climb or bike. Try to integrate posture-friendly exercises that involve multiplanar, multi joint activities and exercises that engage the posterior chain of the body (calves, hamstrings, glutes, calves). VerticAlign can assist with this by creating a daily posture therapy menu for you to do on your own. 

It takes work and commitment to fight the disparity between what our bodies were designed to do and what our bodies are required to do daily. Sitting or standing stationary should be considered a “sport”, which takes daily “cross training” to help us stay healthy within this sporting activity. 

All the fancy equipment (standing desks, posture braces) in the world cannot take the place of  a strong, aligned body that responds properly to physical load and demand on a daily basis. 

Comment below as I would love to hear YOUR experience with a standing desk and how it’s helped or hurt you. 

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last year

How to Boost Weight Loss Using Powerful Posture

You’ve heard that the combination of diet and exercise will help you to shed those unwanted pounds; but how about good posture? When mom was nagging you to sit up straight, was she positively impacting your ability to maintain your youthful figure?

As a Certified Posture Specialist, I study the positive effects of biomechanically correct  posture and how it affects the way the body feels. Neck pain, back pain and knee pain are all reduced with proper alignment building exercises. My life’s work is teaching clients to improve their poor posture from sitting all day long by stretching their anterior muscles, and strengthening their posterior muscles.

Adding posture building exercises to your daily life can add muscle mass, which in turn can assist with weight loss, but research has now shown that holding powerful posture positions, can influence your hormones to make you a fat burning machine.

The scientific link begins with the work of Harvard based Social Psychologist Amy Cuddy, whose 2012 Ted Talk became one of the most widely viewed talks in history. In her talk, she reported results from her 2010 study that links holding a powerful poses (hands on hips, chest high) with higher levels of testosterone and lower levels of cortisol. The foundation of this theory is supported by a previous study conducted in 2004, of participants who held a yoga “cobra pose” (aggressive back extension posture demonstrated here) and took blood tests before and after the pose. This study showed an increase in testosterone by 16% and a decrease in cortisol by 11%.

Now we know the link between holding your body in a posture positive position, and the effect on these two important  hormones, testosterone and cortisol.  Let’s now analyze how these important hormones can affect your ability to lose weight.

Testosterone is a hormone that has been shown to increase muscles mass. Since the hormone is clearly more predominant in men, it’s the reason why men tend to bulk up and slim down way faster than women. This 2014 review links testosterone therapy with weight loss and a lowering of their body mass index.

Cortisol is a hormone that is released by the body when there is external stress. This study conducted in 1994 indicates that women with a higher waist to hip ration (or more abdominal fat) had higher levels of cortisol in their salivary glands. The study links the presence of cortisol, with body fat distribution.

So, with this empirical evidence, we can link posture based exercises and holding powerful posture positions, to hormonally making it easier to lose weight.

In addition to the scientific research, let’s also take a look at the common sense evidence behind standing taller and improving your posture. When we slouch, we shorten the distance from our shoulders to our hips, thereby compressing the fat tissue into a smaller space and forcing it to protrude out. If someone is holding an anterior tilt position in the pelvis (aka lordosis, or an excessively arched lower curvature in the back), this means the glutes stick out further than they should, giving them an appearance of being bigger.

Check out this before and after picture of a client, who spent 4 weeks doing daily posture based exercises, and who actually reported that his weight didn’t actually drop:

With the head properly aligned and the shoulder placement more pronounced backwards, the abdominal area pulls in and the appearance is that of a taller, fitter client.

Now that you’re convinced, what exercises should you be doing to impact the hormones, and improve your posture?

The scientific research in this arena all point to “holding” these positions for lengths of time. Here is a 7 minute daily workout routine of 7 different exercises.  All of these exercises are designed to open the body into powerful postures, and each one is held for one minute .

Also included in this 7 minute routine, are exercises or stretches (both are included) that open up the posterior muscles that need work as a result of sitting all day long, and stretching the anterior muscles that end up tight from rounding forward. For detailed descriptions of exactly how to do each exercise and picture demonstrations, visit here.

  1. Chest Stretch on a Roller- one of the surefire, best feeling exercises around! This position opens the chest, stretches the super tight pectorals, and literally opens the heart to the universe. Most people need to do this stretch daily from a biomechanics perspective (their pectorals are tight). In keeping with the powerful posture hormone boosting theory, this position opens your body up easily and completely. Don’t have a roller? Try a large stability ball or a pillow to elevate the body so the arms fall lower than the torso for the ultimate stretch. 
  2. Basic Back Extension– a safer and easier to do correctly version of the Yoga cobra.  The basic back extension exercise involves opening the chest and strengthening the middle back muscles. Different from the cobra, it places less stress on the lumbar spine, which is probably not ready for extreme extension if you haven’t done posture exercise in a while.  Lift to the back extension position, and hold this position for 1 minute.
  3. Pelvic Curl– this is a common exercise seen in many core exercise programs., In this instance, holding the position at the top will maximize the chest expansion and hip extension element of this movement. The glutes will fire to bring strength to the posterior chain, and working these larger leg muscles also contributes to testosterone production. Lift to the top of the bridge like position, and hold for 1 minute.
  4. Tabletop Chest Opener– arguably the most difficult exercise of this series.  This one may take time to build up to 1 minute. It’s an extreme chest opening and works the posterior muscles heavily. When done properly, this is a mind blowing effective way to feel powerful in the chest opening stance.
  5. Deadlift with Raised Arms– this may not look like a deadlift since you’re not handling heavy weights in front of you, but the hip hinging element of the bend works the hamstrings, glutes and lower back the same way a weighted deadlift would work. The added element of the raised arms creates extra load on the back muscles, and an opening-up of the upper body simultaneously. Hold this position and pull your abs in, while feeling your whole back wake up.
  6. Wall Stand– this is a common posture strengthening exercise that is far more difficult to do than it seems.  Standing forward from the wall 4 to 6 inches maximizes the chances of success, and the higher the arms, the more difficult the hold. The goal is to get the head, upper back, mid back, glutes, and back of the whole arms against the wall for the whole minute.
  7. Doorway Hanging Chest Stretch- we finish with an amazing feel good stretch that you can do anytime, anywhere.  Learn forward, open up, and embrace the feeling of power in this finishing posture defining pose. Can you provide a picture for each poses? It would prevent people from doing it wrong, and likely prevent any injury.

This routine takes 7 minutes and highlights 7 exercises which place your body in 7 powerful positions to increase the hormone regulating, muscle building, and body lengthening power that exercise can contribute to your body changing goals.

Get this workout delivered to your inbox with detailed instructions and pictures on how to perform each exercise here. Remember, only 7 minutes a day!

Integrate powerful poses into your daily routine to maximize your efforts towards better posture, a stronger body, and a healthy body weight. As mom used to day… “sit up straight!”.

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a couple of years ago

Texting Neck: 4 Ways to Hold Your Phone and Avoid This Pain

Disc herniation. Pinched nerves.  Muscle spasms.  Carpal tunnel pain.  Am I scaring you?  I hope so, because seriously people, YOU DON’T WANT TO MESS WITH YOUR CERVICAL SPINE!

Ok I’ll stop yelling now…

“Texting neck” is the  name  for the new diagnosis that is plaguing people all over the world. Technology may be moving us forward, but it’s also hunching us forward as well. The chronic pain we’ve developed, as a result of hunching forward all day long, has become an epidemic of mass proportions. Forward head posture, which used to plague mostly the older generation, is now prevalent in 16 year old smart phone addicts.

Clearly stopping all smartphone usage is not an option.  So here are some practical ways you can still be on your phone, AND save your neck at the same time.  Here are the key points to think about when attempting to change your texting position (and reduce your pain):

  1. Keep the phone at eye level. This will help keep the cervical spine in a more neutral position.
  2. Minimize the amount that the arms are floating in front of the body.  This tends to engage the shoulder muscles which can engage the neck muscles.
  3. Find a place to rest your elbows.  In the examples below I use my hand, my ribs, my desk and my knees as possible options.

I’ve outlined each position and the key notes.  I’ve also recorded a video on this topic so you can see the demonstrations live. Note that in some cases, you can actually use this position as a way to strengthen your back muscles and engage some important postural muscles while you hold your phone.  This means you’re actually working out and texting at the same time! Well, kind of, it’s really more an isometric muscle activation exercise, but in the world of postural modification, these exercises are quite effective.  

Standing and texting:

This is the most difficult position to implement, but this position should help.

  1. Stand tall and roll your shoulders back and down.
  2. Place your left hand on your right rib cage.  Place your right elbow on top of your left hand to support your right arm.
  3. Use the right hand to view your phone and swipe with your thumb.
  4. Switch sides often to avoid overuse/fatigue.
  5. To type in this position, place your elbows on the bottom ribs so you can hold the phon
    e with both hands and type.

Desk work and texting:

  1. Sit tall in your desk chair and place your elbows on your desk.
  2. Hold your phone at eye level.
  3. Push down with your elbows into the desk, and engage your back muscles (under your underarms), while at the same time bring your shoulders down and away from your ears.

Sitting and texting:

  1. Move to the front of your desk or chair and lean forward with a flat back.  Place your
    elbows on top of your knees.
  2. Hold your phone at eye level.
  3. Push down with your elbows into your knees and engage your back muscles (under your underarms), while at the same time bring your shoulders down and away from your ears.

Floor sitting and texting:

  1. Push your butt up against a wall or headboard behind you.  Bend your
    knees in front of you and place your elbows on top of your knees.
  2. Hold your phone at eye level.
  3. Push down with your elbows into your knees and engage your back muscles (under your underarms), while at the same time bring your shoulders down and away from your ears.

These are simple changes you can make to your daily life that will minimize the negative effects of your phone usage.  If you find yourself forgetting and getting back to old habits, just correct yourself again.

Awareness is a key component of making changes, and being aware of the impact of all that “looking down” is the first step toward success and saving your cervical spine!.

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