A day in the life of the modern human often includes constantly looking down at our phone/electronic devices and being at our desk in front of our computers. 8 out of 10 people can be found in a forward head posture most hours of the day. As a result, our head tilts forward and our thoracic spine develops a slight flexion which invariably creates weakness and stiffness in the postural muscles. Stiffness in the body, also creates stiffness in the mind—ultimately affecting our quality of life.
While looking down at your phone or device, for every inch of head tilt, the relative weight of the head over the body doubles. While our head weighs 8–10 pounds on an average, everytime you look down on your phone, the relative weight that your neck feels goes up to 60 pounds.
This just demonstrates the marvel of the spine, which is so flexible and strong at the same time. Now we know why the first cervical vertebrae is also called the Atlas, after the Greek Titan who carried the world on his shoulders.
Physical well-Being of the Spine
Joseph Pilates has been quoted as saying, “You are only as old as your spine.’’ If you are stiff at 30, you are old. If you are flexible at 60, you are young. The spine is literally an extension of your brain with multiple nerves coming out of it being protected with the vertebral column. It keeps the entire body together. Some aspects that can keep the spine healthy:
Good posture. If your posture is optimal while standing, sleeping or walking, you can breathe better, have improved digestion and circulation and move in an efficient way.
Good ergonomics. If your work requires you to stay in non-neutral positions for a long time, address these aspects with modifications. Stretching ligaments and tissues to their end range for a prolonged period of time can lead to poor joint protection and increased risk for injury.
Know your limitations. The body are very intuitive and self-healing. It will constantly give signals when pushed too far out of its comfort zone. As flexible as the spine is, it still has limitations; understanding and listening to your body goes a long way in keeping it healthy.
In the yoga tradition, it is said that our existence extends beyond the physical body to include our subtle body (the mind, memory, and ego) and the causal body (latent impressions). Where we feel pain or discomfort is the body, but where it is perceived is beyond the body.
Today, the mind-body relationship is no longer elusive. Numerous studies have proven the cause of physical imbalance or pain to be psychosomatic in origin. We know through studies that overthinking, emotional imbalance, and overall poor mental well-being easily taxes the physical body. Have you noticed increased stiffness and tightness in the neck and upper back when you are stressed or anxious? Ever notice your breath getting shallow when you are in pain, or have the tendency to hold the breath when in pain or discomfort?
In a fast paced world where stress and anxiety are common, these can take a toll on our physical and mental well-being. Art of Living Founder Sri Sri Ravi Shankar says, “Health is not just the absence of disease; it is the dynamic expression of life.”
According to the American Institute of Stress, one of the 50 ways stress can manifest in the body is neck ache, back pain, and muscle spasms. Stress is a normal response for the body, but when it becomes chronic and the body constantly stays in a ‘fight or flight’ mode, our muscles can get stiff and reaction times slow. Focusing on healthy coping mechanisms and proactively taking a step in dealing with the root cause of stress not only addresses current problems, but can also prevent a recurrence. A recent Yale study showed that breath-based meditation (SKY breathing) techniques significantly helped people in six areas, including reduction in depression, stress, and improved positive emotions.
Role of Ayurveda in Maintaining Health
To have a healthy life—free from diseases, pain, or discomfort—one needs to go to the root of everything and that is exactly what Ayurveda is all about. Ayurveda is a 5000-year-old science of life which addresses the root cause of any imbalance.
While most modern approaches are restorative in nature, Ayurveda has one stance in prevention—a key approach and the application of which goes beyond the physical body.
Ayurveda principles are based on the five elements: ether, air, fire, water, and earth. These elements work well in pairs—vata (ether and air), pitta (fire and water) and kapha (water and earth)—which is where we get doshas, or constitutions. Everyone has a unique elemental constitution, similar to how we think of genetic makeup in Western medicine.
What does Ayurveda recommend to Manage Pain or Discomfort?
Balance Vata. Balance Vata by keeping to a routine, getting enough sleep, avoiding exertion and with light, regular exercises like postural and strengthening exercises and nature walks.
Do not overexert. Ayurveda suggests you should only exercise up to 75% of your capacity. This allows for a balance of activity and rest.
Self-oil massage. Daily abhayanga (self-oil massage) plays an important role in keeping the joints lubricated and muscles healthy and free from toxins.
As a physical therapist and a meditation and breathwork expert, I firmly believe in taking care of our bodies inside out. In today’s fast paced world, one needs to slow down, pause, and engage in holistic ways to connect with the body and the mind to perform optimally. Why be anything else when you have the potential to be your best!!