(update: We no longer agree with the idea that your posture is bad for you…hey, science changes! But we are keeping this up here to prove that point)
Feel like you have a noose around your neck at the office? Feel like the stress is killing you? That might be exactly the message your sending yourself by nerve transmission. The neck is a complex structure that houses vulnerable and important components that act as the relay between the brain and the organs. While the dome of the scull protects the brain and its fluid within, and the ribs and spine protect the organs and the spinal cord, the neck is surprisingly vulnerable.
The majority of important structures are protected by bone, but 12 pairs of cranial nerves descend from the head and pass through the soft tissue of your neck and flow into your body. The longest of these, Cranial Nerve X or Vagus nerve controls most of your sympathetic nervous system. If you are not a science geek pull out that 8th grade biology and dust it off. The parasympathetic system controls much of your involuntary organ control.
So what exactly does that mean? Specifically what does that mean to you as you sit at your desk reading this??The majority of work these days seems to be computer work. The posture acquired from it is elevated shoulders, chin thrust forward as you scan your screen, eyes squinting, looking for mistakes. In this state, your breathing is naturally shallow as you concentrate, and you switch from a full breath to partial breath, leaving you in a state of chronic hyperventilation. If you were out doors and living wild, this same posture would have you hiding behind a rock, scanning the horizon for prey or enemies. Your body is saying “alert”, possibly danger is behind the next bush, but unless your empty Starbucks cup is out to get you, everything is fine. So why is your posture telling you this? Its all about the Vagus nerve baby. It’s Vagus.
Those anterior neck muscles that have tightened up ( scalenes and SCM) as you peer into the vast wilderness of your pintrest or tumbler screen, are compressing the Vagus nerve. The Vagus nerve in turn tells your breathing to accelerate, your digestion to stop, your metabolism to grind to a halt and your colon to freeze. You have officially entered the state of chronic panic that a lot of us are currently living in, which is the opposite of “rest and digest”. Living is this state is not normal, its meant to save your life not, be your life. Staying in it can lead to long term chronic problems as you can imagine. The short list includes, chronic headaches, dizziness, chronic fatigue, colon problems like ibs or constipation, weight gain, trouble concentrating, hot flushes, irregular heart beat, pain in your neck, and trouble swallowing with dry mouth. Sounds fun huh?
So what can you do? Well for one get up and move. Simply changing your posture has an effect. Try a post-it that reminds you to drop your shoulders, get some exercise, take a break, STRETCH! If you just can’t kick it, you might try getting a massage and let someone stretch it for you, often this is a great solution as you can fully relax, which breaks the cycle of stress. Someone who really knows what their doing as far as massage, can help you reactivate your scalenes as well. If you have a high intensity job, you might just have to commit to a program of your choosing as part of your ongoing health care. Yoga, massage, exercise, and acupuncture can all be beneficial….it does not matter which one you choose…just choose to take care of your self.
For more info there is a great Ted Talks by Amy Cuddly who talks about how posture is connected to your mental state. I have included the link http://www.ted.com/talks/amy_cuddy_your_body_language_shapes_who_you_are.html
If you want to go it alone, try this anterior neck stretch and some self massage:
Take your left hand and grab the bottom of your chair and hold on. Lean right, away from the hand that is holding your chair. (your body should now be tilted to one side, away from the anchored hand) put the right hand on top of your head and gently pull it away from the left shoulder. Hold for 30 seconds By raising your chin very slowly and gently you can access the front portion of your neck.