Health In the Workplace Part 3
We are continuing our discussion on ensuring that our daily work rhythms improve our health rather than eroding it. Two of the most important variables that we can take control of are breathing and posture.
Your posture is critical. A large percentage of people I see who come in with neck pain, arm and hand numbness, tension headaches, migraines, shortness of breath, or panic episodes are actually experiencing the manifestation of poor posture and improper breathing.
One of the main reasons people come to me is because they’re short of breath. They can be a perfectly healthy individual working through their day, and the next thing they know, they can’t breathe. And then it happens over and over throughout that day or over the course of a few days. They’re concerned it’s their heart that they have lung disease, or something else that scary is going on. But in many cases it’s just an issue with the person periodically having a restricted form of breathing, and the body telling them it’s time to breathe properly. What actually has happened is a form of over-breathing followed by restricted breathing.
Proper breathing can be a part of your morning routine. “Proper breathing” happens when you take air in through the nose and into your belly (more so than your chest). When you breathe through your nose, you release nitric oxide, which is a vasodilator that improves blood flow to vital organs. Nasal breathing filters and humidifies air, and allows your immune system to survey the air you are breathing. Remember: through your nose and into your belly. It should be quiet and relaxed.
Almost everyone I see has improper breathing; they’ve developed a habit of sitting at a desk and breathing through their mouth and into their chest. What happens when you’re breathing through your mouth and into your chest? You’re not releasing nitric oxide, or humidifying and filtering the air. Secondarily, you’re constantly blowing out carbon dioxide, which is the signal to your brain of your respiratory status and drives the feeling of shortness of breath.
Improper breathing creates a low-level stress state in your body. When you’re in a stress-response state, you deactivate your higher mind and start to feel edgy, irritable, nervous, or emotional. You don’t know why, so you are apt to place blame elsewhere—your coworker, or the email you just received. You don’t know how to interpret the feeling, and it may all be due to not breathing properly.
It’s really, really important, and very calming to the body, that you begin to practice breathing through your nose and into your belly. Quietly and easily. Just monitoring your breath and feeling your breath. Stop and take note of your breathing pattern a couple of times each hour. Notice how you are breathing and then practice proper breathing for 2 minutes. This will retrain your non-conscious pattern of breathing.
It is very challenging to breathe properly if your posture is poor. If you are sitting at a desk with your shoulders rolled forward, your stomach pushing up against your diaphragm, and your neck rolled forward, it’s nearly impossible to breathe effectively. Being attentive to how you are holding your body while you sit, stand, talk, walk, and participate in other daily activities will improve your biomechanical health and set the foundation for proper breathing.
Do an assessment of your work areas and your home living spaces. If you are an employer or business owner, survey the work areas you’ve created for those in your organization. Begin to look at whether your organizational setup supports the proper use of the body. Does your workplace allow you, or those who work for you, to engage in their work station in a way that supports good biomechanical health? Does it allow for proper sitting, changing positions throughout the day, proper breathing, and overall good health?
Proper posture involves your entire body working according to its design. Having the ability to maintain proper posture will reduce neck strain, cervical disc disease, lumbar strain, hip issues, plantar fasciitis—the list goes on and on.
But good posture does take mindfulness and intentionality, and it takes everyone at your organization helping one another to understand its importance.
We could all be helping each other engineer our environments by taking the small investment of time to look at each particular person’s work area. An ergonomic specialist can provide the expertise needed to help set up a work environment so that it supports the biomechanical health of each individual.
It’s very important that we start looking at those environments, and how they help us or hinder our daily functions. Next, we will discuss movement and mindfulness in the workplace.
Check out my free 9-Week Nutrition Program based on my book Authentic Health.