Desk based? Five things you need to know about your body

Many of us have busy lives, maybe a sedentary office job, but when pain and stress strikes this can be challenging. Have you had to give up your passion due to pain or an injury? Running, playing football, gym classes, dancing…….etc.

If we could remind ourselves of 5 things instinctively we knew about our bodies as small children things could really transform. Unfortunately we may have been too young to even remember…. Here’s a reminder.

1. As toddlers you moved with great ease especially considering the size and weight of your head. *

Think about a time when you were much younger, maybe under 3 years old. You had a very large head in relation to your body size and it was nicely poised on top of your spine, you may have naturally been able to sit in a full squat or in this position with a nice open back. Go and take a look and see if you can find any pictures at that age. Have you changed? You didn’t worry about your body then, you just played and experimented.

Ask – What has happened between then and now. We all have a history of everything we have experienced, good and bad and this is reflected in our bodies.

If we are stressed we are probably over contracting and then as we go and exercise we are moving an over contracted body and this may lead to injury.

Learning about our natural design we can find freedom and ease in everything we do and may even get back to those activities we may have had to give up.

Maybe if our bodies worked well back then, if we change the way we look at things there is real possibility of getting some of that freedom back.

* 99.9% of individuals had this experience but not all.

2. The poise of the head on the spine directly affects your whole system, from your voice to your spine, back neck and shoulders, breathing and even heart function.

You may think that you never knew this. However when you were crawling as a baby and then as a toddler you experimented, you learnt that by releasing the neck and sending the head up you could get up from the floor, start to walk etc. (The head lead you into movement). If you want to see a video of this check out a recent post on Mark Claireaux Facebook page “Alexander Technique Central Brighton” of a toddler’s first steps.

Exercise – Pretend you are sitting at your computer, don’t try and sit up straight like you think you should. Imagine you’ve been there for an hour or so, peering into your computer screen. See how it feels.

Now ever so gently bring your head, especially the crown of your head further away from the ceiling. How does that a feel? Many people experience a little more discomfort in their neck or shoulders, pulling down in the front of the chest and even discomfort in their lower back. This will also affect breathing and the voice.

Now very gently and subtly choose not to bring your head away from the ceiling. Don’t push or force anything but allow your head to gently rise up to the ceiling. You could think of the top of your head as incredibly light like a big fluffy cloud dispersing on the whole ceiling. Does that feel different?

Some people report that they get a sense that their whole body comes with them, feeling a little better in the back, neck and shoulders and improving space in the chest and therefore breathing, a lightness. Your head lead you down, it can also lead you up with little or no effort.

3. Pain and discomfort is caused by chronic tightening and shortening of muscles.

Muscles have only one function – to lengthen or contract. If a muscle remains in a state of contraction and is not allowed to release into its full resting length it will become chronically tense and inflamed leading to pain and discomfort.

Looking back at the exercise at the computer, as you brought your head further down from the ceiling your neck contracted, also contracting your spine and even the front of you.

However as a toddler we released the neck, our whole body lengthened. (This is the natural response to gravity). A toddler might also decide it wants to sit and initially they may let their head topple backwards contracting the back of the neck. They plonk down with quite a force, so we did learn this too. Very quickly they find a way to sit without this ‘plonking’ down, they release their head away from their heels as they sit or squat.

If we can learn to release into activity like we did when we were toddlers we are very unlikely to hurt ourselves and we are teaching our muscles to lengthen in response to gravity rather than over contract. It is interesting to note that we over contract when we are in the stress or startle pattern.

4. Stop, Look and Listen –

Our parents usually taught us this so we could cross the road safely and not hurt ourselves. Again when we were toddlers we explored the world, colours etc and we used all our senses, we may have been much more present than we are now.

Exercise – Imagine you are sitting at your desk at 4.50pm on a Friday and you have a nice weekend planned, Yay!

Then imagine that you see out of the corner of your eye someone walking towards your desk. We say things like “My heart sank”. It could be a boss or an client and you know they are heading towards your desk and going to ask you to do something before you head off. You’re going to get stuck there with extra work and its going to ruin your whole weekend. What you may not realise is that you have become quite tight, maybe in your torso, your neck might of tightened, as well as arms and legs, you have contracted your whole muscular suit. In fact you have gone into the “Fight Flight” response ( The startle Reflex Pattern) without even realising it.

These responses to different situations may have become habitual and that might even lead to physical pain.

The good news is you can learn to Stop and notice this habitual reaction. Next time you could, breath out (Sigh) as opposed to holding your breath, you could think of softening the back of your neck so your head can gently rise up and see if you feel the same.

5. There is no need to “try”!

Many people these days try too hard to have good posture, but my question is “Did you have to try when you were 3 years old”. Most will answer “no as it was natural”. We just experimented with different possibilities.

Being bodily aware is half the battle. Most of us are unaware of how we react to the situations around us. We may also not completely understand our physical structure and how it works, I certainly didnt. Improving self-awareness and learning about the bodys natural design can lead to a huge transformation. You can learn to move in a way that doesnt hurt and get back to those activities you are truly passionate about with a different head on.

Getting clear on the architecture of the total mind-body-breathing mechanism can eliminate tension, freeing your body which is very empowering.

Note: I use the word Body in this blog but we are total system which includes your mind and your entire body. Any exercise regime or treatment method that doesnt address the total mind and body system may have it limits.


Mark Claireaux next workshop Self Care Skillsat Brighton Natural Health Centre is on Saturday February 25th.

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