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Habits: the unnoticed way to hold the body

Habits are these automatisms allowing us to accomplish something easily and without engaging a lot of attention. These actions have been learned through living experiences, learning, exercise or by repetitions.
We tend to distinguish them between positive, good habits and negatives, bad habits.
For example, we consider practicing physical exercises as a good habit. Smoking as a bad habit. Sleeping enough hours and eating healthy as positive habits. Going to bed late and eat junk food as negative habits.   The definition of a good or a bad habit is, among others factors, influenced by society, personal experiences, new fashions and new discoveries. Actually we could have a deeper discussion about what is really healthy and good for us or not. However, before we touch this topic, I would like to drive your attention on the fact that most of our automatisms are connected to our postures, the unnoticed way we hold our body: sitting, standing, walking, breathing. Habits that seem just normal and comfortable.

Are they really normal and comfortable?
Well, they are. But… Because they are automatic, we take these repetitive postures without being aware. Without being attentive. Being so used to do something automatically decreases our sensitivity. We only start to notice an automatic posture, when it creates discomfort or pain.

I guess the easiest example is the sitting position: sitting in front of a computer with the head protrudes forward and the mid back and shoulders rounded forward like if we want to dive into the screen. Because this is an automatism, we don’t notice it a lot. Or we may notice our posture for a short moment, but then the automatic habit takes over: it feels so normal to be in it and anyway our attention is attracted toward the screen. We just stop noticing it.
This automatic posture is challenged when we begin to feel painful tensions in the muscles of the shoulders or of the neck. Or suffering from headaches provoked by the lack of circulation. Or experiencing anxious feelings due the shallow breathing in the constricted chest.

These symptoms are an attempt of the body to increase our attention on our automatisms. Hence our body is asking to release the automatic posture, to bring in some changes.
How to prevent this situation? Or what to do when we start to feel pain and discomfort due to our posture?
The answers are to bring some changes by training our attention and become more aware of our automatic way to hold our body. To develop more awareness so to discover what is normally unnoticed, automatic and unconscious.

If you would like to challenge your automatisms, you can start by noticing one or two of your automatic habits, with the aim to become more aware of them.
The most common are:

  • The way you sit: with the head protrudes forward and the mid back and shoulders rounded forward. Or with one leg over the other. Or with the torso bend on the right or on the left.
  • The way you walk: the distance between the steps, the way to move hips and pelvis. The speed. Or the tendency of the knees to move inwards.
  • The way you breath: fast and shallow. Only in the chest or in the belly.
  • The way you stand: with the weight on one leg, leaning against something, with your arms crossed or hands intertwined.
  • The way you talk: starting a sentence or answering the phone or to a question always with the same words.

Notice how often you are in the automatic posture. Notice how does it feel. Then try to introduce, for a short time, a small change. For example:

  • to sit with a straight back. Or with the two feet on the ground. Or work in front the computer standing.
  • To walk by taking shorter or longer steps. Or moving more hips and pelvis (don’t worry if this feels very strange). Or trying to move your knees keeping them straight and parallel.
  • To breathe in a deeper way, for example inhaling counting until 4 and exhaling counting until 4.
  • To stand with the weight on both feet. Or with the feet more apart. Or without leaning. Or with the arms the long of the body and not in front of you.
  • To talk, or answering, with a different sentence.

I will continue this reflection in the next article. Contact me if you have questions or remarks. I will be very happy to answer you.

Picture taken in Val Mustair

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