Those of us who work at a desk in an office have it pretty soft. There is no heavy lifting, we don’t have to concern ourselves too much with the weather, and we have nice padded chairs to sit on.
And it’s killing us. We were never meant to sit in chairs all day; never meant to reach in front of us and tap out hundreds and thousands of words on a keyboard, with our shoulders rounded and our heads tipped forward.
For Nancy Sheehan, owner of Cranbury Therapeutic Massage (www.cranburymassage.com), the solution to problems caused by our modern lifestyle lies deep in the past. Yoga, she says, succeeds where advanced medical science cannot, and can repair rampant problems like carpal tunnel syndrome by treating more than just our wrists.
Sheehan will offer a free one-hour program, “Yoga for Computer Users,” on Thursday, December 2, at 6:30 p.m. at Cranbury Public Library. Call 609-655-1801.
Much has been said about repetitive stress injuries (RSI), the problems that develop over a long time because we make the same tiny (and seemingly innocuous) motions over and over. As they do in any machine, our parts wear out with use. But the upside is that our machines are self-repairing — if we know how to encourage the healing.
Like a stack of poker chips. Sitting at a desk and looking down at a keyboard throws off the body’s alignment. Tipping your head forward puts a strain on your neck’s many delicate bones by causing them to, in effect, reach out and hold up a bowling ball, Sheehan says. A human head typically weighs about 10 pounds, which the neck is designed to hold up, but it is designed to hold it up straight.
Chairs, on the other hand, keep our hips from doing the work to hold us in a seated position. The work falls to parts of the back and shoulders, and when combined with the misalignment of the head, the effect is something akin to an askance stack of poker chips. Eventually, misalignment will topple the chips, but for us it will crumple and compress our spinal bones in ways they were never intended to compress for long periods.
Finger tips. Posture affects more than just the neck, shoulders, and back. Bad posture, Sheehan says, can lead to problems in the hand.
The human body is built on a system that uses one group of muscles and bones to compensate for imbalance. This is called “postural distortion,” and over time it puts strain on the tissues and joints. Things can get especially problematic in the extremities. When you are compressed and distorted, she says, “You don’t get any blood flow to the extremities.” Consequently, the tissue does not get the blood it needs to repair itself.
The traditional response has been surgery or area-specific treatments that concentrate solely on the wrist or fingers. “Surgery almost never works,” Sheehan says. It does not take into account the rest of the body. It simply addresses one spot that has been put under duress and not that which put it there. It is a little like replacing the bucket beneath a leak and not actually fixing the leak.
RICE to MICE. It used to be the all-encompassing acronym for injury recovery — RICE, or rest, ice, compression, and elevation.
These days, says Sheehan, medicine is taking into account a basic of human evolution — we were designed to move around. RICE, she says, is giving way to MICE, replacing rest with movement. Movement allows the body to circulate blood, rid itself of waste buildup, and let tissue and tendons repair themselves. Just make sure you get a qualified person to guide you through the process.
What to do when you have a job. Giving your body time to heal is great if you have the time to spare. For the rest of us, the simple act of going to work must be tempered with some effort to keep degeneration and RSI at bay.
First on Sheehan’s list of things people at work need to do is get up and walk around. Also, stretch, but stretch correctly. Don’t reach too far or you could simply end up transferring your problem from one area of your body to another.
There also are hand-specific yoga exercises that help — gently pulling pack on each finger, then the group; making a fist, thumbs first; and stretching with your palms together.
But Sheehan cautions anyone to take the holistic approach. Like spot-reduction in exercise, spot-stretching is not as effective as an all-over program. She also cautions everyone to let a professional guide them.
Sheehan has been a professional body-worker for more than 20 years, having started yoga in high school in the 1970s.
She considers herself an all-around green living sort and earned her bachelor’s in environmental science from Alfred University in New York in 1979.
She became an integral yoga teacher in 1982 and became certified in herbal at the California School of Herbal Studies in 1985. In 1988 she graduated from the International School of Massage Therapy in San Francisco.
Sheehan also has traveled the world (82 countries and counting) and studied yoga where yoga was born — India. There she learned secrets and techniques from “all the greats” of the field. While there, she also volunteered with Mother Theresa.
After 15 years in the Bay Area and a year or so in India, she returned to New Jersey and opened Cranbury Therapeutic Massage in 1995. She did, however, make an extended stay in India in 2000.
Complementing her green lifestyle, she also works as an occasional staff member aboard Linblad Expedition cruises “to the Antarctic, the Arctic, and lots of places in between.” She leads eco-tours for the cruise line, which is the same one National Geographic uses.
Sheehan maintains a general approach to open classes like the one she has planned for December 2. Regardless of how the body got out of line, she says, the key is to repair postural distortion and promote normal tissue alignment.
“You can’t do much in an hour,” she says,”but I can introduce people to the blueprint, to be proactive and preventative. It’s all about prevention.”