Checking in on your desk-bound posture – with Amie Wang

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Does this look or feel familiar? Hunched shoulders, head forward, collapsed spine with rounded lower back. Up until 3 years ago, this position was my default. In fact I probably spent 10- 14 hours a day like this, for over a decade. I was totally unaware of my body and my posture.

How about you, how are you sitting right now?

In 2013, I pursued a long-time dream of becoming a Pilates instructor. I’d been practicing Pilates since 2001 and I fell in love with the exercise right away. I love how it requires a mental workout as well – training my brain to sense every part of my body and how each body part moved in isolation and with other parts. After I had my second child, my posture was terrible, despite having left my corporate office job. Pilates helped me build strength all around, not just in the core, and, more importantly, created an acute awareness of my body and what it’s doing in everyday life. Since embarking on this journey, I’ve discovered a passion for body awareness and movement, which I believe is an important aspect of our overall well-being.

I’m going to share a few quick tips for those whose work is mostly desk-bound and hope they help you build awareness and work towards a healthy posture.

1. Quick posture check – every 30 minutes

Set a timer and check your sitting position every 30 minutes when you’re working in front of a computer. Before making any changes, just take a few moments to sense how your body feels in that position. Is there any strain, tension, or soreness? Is it in the shoulders, lower back, or somewhere else in your body? What’s your core doing?

Now, take a deep inhale – get the air into the sides and back of your rib cage as much as you can. Pause. Exhale through pursed lips, as if blowing out a birthday candle, and simultaneously tense your abdominals and straighten your lower back. What do you notice? Yes! Your body will respond by lengthening from the lower back, where you’re starting to straighten, through the top of your head. Keep this posture and bring your shoulders down and back to open up your chest.

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Try to breath intentionally to keep this sitting posture for about 5 minutes or as long as you can manage.

2. Quick stretches – every hour

If you can, each hour take a break and stand up from your chair. If you only have a minute or two to spare and can’t leave your desk, you can do these stretches right in your chair (as long as the chair is stationary).

Shift your body to the edge of your chair and sit tall on your sit bones, lengthening your spine from tailbone through the top of your head. Legs are a little wider than hip distance apart. Heels are directly below the knees so that you can still see your toes in front of your knee.

Arch & Curl

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  1. Hands gently resting on your thighs.
  2. Inhale to open up the chest as your gaze moves upward. If your eyes are looking at the part of the ceiling directly above your head, then you’ve extended your neck too far. Imagine creating a nice arch from your tailbone through to the top of your head.
  3. Exhale through your mouth as you curl forward, pulling in your stomach and melting your chest in, stretching your spine, until your gaze is towards the floor between your legs.
  4. Repeat 5 times
  5. On the last repetition, from the curled position, inhale and stack your spine from the tailbone, one segment at a time, and back to the starting sitting position.

Spine Twist

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  1. With your hands resting gently on your thighs, take a deep inhale and lengthen your spine from tailbone through the top of your head.
  2. Exhale, twist to one side, allowing the same side hand to glide toward your body while the opposite side hand glides towards the knee. Hold for one inhale and exhale while pressing the opposite side hand into the inside of the knee to deepen the stretch. Be sure to initiate the movement from your torso.
  3. Inhale, return to center.
  4. Exhale, twist to the other side, just like in step 2.
  5. Inhale, return to center.
  6. Repeat 3-5 times on each side, alternating.

(A core challenge – try reversing the breath such that you twist as you inhale. With this breath pattern, you need to remember to engage your abdominals – pulling in your stomach – as you twist since it typically expands on the inhale)

If you use the Pomodoro Technique  to break up your work every 25 minutes, the quick posture check and two stretches here are perfect for that Pomodoro break before you settle back in for the next 25 minutes.

Amie is a mom of two energetic and life-loving boys who keep her busy. Her passion for body awareness and movement stems from her own desire to enjoy physical play with her young boys without pain. This means keeping fit and strong, mentally and physically. Pilates and complimentary movement exercises help her do just that. Amie is passionate about sharing her knowledge and practices with others, especially families. She is a certified STOTT PILATES® instructor and qualified to teach Zen•Ga™.

She holds Pilates classes, both one-on-one and group sessions, at Woolf Works on Mondays and caters from absolute beginners to experienced. Email her at amie@playitfitnow.com for more information.

Woolf Works’ Event: Creating Your Vision for 2015 with Aimee Barnes

We held another fantastic vision board workshop with Aimee Barnes of Tangram Fitness this Saturday. Eighteen men and women came together to focus on what they wanted from the year and Aimee took us through process-driven visualization and how that has helped her achieve a great deal. This means we were also focusing on the steps needed to get to those goals, not just the goal itself.

It was a great afternoon, four hours really flies when you are so deeply involved in the process! The tangibility of cutting and pasting the magazine pictures was very therapeutic and allowed the mind to wander. The gentle conversation amongst the group about goals and dreams and obstacles really helped to create a lovely ambience.

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The attendees all enjoyed free flow coffee and tea, vegetable sticks and hummus as well as some home cooked banana bread.

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Woolf Works is a women’s coworking space on Joo Chiat Rd, Singapore. We are situated in a beautiful old shophouse and have various options available for venue hire. With our attic workshop area ‘The Den’ and our ‘Main Space’, we can accommodate any gathering, from one-on-one coaching sessions and  intimate workshops, to classes with fifty people attending. Enquire at info@woolfworks.sg.

Woolf Works’ Event: Voice Coaching Workshop with Jessia Wootton of Expatise: Voice, Editorial and Production Services

A group of us spent a fabulous morning with Jessica on Thursday, learning about all the mistakes we make during public speaking and being introduced to a technique to help us combat those mistakes. Jessica is the only licensed teacher of the Hudson Voice Technique  in Singapore and she did a great 2 hour introductory workshop in The Den at Woolf Works. Her class was a sell out and we all went away very excited to get into our two week home study period. Thanks Jessica!

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The Hudson Voice Technique™ is a powerful, structured technique that has a permanent effect. It teaches you to use your voice powerfully, confidently and convincingly. For more information visit www.expatisesingapore.com and click on “Training”.

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Woolf Works is a women’s coworking space on Joo Chiat Rd, Singapore. We are situated in a beautiful old shophouse and have various options available for venue hire. With our attic workshop area ‘The Den’ and our ‘Main Space’, we can accommodate any gathering, from one-on-one coaching sessions and  intimate workshops, to classes with fifty people attending. Enquire at info@woolfworks.sg.

Herstory: Wangari Maathai, An Advocate of Democracy, Peace and the Environment

Political activist and environmentalist Wangari Maathai is an inspiring woman with an incredible dedication to all the worthy things: learning, family, her country and our planet.

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Image courtesy of takingrootfilm.com

Maathai was born in Kenya on April 1, 1940 to a Kikuyu (ethnic group) family. She had an excellent Catholic education, finishing top of her class, and was selected to be part on an educational program in the US in 1960.

Maathai received her B.S. Biology with a Minor in Chemistry degree in 1964 and completed a Master’s by 1966. After graduation she landed a research assistant position to a Zoology professor back home, at the University College of Nairobi.

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Young Maathi, image courtesy of http://www.telegraph.co.uk/

Maathai returned to Kenya only to find out that the position offered to her was given to another person, most likely due to tribal and gender bias. After two months of job searching she was offered another research assistant position at the University College of Nairobi’s Department of Veterinary Anatomy (School of Veterinary Medicine).

These were busy and productive times for Maathai: she met her future husband Mwangi Mathai, was involved in opening a general store where her sisters then worked, and she travelled to Germany to pursue a doctorate degree. Upon her return to Nairobi in 1969, she became an assistant lecturer at the University College of Nairobi, was married and became pregnant with their first child. Her husband ran for a Parliament seat but lost.

At this time, the founder of the program that allowed her to study abroad was assassinated and this event prompted President Kenyatta to end Kenya’s multi-party democracy. Her eldest son Waweru was born soon after this.

Maathai became the very first doctorate degree holder among Eastern African women in 1971 with a degree in veterinary anatomy, obtained from the University College of Nairobi. In the same year, her daughter Wanjira was also born. A third child, Muta, followed in 1974.

Apart from being a lecturer at the University, Maathai also actively campaigned for women to have equal benefits in the same school, with many of her demands seeing successful results after negotiations. She was also involved in many civic and sociopolitical organizations such as the Kenya Red Cross (serving as director in 1973), the Kenya Association of University Women (member), the Environment Liaison Center (eventually became the board chairman), and the National Council of Women of Kenya (member). Through her involvement in these associations, she came to see that much of Kenya’s problems were deeply rooted to environmental degradation.

With her husband finally winning a seat in Parliament in 1974, she was able to push for more environmental initiatives that resonated his stance of solving the unemployment problem. Through her work, she was even able to attend the first UN conference about human settlements in June 1976. At the conference, her proposal, the tree-planting “Green Belt Movement”, was born.

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January 1983 – The Voluntary Fund for the UN Decade for Women assisted the Green Belt Movement, image courtesy of http://www.theguardian.com/

Maathai separated from her husband in 1977, and he filed a divorce in 1979, claiming that she was too strong-minded and he was not able to control her. Accusations were filed later on, with him calling her “cruel” and accused her of adultery. Unfortunately, the judge ruled in his favor. Maathai even spent a few days in jail after a remark she had made about the judge being incompetent. All this resulted in her adding an extra ‘a’ to her surname to differentiate from Mathai, who had demanded she stop using his. Financial problems also arose because of the divorce, and she was left with no choice but to have her children live with her ex-husband as she was unable to bring them with her due to the nature of her work.

More problems arose in the sphere of work and politics, with Maathai losing several elections for the chairman position of the National Council of Women of Kenya because of the meddling of Kenyan President Daniel arap Moi. By the time she was finally elected chairman, support was withdrawn from the NCWK until it became nearly bankrupt. Still, she served as chairman until her retirement in 1987. She also tried to run for Parliament but more problems resulted in her being disqualified. As she had to resign from her job to run, she found herself evicted and unable to live in the university housing because she no longer worked at the university.

The later years showed her concentration on the Green Belt Movement, which partnered with international organizations. This resulted in good funding, and overall the Green Belt Movement was able to plant more than 30 million trees as well as provided nearly 30,000 women with decent livelihood. From there, she continued to do more active work in the sphere of environmental protection and women’s rights as her network grew to even greater international heights. Clashes with the government were many, with Maathai beaten and bloodied by government cohorts, an assassination list that included her name, and unjust jailing. She underwent a hunger strike after this, and further earned the ire of the President, who had forcibly removed her from the site (among others). The international community recognized Maathai and she received the Goldman Environmental prize (1991), and the Hunger Project’s Africa Prize for Leadership in London.

Kenya experienced a series of ethnic clashes in 1992, which prompted Maathai to even further push for democracy and peace in elections. With the government after her, she resorted to hiding from her detractors. She again continued to receive many awards citing the good she has done in the name of the environment and humanity. In the early 2000s, Maathai worked as a faculty member at Yale University, expanding on her Green Belt Movement project. Her return to Kenya in 2002 saw her winning a seat at Parliament under the National Rainbow Coalition. Because of her steadfast commitment and astounding work for the environment, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for contributing to “sustainable development, democracy, and peace”.

Her later life saw the following achievements: becoming the president of the Economic, Social and Cultural Council of Africa (2005), a goodwill ambassador for the protection of the Congo Basin Forest Ecosystem (2005), a flag bearer at the Winter Olympics (2006), an honorary doctorate from Connecticut College (2006), founder of the Nobel Women’s Initiative (2006), and being named as the first peace hero by PeaceByPeace.com (2009). She also served on the Association of European Parliaments with Africa’s Eminent Advisory Board until her death from ovarian cancer on September 25, 2011.

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Maathi receives a trophy awarded to her by the Kenya national human rights commission for her contribution towards humanity, image courtesy of DEMOSH of flickr.com

For all her efforts in saving the environment as well as advocating for peace and democracy, Wangari Maathai is indeed deserving of the overwhelming amount of accolades and awards she has received throughout her time as well as posthumously. Her efforts will be felt by later generations who will hopefully continue her legacy in caring for the earth and working for harmony among people.

 

Resources:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wangari_Maathai

http://www.greenbeltmovement.org/wangari-maathai/biography

http://www.biography.com/people/wangari-maathai-13704918#green-belt-movement

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/27/world/africa/wangari-maathai-nobel-peace-prize-laureate-dies-at-71.html?_r=0