For the majority of my working life, I've been on the computer. Among other positions, I've been a community manager, a marketing director, a professional editor, and, of course, a writer. Translation? I schlep my laptop with me everywhere and spend several hours of my life on the computer daily.
A few years ago, I started noticing I was short of breath. A lot. Given the fact that I'm only in my 30s, I found this concerning. It was never quite so bad that I'd rate it at the level of a panic attack (except for one notable exception at Burning Man), but still alarming.
Did I have some specialized medical condition? Was I developing an anxiety disorder? I knew it was worse when I was sleep-deprived, but that was about all I had in terms of observations about my "condition."
Fast forward to a few months ago, when it came up at an appointment with one of my Network Spinal Analysis chiropractors (Network is an advanced, specialized form of chiropractic that, among others, Tony Robbins swears by).
She had just watched me walk across the room to observe my gait, and noted that I had a classic "computer stance," with slightly hunched shoulders and hips tilted in a certain direction.
"Ever feel short of breath?" she asked, after making a note on her clipboard.
"Yes!" I exclaimed. "How did you know that?" I felt like she was some sort of kinesthesiological sleuth.
"It's not uncommon with people who spend the majority of their day arched over a computer," she replied.
Pleased to know I wasn't alone in the struggle, I was even more thrilled to hear that there was a relatively simple solution.
"I'm going to teach you an exercise you can do at home," she said. "You should do it a few times a day."
Anything, I thought. I'll do anything.
Basically, as she explained it, your pectoral muscles tighten when you spend too much time on your computer. This, in turn, constricts your lungs. Spend even just a few hours a day on the computer, and you're tightening up your pecs--leaving yourself vulnerable to shortness of breath.
This is a little bit how your hamstrings tighten up if you wear high heels for too long. As a tango dancer, I'm familiar with the effect--if I don't stretch out my hamstrings after hours of dancing, I'm setting myself up for injury.
The stretch itself is easy. Just stand facing a wall with your right arm out at your side, palm flat against the wall. Then rotate your hand up, so the palm faces up. Now turn your body all the way to the left. Take ten breaths in that position, then switch sides. (A short video in case you want to see the final stretch position.)
The closer you get to the wall, the more intense the stretch is. Be careful--you want to pace yourself in terms of going too far. The first few times I did the stretch, my pecs were really tight and even though I didn't feel like I'd gone too far at the time, I felt it the next day (like a strain). I took a few days off, then went back to it, not stretching quite as far. Then it was fine.
I cannot stress how much better I breathe now.
Within a week of doing the stretch daily (it takes about one minute, so you can do it several times a day), I felt like I could breathe all the way into my lungs--something that had been missing for me for years. I realized I'd been managing around the issue, and feeling pretty helpless in terms of how to address it.
There's almost nothing more terrifying than feeling like you can't get enough air. You're biologically wired to freak out if you feel like you can't get enough oxygen in you--because you will die without it.
If you're a manager or leader of a team that works primarily on computers, teach your people this exercise. Or do it right along with them, at the end of your morning stand-up.
It's a breath of fresh air.