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 Loosen Up Your Belt and Everything Else 
The following is one in an ongoing series of columns entitled Simply Well by . View all columns in series
Imagine trying to blow up a balloon that is knotted in the middle, and you'll have some idea of the stress created in your body when tight clothing restricts normal breathing. A tight and contracted abdomen, moreover, will adversely affect normal posture, digestion, and elimination.

Unfortunately, fashion trends generally are not motivated by a human being's organic needs. Figure-controlling pantyhose and tight jeans are big business and not easily dismissed, yet they take their toll by fostering poor breathing habits. This can lead to a whole range of imbalanced conditions from hemorrhoids to circulation problems to headaches and more.

How can the diaphragm possibly do its job of expanding if the abdominal muscles refuse to move? Your body will compensate by breathing from the upper chest, but the result is only a half breath. And tightness in the lower body will be worsened by the lack of oxygen flow to that area. No wonder you may feel sleepy or in pain after only a brief period of sitting at your desk.

Take a moment to mentally scan your whole body from head to toe. Be aware of your clothing. Feel tightness anywhere? Bra? Belt? Shirt collar? Tie or scarf? Shoes? Now take a deep breath and feel any additional areas of tightness or restriction caused by your clothing. Is your body temperature comfortable? Are you too hot? Too cool? Loosen your belt or any tight or binding clothing, or take off a layer, and take another deep breath. What are you aware of now?

Next consider your posture. Is it possible to breathe fully without strain in the position you are currently in? Where does the breath get stuck; what parts of the body feel tight inside as you try to breathe deeply? Can you adjust your posture to accommodate a fuller, more relaxed breath? Do so if you wish.

Beyond Breathing
There is more to this issue than restrictive clothes and poor breathing habits. What about high heels, which are known to cause misalignment in the body? What about the position and design of office furniture, the height of keyboards or computer screens? These things can usually be adjusted to accommodate better posture or to give the body more room to move. Often people put up with unnecessary pain because they don't stop to think about how easily they could change their situation.

Let's not overlook the issue of clothing fabrics and how these restrict the skin's ability to breathe. Many skin disorders and rashes are simply the results of irritation and poor ventilation caused by clothing. Popular synthetics, such as dacron and polyester, are made of smooth fibers that can be woven very tightly. These fabrics may resist wrinkling, but they don't breathe. Since the body invisibly eliminates a substantial portion of waste products through the skin, open-weave fabrics like cotton and wool are more healthful.

Many people wear a particular uniform or clothing style at their jobs. You can still dress in healthier and looser clothing with careful shopping and a little creativity. Many shoe companies now carry styles that are sensibly designed yet suitable for business wear, and comfortable, neatly tailored clothing is available in natural fabrics.

Get in the habit of tuning in to your body, becoming aware of tightness or pain that builds up or surprises you as you go through your day. This tension can take many forms. Some people walk around with their shoulders up around their ears; others keep their buttock muscles constantly contracted. You may wrinkle your forehead and give yourself wrinkles and headaches; you may grit your teeth and actually grind them down or create a chronic tension in your jaw; you may clench your fists, often to compensate for an unwillingness to express emotion in more direct ways.

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 About The Author
John W. Travis, MD, MPH, is the creator of the Wellness Inventory and its parent, the Wellness Index. He is the founder and co-director of ...moreJohn Travis MD, MPH
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