If you are just joining the discussion, check out Basics of Sitting: Part 1. This entire series is aimed to helps us feel more alive (and avoid pain) through sitting.
I like to people watch; I freely admit that.
I do my best not to analyze people I know (unless they ask me to), but I get a kick out of watching strangers–which I do frequently. I have been fascinated with the way people sit for a long time. (I know, I’m a nerd.) And since our world is becoming increasingly more sedentary, it is important to understand what all those hours of sitting can do to our bodies.
One of the most common “issues” I notice, whether someone is sitting in a chair or on the floor, is the tendency to “tuck under.”
Check it out:
Remember how I said the hips played an important role in sitting? In the above instance, I’m not really using my hip joint to create a nice angle where my legs can bend and my spine can be free. Instead, I’ve curved my spine so that I am sitting on my sacrum. This leads to a strain in my lower back (not to mention a complete lack of core support—see my guts, they’re just “hanging out there”). You’ll also notice that my line of gravity (as denoted by the three red dots) is not really lined up.
Of course, sitting like this won’t kill you. And sometimes it’s good to change positions and let your body stretch. However, if you find yourself sitting here most of the time there is a good chance you will experience back pain (if you don’t already now).
Let’s talk about the spine for a moment. There are three really basic observations that you should be aware of:
A healthy spine has CURVES.
A straight spine is a dangerous thing. (If you want to know why, ask me and I will tell you.) If you are sitting with a tucked under pelvis, the integrity of the lumbar curve is dramatically thrown off. And when you change one curve, you affect the entire spine.
The spine is connected to the pelvis.
The fused joints of the sacrum and the connected coccyx (tail bone) create a bridge that connects the posterior “wings” of the pelvis.
The spine is connected to the head.
Again, tension or problems in any one of the three components (spine, head, or pelvis) will affect the entire spine. (And seeing how your spine is home to your spinal cord, the health of your spine affects your nervous system… which, yes, affects your whole body.)
Along with the picture above, there are two other common “ways of sitting” that I have often witnessed:
This one I refer to as the “forward head problem.” We are in a world where our attention is increasingly channeled straight ahead, usually at some sort of screen. Rather than letting whatever object we are looking at come to our eyes, we find ourselves straining our head forward to see. As you can tell, this affects the entire spine and pulls off our line of gravity again. We will have a hard time releasing our shoulders with this going on—thus most people who do this experience tense shoulders, neck, and (yup, you guessed it) back pain.
The final “common issue” I see involves less of the spine then it does the muscles that attach to it. Trying to “levitate” or pull ourselves up is a major problem. Not only do you look afraid (as you should be), but the constant contraction of the muscles of the shoulder girdle is exhausting to say the very least.
Sometimes this is a result of a desk that is too high that makes us we feel we have to “lift our arms” to do our work. If this is the case, consider sitting on a phone book or a balance disk (which will also help with core support). And always try to release (don’t push) downward as you are sitting. Consider Newton’s law: For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. If you release down in the chair/earth, the chair/earth can push back. When the earth pushes back we will experience a beautiful lengthened posture through the intelligent design of the skeletal/muscular system’s tensile forces.
Phew! Are you still with me?
The next post will (finally) show some important tips on how to sit well and feel refreshed through your work day. In the meantime, try noticing how you sit. And don’t get too frustrated with yourself.
Check out the final post for the exciting conclusion to this series. (I know, you are on the edge of your seat!)