(NaturalHealth365) Most office workers have no idea how dangerous too much sitting is on the body. Back pain is a big business and, unfortunately, conventional medicine is not focused on prevention. If you want to avoid years of suffering – respect your spine and practice the simple suggestions in this article.
Why is too much chair sitting so harmful?
Humans are a continuity of roundness, and yet we have spent the last few hundred years sitting on chairs. The right angle from the seat to the back of the chair forces our natural curves into a linear rigid position that sabotages our hips, and stiffens our gait.
Because our spinal curves and in particular our lower back or lumbar area are needed for shock absorption during sitting and movement. We also have curves in the back of our knees and the bottom of our feet that do the same.
Sitting and exercising poorly can stretch out our natural ‘springs’, or ligaments that hold our joints stable. Loosened ligaments in the lower back and hips can lead to compression, pain, arthritis and joint replacements.
When we are born, our spine does not have the secondary curves of the neck and lower back. As babies learn to lift their head, muscles involved with movement also create the curves needed to cushion our spine.
We have the lumbar curve to protect the vast number of nerves that exit the base of the spine and innervate our lower body. When we sit in a chair, the pelvis rotates posteriorly and we loose our natural curves and go back to the C or Embryo shape. This is the bane of aging – to be stooped over and stiff as the curves are reversed and damaged.
The (unspoken) dangers of too much office work
Over time, with poor sitting, or stretching habits, ligaments needed to stabilize our curves and joints stretch out and weaken, reversing our lumbar spinal curve and the shock-absorbing angle of the sacrum. This leads to a sabotage of our naturally aligned posture, and the dangerous compression of our hip joint that is the bane of sitting in chairs.
When the pelvis rotates backwards, our abdominal muscles and hip flexors are chronically shortened and the chair habits stay with our body even when we get up to move.
Beware of exercises that cause more dysfunction
To fix back pain, many people try to make the stomach or core tighter, or stretch the hamstrings by leaning forward. They are unaware that these exercises and stretches are actually shortening the muscular forces of the front body even more and over-stretching the back.
Another useless exercise for back pain is lying on the floor with knees bent while pressing the lower back to the floor, because this uses muscular strength to override the natural spinal curve designed to stretch the pain out of the back.
It is imperative to take measures to practice active sitting with curves intact. The folly of sitting in a chair is that most of us allow the chair back to do the important stabilizing work of our spinal extensors and postural muscles.
How can we sit in ways that will not harm our natural alignment?
1. Make sure your knees are lower than your hips when sitting in a chair. Try placing your hips on a hard pillow that elevates your hips higher than your knees.
2. Keep the curve in your lumbar spine, and make sure you are not leaning forward causing your head to be out of alignment with the rest of your spine.
3. Get an external keyboard for your laptop and raise the level of your laptop screen. Keep your hands low and screen raised to eye level. Most people slouch on a laptop and cause damage to their spinal column on a daily basis.
4. Make sure your car seat has a firm pillow you can sit on to raise your hip level above your knees, and use a lumbar support behind the curve in your lower back.
Practice the YogAlign® Spine Aligner pose to train your core to stabilize your spine
• Sit on the edge of a bench or chair and make sure that your pelvis is level, and there is a curve in your lower spine. Use a pillow to make your knees lower than your hips if you feel that you cannot sit up with a lower back curve.
• Use resistance to create balance. Spread your legs as though sitting on a horse, resting your weight on your heels with toes lifted and spread. Place your hands between your knees with your elbows straight, palms facing inwards and thumbs up.
• Keep your fingers wide open, and squeeze your inner thighs together as you resist and press the inner thighs outwards using the back of your arm. Always keep your body on your sit bones with head resting on top and no force in your neck.
• Keep your shoulders down, lean back a bit and make sure that your ears, shoulders and hip are on the same line.
• Spread your toes as though you are pressing on a gas pedal and breathe in as though you are sipping on a straw. Notice how your waist gets longer.
• Keep the lift that comes with inhaling and exhale slowly making an SSSS sound, intentionally focusing on making your waist area lengthen.
• Feel the curves in your spine and notice how little effort it takes to be naturally aligned. Practice several times until you feel that your body is tuned and can ‘remember’ how to stay lifted.
Continue to resist in with your inner thigh muscles while pressing outward with your arms. Breathe with resistance on inhale and exhale.
Now you’re sitting pretty
Next time you sit in a chair or car seat, make sure that you use the movements of breathing to turn on your deep inner core, and always sit with your knees level with or below your hips. Keep a slight engagement in your inner thigh muscles to keep your pelvis from sagging in a posterior tilt.
Don’t let the back of your chair do the stabilization actions of your most important core muscles. Notice and feel how your deep core muscles signaled by breathing create good posture from the inside out.
About the author: Michaelle Edwards is a licensed massage therapist, yoga teacher, musician, and postural therapist living on Kauai. She invented a new painless way to do Yoga, fitness, self-massage and stretching called YogAlign that incorporates natural spine alignment and breath work to create good posture from the inside out. She is devoted to giving people the tools to heal themselves. Michaelle has a new book/DVD combo called YogAlign – Pain-free Yoga From Your Inner Core available at her website – YogAlign.com