Happy Halloween! It’s time to shine the light on the scary truth about sitting and sitting posture.
You spend hours sitting each day. If you add up the total number of hours you sit each day to work, drive, eat and watch Netflix, it might frighten you more than what turns up on your doorstep on Halloween. Because you’ve heard that sitting is the new smoking right? You know that it’s bad for you, putting pressure on joints, raising blood pressure, increasing your risk of heart disease and more. Plus you might find yourself getting stiff, sore and tense from all the time you spend sitting.
The good news is that you can SURVIVE (and even thrive) sitting by understanding your posture and learning to sit in a more easy, fluid and dynamic way.
(and by the way, sitting is way less bad for you than smoking)
One of the best things for undoing the problems that come with sitting is to get up and move around more often. However we often find ourselves sitting for periods of time.
Posture Trick or Treat?
Let’s start with your posture. Your posture habits are probably a real mix. Some things about it might be great. Some not so great (or even damaging long term). The trick is to know what’s working and what’s not.
To check in, pay attention to how you are sitting in your chair.
How does it feel? Are you slumped over in a bit of slouch? Maybe you feel like you just don’t quite have the energy to hold yourself up. Or are you now sitting up “straight” because you just read the word posture?
What is the position of your head? Is it jutting forward slightly or balanced over your neck and shoulders? Tilted to one side?
How’s your breathing? Easy? Full? Or did you catch yourself holding your breath as you read this?
Taking a moment to notice your posture throughout the day will start to give you some clues about your more common posture habits and preferences.
The problem with sitting up “straight”
You might think that if you sit up straight, then sitting won’t be so bad for you. And sitting up straight is definitely better than slouching, right?
Go ahead and try it now. Sit up nice and tall with your best "good" upright posture.
What tightened up? Can you still breathe easily? How long could you keep up this "good" posture?
Now let go of your "good" posture back to your usual posture. What changed?
You probably feel a lot more like yourself and more comfortable when you’re not trying to sit up straight.
The trick to better posture is NOT to sit up “straight”.
Which sounds weird, I know. But hear me out.
When you pull back your shoulders and arch your back you are adding MORE tension into your posture. Your back and shoulder muscles have to work harder. Your hip flexors tighten. Your breathing becomes more restricted.
Which is why sitting up “straight” feels like such an effort and why you usually can’t maintain it for a long period of time.
So what’s the answer? How do you “treat” or improve your sitting posture?
Let your spine support you
Your spine is your main support structure in sitting. Your spine is not a rigid straight line, so even the idea that we should sit up “straight” is a little silly. Instead you want to learn to sit in a way that supports the natural curves of your spine (often referred to as neutral spine).
When you have the support of your skeleton, your muscles don’t have to do the hard work of “holding” you upright and means you don’t collapse into a slouch either.
To allow the spine to be stacked up easily, the head, pelvis and ribs all have a role to play.
For example when your head juts forward (peering at your screen or phone) this pulls the vertebrae of your upper spine out of alignment. Headaches, neck pain and shoulder pain often accompany this common postural habit.
If you’re more in the habit of sitting overly “straight” you tend to lift your chin, jjut your ribs out, tense up your lower back and tighten in your hip flexors. This adds to all sorts of tension in your shoulders, back and legs. It also makes getting up from sitting hard work as those super contracted tight muscles find it to lengthen and adjust to your upright posture.
Maybe you are more of a hunched posture person. Your tailbone will be tucked under and your upper back rounded and you probably often think that you need to improve your posture by sitting up straighter! You are more likely to lean on the arm rests of chairs or prop your elbows on a desk. It’s an exhausting posture to be in as your muscles seem to not be “strong” enough to hold you up. A rounded back posture often comes with shoulder pain, digestive issues, low mood and breathing difficulties.
With an easy, naturally upright posture, you can also breathe easier. And
breathing better will in turn help support your posture. Win win. Your diaphragm breathing muscle sits just under your ribs. When you are slouched or hunched over this compresses the diaphragm and limits the space available for the lungs to expand. If your breathing is restricted for much of the day, you have less energy, your mood is lower and you are less productive. But remember trying hard and sitting up too “straight” (where you have an exaggerated curve in your low back) also limits your breathing. In this position, your belly, diaphragm and chest tense up to make your breathing more shallow and harder work than it needs to be. When your spine is stacked up and in a neutral position, all your breathing parts are free to move. You will sit upright more easily and you will also be more focussed and productive.
Don’t just sit there
Sitting for extended periods is neither natural nor easy for your body. Staying in ANY position for a long period of time puts stress on your body. The good news here is that you can adopt a dynamic sitting posture. It is not a rigid, one-position-to-rule-them-all deal. It's not one perfect upright position that you stay in all day. Your body is designed to move and move often. In fact the more often you change your position, stretch out and move around, the better your posture will be. The more comfortable you will be. The more productive you will be. The more energy you will have. Luckily there’s so much you can do (yes, even sitting). You are free to move. Try some of these easy options:
Wriggle your butt on your chair (do a little chair dance).
Take a few slow, easy breaths.
Uncross your legs and put your feet on the floor.
Unclench your jaw by poking your tongue out (bet that one made you smile!).
Wiggle your toes.
Turn your chair around and sit on it backwards.
Nod your head up and down (gently!).
Lift your shoulders and release.
Reach your arms out to the sides to touch an imaginary wall.
Move your eyes to look at something in the distance.
Tap your heels up and down.
The idea is to have a whole array of small, easy movements that you can do often during the day. You will find that they help you build awareness about your posture, release tension and get a bit more comfortable. Your sitting posture has such an impact on your health now and in the future. It has the power to influence how you feel and how you move. Learning to add more movement, fluidity and ease in your sitting posture will boost your overall confidence, comfort and wellbeing. How do you feel about your posture? What would you like to change? What do you want to know more about? Have these movements and awareness tools helped? Feel free to comment in the space below.
To find out more about how Movement Works can help you improve your movement, breathing and posture, click here.