Sitting is something that all of us do every day. Students, professions, and even vocations that require a lot of standing and movement sit for many hours every week. As a Rolfer I’ve seen firsthand the negative effects of a sedentary lifestyle and have had the opportunity to work with numerous clients suffering from chronic pain related to sitting at a desk. For this month’s blog, I’ve decided to offer some thoughts on this subject as well as some tips for dealing with the demands of the modern workplace.
First of all, our bodies were not designed for sitting all day. They just weren’t. They were designed for movement. Recent studies have linked prolonged sitting to a wide array of ailments ranging from chronic pain to heart disease. In fact, Dr. James Levine of Mayo Clinic has suggested it is the “new smoking”. This might sound drastic, but many of us may find it relatable. I, myself, used to have a high-demand job that kept me in front of my computer for hours on end. In addition to the mental stress this placed upon me, I was also overweight, in chronic pain, and continually tired. As more and more people enter into careers that park them at desks for the majority of the day, the need for a plan that counteracts the negative effects of a sedentary lifestyle is becoming increasingly important.
In order to understand how to remedy the problems related to sitting, it is important to first understand how our bodies respond to the demands we place upon them every day. There’s this stuff in our bodies that connects and permeates everything. It’s called fascia. It is our organ of structure, and it is always changing depending on what we are doing with our bodies. When we are stretching or when we are actively moving, for instance, it loosens, lengthens, and gets hydrated. When we are sedentary, it gets tight, short, and dry. It also responds to the way our bodies are positioned in gravity by building up collagen to hold us in our habitual patterns of rest and motion. Have you ever had difficulty touching your toes? Have you ever felt stiff and tight after a long day at work? If so, then you have experienced how your fascia responds to your daily routine. Fortunately, changing our habits can change our bodies.
While I think that manual therapy is a great way to treat these issues, I think it’s just as
important to implement movement habits into our daily routine. It can be something as simple as going for a walk on your lunch break or getting up from your desk every hour for a quick stretch. Anything that brings movement into your body throughout the day is going to be of benefit. It takes a while to create new habits, so start off with something that you know you can do on a regular basis.
Our sitting posture is equally important. In fact, one of the first things I often teach my clients is how to sit in an aligned position. Doing so allows our bodies to be naturally supported and requires less strain and effort to maintain that position. Below are some simple guidelines for sitting in a way that encourages alignment and a sense of ease.
If this isn’t possible, then either try to get a new chair or use a small stool to place under your feet.
Are your knees lower than your hips?
This is a great way to quickly see whether or not you are sitting in a supported position. When your knees are higher than your hips, it curls your tailbone under, pulls your sacrum, and strains your back. When you sit with your knees lower than your hips, it makes you sit closer to the edge of the chair and allows your weight to naturally rest on your “sit bones”.
Is your chin jutting forward?
After you have checked in with your lower body, feel for how your head is positioned. Working at a computer often results in forward head posture. Considering that the human head typically weighs 10+ pounds, it can put a lot of strain on the neck and shoulders when it is not balanced with the torso. If you notice this happening, try gently tucking your chin and notice how the body shifts in response.
Once you have taken note of these guidelines, you may realize that your workspace needs to be altered in order to keep you in alignment. For instance, you may need to move your computer to eye level and your keyboard might need to be adjusted so that your shoulders can rest while you type.
You may find it difficult to maintain this new posture all day, and that is totally understandable. Sitting in an aligned position will recruit muscles that have been dormant for a long time. It also takes time to change our habits, so start small. Just remember: our habits determine our posture, and our posture determines our physical limitations.