Counteracting the Effects of Sitting

For most of us, we live in a world where the majority of hours of the day are spent in a seated position. We drive to work in luxury wheelchairs. We find ourselves in front of a computer, nestled in ergonomic office wheelchairs. We go home and sit at the dinner table and then binge watch our favorite program sitting on the couch or lying in bed. Some decide to get exercise by sitting on other wheelchairs with handlebars and pedals that spin around. Whether they choose to do this indoors staring at another screen or going outside on the road is beside the point. The majority of our population now live in wheelchairs by choice, not out of necessity. Do not get me started on public schools and the hours kids spend in chairs.

During all of these hours of sitting the spine typically begins to flex forward and the head drops forward toward the laptop screen. The shoulders begin to round forward while the muscles along our spine begin to lengthen because we’re pulling ourselves deeper into the seated position. The lengthening of the muscles creates a weakened state. At the same time the muscles in the front of our hips shorten in the flexed position and will be less likely to lengthen back to a normal state the more they stay in that flexed position. When we try to stand after such time, it doesn’t happen properly because we have trained the body to adapt to sitting more than standing. Other muscles begin to take on more work to fight gravity when we stand. The next thing you know is more problems develop. Carpal tunnel, tennis elbow, neck pain, sciatica, low back pain are just a few examples. These are all because our musculoskeletal system is being pulled out of alignment.

Here’s one way that we’re going to counteract the effects of sitting. It’s quite simple. All you will need is a small elevated platform like a couple of phone books or a little step, or if you’ve got a recessed living room maybe kneeling on the steps and lowering down onto the living room floor for instance. To start kneel on the elevated object. Place your knees parallel from left to right as well as not being too far apart are too close together. If you took a line down the mid-thigh they should be parallel.

Next, lower your elbows to the floor directly below the shoulders. Your elbows and forearms should be parallel preferably with your palms face up as well as pulling the wrists apart. In this position, drop your head toward the floor. Gently sink your body so that the top of your head rests on the ground (or as close to it as you can) and just maintain this posture for about a minute or so. Allow your spine to sink into the shoulder blades. Allow the head to drop to lengthen the neck. The lower back is going through a state of traction because the weight of your torso is not compressing down on it. Allow the hips to pull back slightly while the head drops down.

After holding this position for about a minute take your time coming up. You may be a little dizzy with your head hanging low so sit for just a little bit. Then go ahead and stand up and walk around and see how that feels. What you have done is taken that compressed spine that is flexed forward and extended it while creating some length through the space in between each vertebrae. The weight of your head, 10lb or so, is pulling downward to the ground to open up the neck. The shoulders are being pulled back because the spine is sinking in between the shoulder blades. In essence you are experiencing the opposite of sitting!

Some may say, “I do some version of that in my yoga class where I put my feet up on the wall and I’m completely inverted.” That’s great, but for many people, who have spent hours and hours in a seated position, to go into that inverted shoulder stand maybe a little bit too much too soon. Modifying it to this kneeling position with the weight of the body supported with this little step is a much nicer progression. You can always get higher and higher platforms to make it a little bit more intense as time goes by. Progress to greater degrees of demand by adding an inch or two every couple of weeks until you get ready to get into those yoga poses.

Try this pose out to start. You might find that after just a minute of doing this that when you walk around your shoulders feel like they are drawn back. Your posture is improved. Your lower back is feeling good and you walk tall and relaxed. Give it a try and let me know how it feels.