Most of us “know” that we ought to sit with “good posture,” but despite the ample opportunity for practice, we tend to allow ourselves to remain in more familiar positions, like crossing our legs and various forms of slouching. A couple reasons for this can be that we actually don’t know how we ought to sit differently, or it feels like too much effort to stay in good alignment for long especially when trying to concentrate on the task before us. If these excuses hold true for you as they have for me, then hopefully you will find some enlightenment in what I have to share.
First of all, when you are sitting with good posture, it shouldn’t feel like you need to strain yourself to stay in that position. It could feel weird or different, but it should also feel like a place your body wants to be. So as you read the rest of this post, remember that the first thing to evaluate about your sitting posture is whether you feel comfortable or not.
There are many things one can say about how to sit in better alignment, but here are a few ideas to start with:
- Preserve the natural curves of your spine. The easiest way to keep your body upright—with your muscles having less work to do against gravity—is to have each vertebra stacked on top of one another. If you were made of building blocks, how would you sit so you didn’t need rubber bands or glue holding you up? Practicing The String exercise will help you determine if you’re doing this or not.
At the bottom of all your vertebrae is your pelvis. The parts of your pelvis that are designed to bear all this weight are your ischial tuberosities (sitz bones), but when we slouch, we tilt the pelvis so that the sacrum ends up in that weight-bearing role instead. This is bad news for your back, your front, and everything in between.
A lot of chairs aren’t designed to properly support these important curves in the spine—even chairs with so-called “lumbar support” are often not actually that helpful, especially if you are sitting at a desk and therefore leaning forward to write, type, or converse with others. Don’t depend on your chair to tell you whether your body is in good alignment. For example, my sacrum feels very comfy bearing my weight when I lean back in a sofa, but all that cushion is disguising what’s really going on.
- Keep your hips open. This means having your knees slightly lower than your hips (though not so low that you feel like you’re sitting on a slope). The reason for this is to keep your psoas, abdominals, and other spine and hip flexors in a longer position. Remember that muscles adapt to repetitive activity. So when you’re always telling these muscles to be in a short position as you sit for long periods of time, they start thinking that is the normal position to be in. Then when you want to stretch them out and get up out of your chair, they feel tight and uncomfortable. Increasing the angle between your torso and your legs by keeping your hips open can alleviate this issue.
But even if you are sitting in an “ideal” position, you still don’t want to stay there all the time. No position is good enough to stay in all day long, no matter how neutral and aligned your body is. The body is designed to move around and be in many different positions through the day.
This is great news if you quickly grow tired of trying to keep that “good posture,” or if you have regular aches and pains that prevent you from staying in one position for very long. So try this:
Keep that “good posture” with the well stacked spine and open
hips as your “go to.” Every time you are aware of your sitting position, try adopting what you think would be a better posture. Then don’t be afraid to let yourself go into different positions every 5, 10, or 15 minutes, every time you have a new train of thought, or every time your body feels
uncomfortable being still. Readjusting, fiddling, and squirming don’t mean you can’t still concentrate on your work, in fact, the addition of movement will help blood circulate, therefore helping your brain function.
The more variety you give your body, the better. Let your inner kid explore the realm of possible contortions in your seat, and if you have a sit/stand desk, be sure to try out different ways of standing as well.
The same goes for sitting in cars. Some car seats allow more room to sit up tall, others force you to slump into a cushioned slouch. Try using bolsters and cushions to prop yourself into better alignment, vary your body position while in the car as much as you can while driving safely, and reduce the amount of time you spend driving as much as possible.