Go Ahead... Take a Seat?
We've seen the articles: Why Sitting is Secretly Killing you. AND, the informercials: A Standing Desk Changed My Life! Not to mention the Dateline specials: Sitting - America's Newest Epidemic. Yet for many of us, it's a necessity as a function of our profession.
According to the Mayo Clinic, Americans sit, on average, 9.3 hours per day. That may seem like a lot, but chances are, you might be one of them if you start to break down your hourly calendar. While more active work environments - standing desks, scheduled "stretch breaks," activity-based off-sites, etc. - are becoming the norm in the Bay Area, the fact remains that it's not always that easy or convenient for the majority of the country.
If you happen to fall outside of an active corporate environment, or for those of you who find yourself trapped either on an airplane or in conference rooms every afternoon, what if sitting was... planking? What if you could learn to engage the muscles of your core to hold an ACTIVE seated posture that would make even a yoga teacher from the Marina proud?
While it's not EASY, it's incredibly doable - even if for just a few minutes at a time initially. An old school visual will help:
Sitting with "good posture" (on your sit bones, as my mother would say) is actually just a strict plank. Unfortunately, many of us are incredibly mobile in the L5-sacral area from years and years of slouched sitting. That slow rotation backwards of your pelvis (posterior tilt) becomes very easy if the muscles between your hip bones (anterior core) are not engaged.
The real danger arises when we begin to move actively with a pelvis that is very comfortable in the posterior tilt position. Our glutes turn off and our quads and lower backs begin to do work that anatomically, our buns were designed for if properly engaged. This is precisely why so many Couch to 5k and/or Crossfit end up... INJURED.
Remember, our lower back is not a primary mover - but instead, part of our stabilizing system. Sitting actively with great "plank posture" at work will encourage your hips and lower back to hold an alignment for great movement outside of work and at play (and yes, Crossfit too)!
Here's how you do it:
1) Find your sit bones. Hinge your hips backwards if necessary until you feel them making firm contact with your chair.
2) Instead of thinking about shoulder position as relative to your hips, you should now think about about getting your rib cage in line with your pelvis without changing the actual angle of your hips. Your ribs should be in a neutral, unflared position directly over your the points at the front of your hips.
3) Finish off the position by getting your shoulder blades engaged. Once your hips are in the correct position, and your ribs are floating over your pelvis, tuck your right shoulder blade in to your left hip pocket and vice versa. This shouldn't flare your ribs, but it should drive your upper traps downward toward your hips - releasing tension from your neck. You should feel "heavier" in your seat and "lighter" in your neck.
4) It's helpful for me to think about breathing all the way into my upper back while doing this. It keeps my "curtains closed" (ribs) in the front, and my abdominals engaged. With every breath, I think about lengthening my spine as paired with the engagement of my shoulder blades toward the back of my pelvis until I find a tall, but sustainable posture.
Hold this position consciously and BREATHE for 1-2mins every hour on the hour... your posture, and your core will thank you. You might find that your stress level drops just a touch, as well.
Remember, being active at work doesn't actually take a significant amount of effort to "do a body good." It does take thought, intention, and consistency.