Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Towards a better way to sit

Many of us slump or lean forward when we are at our desks. We typically respond like this - we go to our mental image of "correct posture", and then we pull ourselves into that position. Let’s explore the problems with this, and see whether Alexander Technique can offer useful guidance.

Explaining to my work colleagues
In explaining Alexander Technique to work colleagues at a meeting recently, I used words like less effort, posture and poise. One person immediately responded and pulled up straight. Well, this was the antithesis of what I meant, and I observed unnecessary tightening. I suggested doing it differently. Others in the group joined in.

I asked them :

  • to slump forward with head towards knees, so releasing muscles back and front of the torso
  • to find the hip joints, where the leg bones join the pelvis (put your fingers mid-way along the crease between thigh and torso)
  • to gently hinge up from these joints into an upright position

They were now sitting nicely upright, without undue tightening in the back. They were also extended evenly in both front and back of the body.

Slumping towards your knees, away from the desk, might be better than this image

Why the change - before and after
In pulling ourselves up, we are likely to use more muscular effort than is necessary, particularly if our image of where our legs join the torso doesn’t match anatomical reality (check books or on-line). Then, in order to hold us upright, the muscles in the lower back are likely to stay switched on. We may have also unnecessarily pulled the shoulders back. We are also likely to slump again when this rigid posture becomes hard to hold.
The alternative of swinging or rolling up from the hip joint reduces the muscular effort required. It keeps the body long, with an even tone in muscles on the front and back of the body.

Observing how you move
Remember that how you sit at your desk and how you move generally may be quite different to other people. Your body map will certainly be different to everyone else. Over time, you will figure out what your unconscious body map is for the joints where the legs, arms and head join the spine.

What else to consider
These notes are a general guide only. They aren’t tailored for your unique body and how it might respond.
Get up from your desk every 30 minutes or so. Deliberate slumping is not an alternative to this.
Join me in exploring these ideas further. Alexander Technique is holistic practice linking our thinking, our big toe and everything in between. I encourage you to have lessons or join group classes to fully experience what it offers.

Images - copyright respectively : ostill, monkeybusinessimages, Doruk Sikman

Originally published January 2012.

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