Arthur Madore, LMT
Osher Clinical Center
Brigham & Women’s Hospital
Comfortable Sitting: A dynamic approach.
What are some of the factors that contribute to sitting in a comfortable way? Is there such an animal as the perfect sitting posture? I will draw on a term that, Moshe Feldenkrais the noted genius of movement, used in contrast to “posture” The word he used was “acture”. His message is simply that sitting is a dynamic activity. Perhaps this is why people like to sit on a thera ball or inflated disc. Perhaps this is why there is an increase in standing desks. Could it be that you are more likely to move around when not confined to the traditional comfy chair? Many therapists recommend that we get up and move around every 20 minutes. As a practical matter you do what works for you.
How else would you know that you are sitting at your best? Here are some questions to ask yourself.
- Is it comfortable for your whole body?
- Can you move easily in all directions? Do you have to unlock something before you move?
- Is it easy to turn your head, lift your hands, and legs?
- Can you sustain it without any perceivable strain?
- Is your head supported by your spine? If your spine is not supporting your head what is holding it up?
- Are your shoulders resting on your rib cage? If not you may quickly start to feel the weight of your arms pulling on your neck.
- Can you breathe freely? You will fatigue quicker and get more stressed with shallow breathing.
All these questions are relative to contrasting positions. Sitting upright is easier to breathe than slouching. But sitting upright by tensing your low back is unsustainable. A common refrain is that “it is easier to slouch, but then my back and neck start to hurt”. Or “When I sit up straight my back gets tired”. Robin McKenzie, the famous Australian PT would say that slouching increases disc pressure posteriorly and is a factor in disc herniation. If you have chronic low back problems it may be a result of poor sitting posture..
The following is one method of what I call functional sitting. It is intended that you will be able to answer the above questions in the affirmative.
- Sit in a chair closer to the edge with hips higher than your knees. A pen should roll down your thighs.
- First sit slouched in the typical computer posture, rounded shoulders, collapsed chest and head forward with chin up.
- Check to see the effects on your body.
- How heavy are your hands? Your arms?
- Can you easily turn your head in all directions? Move your torso?
- How long do you think you could sit this way?
- Is it easy to breathe and relax?
- What color do you identify with this position?
- Now sit erect. Unless you are trained otherwise, you probably arch your low back and pull your head and shoulders back.
- Retest yourself. Is this easy or sustainable?
- The third option I call functional sitting.
- Instead of pulling your upper body over a static pelvis, roll you pelvis under a relaxed spine and neck.
- Do this by bringing one leg back so you can drop a knee towards the floor.
- At first you may use a rotation move to clarify the response of the ribs to the movement of the knee and the pelvis.
- Place your right hand on your left ribs in the front, and the left hand on your left thigh. Look to your right. You may notice that there is a relationship between how far you can turn and the knee dropping to the floor.
- You may also notice that the left ribs lift up and you start to arch your left low back. This arch is created without tightening your low back muscles. Your two hands may also separate indicating the lengthening of tissue.
- Now repeat this movement without the rotation. There will be a point when you are aligned in an erect sitting posture with little tension in your neck, shoulders, and low back.
- Repeat the assessment tests.
- You will find it helpful to move frequently to avoid straining any one muscle group. So encourage this by putting pens, paper, water etc. in places that require you to move. Just don’t sit there! Keep your body alive with easy movements.
Although there are many ways to achieve a comfortable sitting posture, the above method has worked very well for hundreds of patients. Obviously there are many additional facets to this learning process. Think of this as a good start to increasing both your self awareness and experiencing at least one alternative method of sitting. For more information you can look up Core Integration, Josef Dellagrotte on the internet. There is entire DVD devoted to dynamic sitting.