Monday, February 6, 2012

Chairs, Coach-Class Seats, and Related Instruments of Torture

Wouldn't it be wonderful if we had the freedom to roam about at will?

Perhaps you have a job that confines you to sitting in one spot, for hours at a time. Desktop tasks: typing, entering data, grading student work, writing, practicing an instrument, and otherwise physically constricting jobs play havor with the lumbar region of your back. Few of us "sit up straight" like our moms told us. Even with the best of ergonomically-designed furniture, we fatigue, slump our shoulders, imprint the lower spine against the chair, and then wonder why, after hours of work, we feel so exhausted when we had been doing such minimally physical "work."

Our backs weren't designed to sit for hours at a time. When we slouch into chairs, our spines are no longer aligned; the vertebrae are no longer stacked one on top of the other. Our erector spinae muscles weaken over time (along with the abs encircline our midsections). Over the years, poor posture leads to more than fatigue; "back problems" become more frequent and pressure on our backs' discs takes it toll.
If you have to sit for more than a few hours at a time, and sitting is part of your job description, it's not practical to stash your yoga mat in a desk drawer and hold a mini-session. But, it's possible to do modified cat/cow stretches while on the job. This technique could save your back by giving strengthening the muscles in your lower back (and moving your shoulder muscles around a bit as well). 

This technique has served me well during several long flights in cramped coach-class airline seats (domestic economy class is about 3 inches shorter than international), when getting up and moving was out of the question. This technique is helpful for anyone. It can be done cross-legged (remember to switch legs to limber up both sides of your body), sitting on the floor, sitting on a coach, a chair, or even on a stability ball.

Here's how:
As you sit, inhale, roll to the front of your sit bones as you arch your spine and lift your chest (the seated equivalent of the cow portion of cat/cow). To put it bluntly, your rectum needs to lift off the seat.

Drop your shoulders down and back. Expand your chest and feel the extension in your lumbar (lower) spine as your back bends. You are doing the "cow" portion of cat/cow, just while sitting down.

As you exhale, suck in your stomach (try to get your bellybutton to touch your spine), curl forward, rounding through the chest. Tuck in your chin. Feel your torso's weight shift backward off your sit bones toward your butt. (This is the cat portion of the technique).

Think of this technique as a modified Cat/Cow stretch, but with minimal neck and head movement, so you won't look too freaky while in your cubicle (or scare the passenger sitting next to you on the plane).

This technique, done every hour or so for only a few minutes, can keep desk fatique and back problems to a minimum. Try it. Your back will be so appreciative, and you'll have more energy when you leave work (always a good thing), or finally arrive at your destination.

Until next week, namaste


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