‘Sit up straight!’. ‘Don’t slouch!’. ‘Suck your belly in!’.
For many of us, sitting is not something we’re very good at. Odd, isn’t it? What can be so hard about sitting? It’s not brain surgery, you just put your butt on a chair and sit. But often it’s uncomfortable if not downright painful. And alot of work if we’re making a momentary effort to ‘sit up straight’ without the support of the back of the chair, pillows, an ottoman for our feet.
What makes it hard? Is it that we’re lazy? Weak? Bad people?
Maybe, but there is a much more simple and basic answer: we don’t know how. ‘Don’t know how???’ ‘Butt, chair, sit – simple!’. Not so simple. But easy to learn*.
(*It’s always good to check with your health care provider before trying out new movements, particularly if you are experiencing chronic pain.)
Sitting comfortably requires a functioning relationship between all the bones and muscles that hold you up. This relationship is governed by your nervous system. Your nervous system doesn’t automatically know how to do this – it must learn how.
Some of us never learned, for various reasons, and many of us once knew how but injury, illness, or years of bad habits have caused our nervous systems to forget how to sit comfortably.
Consider these ideas:
– Spines are not straight. We have curves in our spine and they are there for a reason.
– Except for very particular cases, we should not ‘suck our belly in’. Let your abdomen be relaxed.
-Ergonomically correct chairs will not automatically make sitting easy and comfortable.
– Don’t tuck your chin in, pull your shoulders back, or stick your chest out. It will just hurt. And you look silly.
– ‘Noticing’ is not judging or analyzing. It is just noticing. Noticing is useful in and of itself.
– Stretching and straining as you move is an indication that you don’t know how to do what you are doing.
Don’t believe these ideas, just consider them – they may be at odds with what you’ve heard or been told to do. Has what you’ve been told worked so far?
Here are some things you can try that may help you re-learn, or finally learn, how to sit up:
Sit on a chair, preferably one with a firm, flat seat. Sit near the front edge with your feet on the floor. Don’t sit ‘correctly’, just sit the way you’d sit if your mom and dad weren’t nagging away inside your head.
Notice how you are sitting. Notice how you contact the chair. Do you sit more on one side than the other? Notice your breathing, where your head sits in relation to your spine, your sense of your chest and ribs, your belly, your lower back, your feet, how far apart your legs are. Are you relaxed, tight, numb?
Find your sit-bones. (‘Where did I put them?’) They are on the bottom of your butt. You are sitting on them. If you can’t find them, tip to one side a bit, lift one side of your butt up, slide your hand under your butt, and sit on your hand. You’ll probably feel a bone there at the top of the back of your leg where it meets your butt, more towards the center than the sides. You have two of them. Now get your hands off your butt.
Notice the pressure, or weight, you feel on your sit bones. Are you more on one than the other? Are you sitting towards the front of them or are you sitting behind them? Just notice.
Try these rounding and arching movements:
First, round your back and look down like you are trying to see something on the floor between your feet. Then return to sitting up. Try this several times. Keep it easy and relaxed – do not stretch or strain. I repeat: do not stretch or strain.
As your round your back, round your whole back. Try to make a nice easy curve in your whole back, from your tailbone to the top of your head. You might notice that doing this causes you to roll towards the back of your sit bones, tipping the top of your pelvis backwards. Let your belly button go backwards, your chest move backwards, your shoulders just hang relaxed.
As you return to sitting up, notice that you come back on top of your sit bones – you might actually press them down against the seat of the chair. Let your belly and chest return forward, your head come back on top your spine, your eyes look forward.
Now arch your back a little and look up. Comfortably! Do not stretch or strain! As you arch your back to look up, curve your whole back, push your sit bones against the chair, let your belly come forward, your chest rise, your chin lift up (don’t just bend in your neck – let your neck be a continuation of your spine). Then return to sitting in your ‘neutral’ position.
Now round then arch your back a few times, looking down, then up, letting your whole spine move, and your ribs, pelvis, and chest. Notice what if feels like, notice if you’re breathing, notice if you are able to move within the range you are comfortable in or if you’re trying to prove something to someone (where are they?).
Try bending to the side:
Tilt your head a little to one side, as if cocking your head to listen, your ear going towards your shoulder. Return, then go to the other side. Notice which direction is easiest.
Tilt your head to the easy side, return. Repeat this several times. Notice what the rest of your self does, or can do, to make that easier.
Now add tilting your shoulder down to that side along with your head. What do you do with your spine and ribs?
Sit in neutral. Slip your hand under under your butt on the same side as you were tilting your head towards and find your sit-bone. Gently lift your sit bone up, so you bring that sit bone up off the chair, tilting your pelvis to the other side. You’ll notice right off that unless you help a bit by bending your trunk to the side your arm is not strong enough to lift your pelvis by itself. As you do this, what do your ribs do? You might notice that the same side shoulder begins to drop down as your hip lifts up. How about your head?
Now remove your hand, then lift your sit bone as you tilt your head and shoulder towards it. Voila! Side bend! Each time you repeat it keep spreading out the work so your whole spine is involved and your ribs are moving – even under your arm pits.
Try it on the other side. Start gentle, small.
Now sit with both sit bones touching. Gently bend to one side then the other, letting your whole spine, head, and pelvis be involved.
Turning your head and trunk:
Sit comfortably. Close your eyes. Feel your eyes resting in their sockets.
Roll your eyes to one side, then the other. Repeat this several times.
Open your eyes, and turn your head to look first to one side, then the other.
Turn your head to one side and pause there. Roll your eyes side to side, gently. Return to turning your head side to side.
Turn your head to the other side and pause there. Roll your eyes side to side, gently. Return to turning your head side to side.
Now turn your head to the left, pause, look to the left, and leave your eyes looking to the left as you turn your head gently to the right a bit, then return, maintaining the look to the left. Repeat. Keep it small.
Try it to the other side.
Relax your eyes and turn your head to one side, letting your shoulders go along so the twist moves further down your spine. How far down your spine do you notice yourself twisting? Try it to one side a few times, then the other.
Turn head and shoulders to the right, pause there, and turn just your head back to center. Now turn your head to the right as your bring your shoulders back to center. Do this several times, rotating your head the opposite direction you’re turning your shoulders and spine. (if you wish, you can add your eyes – either looking the direction your head is turning or the direction your shoulders are turning) Keep it easy. Try it to the other side.
These are the primary movements of our back and spine – rounding and arching, bending to the sides, rotating and twisting. Do some of these movements from time to time. Don’t make a program out of it, just try some out, easily, without any strain. After a while you’ll begun to notice it’s easier to sit up.