Reader question #2, "I find that when I sit, my top half is behind my base and I have to compensate by slouching. Is this a strength issue or a flexibility issue? What positions or exercises would you recommend to be able to sit straighter from the lower back?"
This reader is very aware and has recognized that the slouching is coming from his lower back. The individual bones of the spine work together and take an S shape. The neck and low back (cervical and lumbar spine) should have a slight lordotic, inward curve, while the upper back (thoracic spine) maintains a slight kyphotic curve (the opposite). When one area moves, the adjacent area compensates by moving in the other direction. Quite often, we are involved in work, driving, or just lounging, and our weight shifts to our ischial tuberosities (the bones in your butt that you sit on), low back tilts back, and upper back and shoulders round forward. Sound familiar?
I believe that slouching can be the result of habit, muscular imbalance, weakness, inflexibility, and often is a combination of these issues. I'll address how to sit with good posture, a few seated yoga moves that you can do at a desk during your work day, and 2 yoga moves that can easily fit into your workout routine. For maximum benefit, I recommend finding an alignment based yoga class, and incorporating the use of a Yoga Wall if one is available in your area. A well constructed class will help you discover the length in your spine, and the strength and flexibility to maintain it. I'm measuring a full 1.5 inches taller since I started getting serious about my yoga practice.
What is Good Posture?
If you're sitting right now, notice the area that is holding your weight. Most of us keep our weight back on the Ischial Tuberosities.
1. Place your feet flat on the floor, or adjust your chair so that this is possible.
2. Begin to shift some of your weight toward your pubic bone. You should notice a return in the lordotic (inward) curve of your lower back.
3. Place your hands on your lower ribs, and lift that area away from your pelvis by engaging your spinal muscles. You should feel like you're sitting taller.
4. Widen your shoulders. Move the heads of your shoulders back, and allow the bottom tips of your shoulder blades to push in toward the back of your ribs. This should decrease the kyphotic, or forward curve.
5. Move your head back and up. Ideally, your hips, shoulders, and ears are perpendicular to the floor.
For my body, proper posture generally means that I'm not leaning back against the back of my chair.
1. Seated cat/cow pose. On an exhale, arch your back like a halloween cat, your weight will be back on your sit bones (ischial tuberosities). You may stay here for a few breaths, or take the opposite movement (cow) on your next inhale. Shoulders & tailbone will be back, while your heart moves forward. It is your choice if you want to hold these as static poses, or move with your breath. Continue this for at least 30 seconds.
2. From a tall sitting position, raise your right hand toward the ceiling, and place your left hand on the chair at your side. Lift your right hand, shoulder & ribs, while sitting heavily in your hip. Breathe deeply, noticing the length in the right side of your body. Hold for several deep breaths, and repeat on the opposite side.
3. Place your hands on your knees or desk. Shift your weight so it is even between your sit bones and your pubic bone. Lift your ribs to extend the length in your spine. Without moving them, pull your hands and shoulders back toward your body, your chest will move forward, shoulders back, and the muscles in your back will be engaged. If this moves thrusts your lower ribs forward, engage your core just enough to pull them in and up. Do not hold your breath. Hold this for 30 seconds or more.
These poses, as well as getting up for frequent walking breaks, should help you to loosen up stiff muscles that occur with extended sitting.
Additional Yoga Options (for strength and flexibility)
I believe that core strength and upper back mobility are vital for good posture. Here are a few poses to try.
1. High Plank - Start on your hands and knees, and find that same length in your spine that you've been working on while you're sitting. With your hands shoulder width apart, keep your shoulders wide, with the pits of your elbows pointing forward. Press the bases of all of your fingers firmly into the mat or floor. You have the option of keeping soft elbows if you hyperextend, or if you have a hard time pressing your 2nd finger into the floor. Bring your feet back to the top of a pushup position. Remain strong through the legs, with your heels pressing back. Remain long through your chest, and avoid allowing your low back to sink toward the ground. You should take your knees down as necessary. I'd rather you take shorter holds and use modifications with proper form. Work your way up to longer holds.
2. Bridge Pose - Lay on your back with your feet in front of your hips and knees pointing toward the ceiling. Place your arms at your sides, bent at the elbows, with your fingers pointing toward the ceiling. Begin to roll up, starting from your tailbone. Keep the legs strong, and press into your feet and arms. You'll end up in a backbend with your head, shoulders, and feet supporting your weight. Knees, feet, and hips should be tracking in a straight line. Lift the breastbone, and keep the length in your spine. You may place a support (yoga block) under your hips for a supported version of this pose.
Awareness is the first step in correcting poor posture. It has taken your lifetime to get to a less than desirable posture, and will take some effort to correct. Concentrate on your foundation (where your weight is), length in your spine, and the position of your head and shoulders. Good posture is a sign of strength, confidence, and openness, and who doesn't want that?