One of the toughest physical challenges the human body can face is sitting all day. Standing is our natural posture, and sitting increases pressure on the spine. When you sit with poor alignment, such as slumping in front of a computer screen, pressure on your spine increases.
Slumped sitting is a major reason why so many people in our sedentary society suffer from chronic back and neck pain, as well as a cascade of related ailments including headaches, shoulder pain, and carpal tunnel syndrome. Sitting habitually crunched forward can also contribute to digestive, respiratory, and circulatory problems. And too much sitting—even with good posture—has been linked to reduced life expectancy.
But these problems are not inevitable. They are typically related to our habits—how we sit, stand, and move (or don’t move) throughout the day. To assess your posture, pause right now and notice your alignment:
Yoga can help you break the hunching habit by teaching you to pay attention to your alignment—not just when you’re on the yoga mat, but throughout the day. This can go a long way to preventing and relieving pain.
Whenever you’re sitting, find good alignment with this yoga posture, Seated Mountain Pose:
Do your best to retain this posture as you go about your work—but be aware that it’s very common to fall back into a slump for a variety of reasons including eye strain, fatigue, and bad habits. If you find yourself straining to see the screen, consider investing in a pair of computer glasses. If you’re slumping due to fatigue, get up and stretch if possible. If that isn’t possible, do some of seated stretches—such as seated back bends and side bends, and shoulder shrugs and circles. [There are many examples of seated stretches in my book, “Yoga Sparks”.]
Be sure to take brief walking breaks as often as you can, or at least stand up and stretch frequently, preferably for a few minutes every hour. When you’re talking on the phone, use a headset and stand up. An easy way to add extra walking is to use the bathroom farthest from your work area, preferably climbing stairs to get there. You might also consider investing in a standing desk or height-adjustable workstation that allows you to stand or sit.
An added bonus of good posture is that it can create an “instant weight loss” effect. Slouching causes the belly to protrude, so when you learn how to stand and sit properly, it often looks as if you’ve suddenly lost five pounds.
In addition, good posture can give you an emotional lift, since the way you hold your body affects the way you feel, and vice versa. People who carry themselves with good alignment seem confident and graceful, while those whose posture reflects a physical slump often appear to be in a mental slump as well.
Learn more simple practices to weave into your day in my book, “Yoga Sparks: 108 Easy Practices for Stress Relief in a Minute or Less” (New Harbinger, 2013), and in my upcoming workshops at Duke Integrative Medicine. Registration is now open for 60-Second Stress Relief (Saturday, Feb. 11, from 9 a.m. to noon) as well as Healing Yoga for Back and Neck Pain (six Tuesdays, April 18 – May 23, 5-6:30 p.m.).
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