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Get Out of Your Slump: Simple Practices to Enhance Health

February 8, 2017

By Carol Krucoff, C-IAYT, E-RYT

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:

  • Where is your head in relation to your shoulders? Is it thrust forward? Does your chin poke up?
  • What shape is your spine? Does it have its natural “S” curves or is it more like a “C”?
  • What part of your anatomy are you sitting on? Your sit bones or your sacrum?
  • Notice any places where you are holding tension—in your shoulders? Brow? Jaw? Take an easy breath in, then invite these muscles to relax as you exhale.

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:

  1. Sit on your sit bones, the two hard knobs at the base of your pelvis. The anatomical term for these “sitz bones” is ischial tuberosities. To find them, you may need to shamelessly reach your hands under your bottom to feel for these knobs, then gently move the flesh of your buttocks aside so you can feel your sit bones releasing down onto the surface on which you’re sitting.
  2. Place the soles of your feet on the floor or, if they don’t comfortably reach the floor, on a foot stool.
  3. Take a moment to get grounded: feel your sit bones on the chair and your feet on the floor. From this place of grounding, extend the top of your head up toward
    toward the sky, creating length in your spine. Be sure to keep your chin parallel to the floor; avoid tilting your chin up or tucking it in.
  4. Relax your shoulders down away from your ears and release any tension in your face, jaw and throat.
  5. Stack your joints, so that if someone were looking at you from the side they’d see your ear over your shoulder and your shoulder over your hip.
  6. Imagine a light shining out from your breastbone – called the “heart center”– and direct it forward, not down at the ground.
  7. If your chair doesn’t support this good posture, consider placing a support (such as a rolled towel) at your lower back in the area of your lumbar spine.

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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