Updated: Dec 9, 2018
November 12, 2018
Breath and posture go hand in hand.
If you want to breathe effectively, your body needs to have a natural and integrated posture. Those rounded shoulders, tucked pelvis' and drooping spines are good for nothing other than looking smaller than you are and hiding the beauty of your natural body.
The perma-sit culture
The challenge with contemporary lifestyles is we SIT ALL THE TIME. We sit when we eat, when we work , when we watch tv. We even sit in the gym! Yes... you know who you are. If you think heading to the gym and sitting your way through a work out using all those weight machines is doing much long term good - think again. It is a sad fact the majority of a gym floor is not designed to actually help us create a uniform and integrated body; they do not promote our healthiest selves.
You can add to the 'spinal crunch list' cycling, rowing, sit ups... The list goes on. Before you drop kick your laptop and phone sending these words flying into the distance it is important to remember the exercises we choose to do.. the exercises we love are not the problem.
The problem is what we do with them... or to be more exact, whether we do them from a place of balance with everything else in our life. To know why this is, it is helpful to understand what we are doing to our bodies.
The seated position (Hips 90 degrees, knees 90 degrees, ankles 90 degrees) places our spine in an unnatural position. It is not a position you would have seen many neanderthals doing. A bunch of primitive men and women sitting on chairs around the camp fire is quite amusing. They would have been lying down, standing up, squat fully to the floor or even sitting cross legged. All postures that are far better for our body. They are better because they release what need releasing, stretch what needs stretching and engage what is helpful and life sustaining to engage.
The problem with sitting as often we do is the traditional seat over-stretches our back muscles, weakens the abdominals (and in fact nearly all core muscles) and places strain on our pelvis in such a way the all mighty hip flexors (psoas) tightens.
You can do what you like if...
You can in fact enjoy sweating it out on a bike, using a rowing machine; use all the gym equipment, even lounge on a sofa as much as you want... but you will need to do an appropriate amount of unwinding... The "anti-sit" as I call it. Anti-sit exercises are numerous (and delicious) to experience but best of all they help us to unwind the damage of our seated indulgences.
With this in mind, if you are looking for a posture that cures all our postural ills... may I suggest this one. Known by a few names including Upward Dog (yoga) and Swan (pilates) this is the king and queen of anti sit movements.
Benefits of this position include: - Increasing lung capacity and improving posture.
- Stretching our chest, shoulders and abdomen
- Strengthening the spine, arms and wrists
- Stimulating the organs of the abdomen
- Also helps to relieve depression, fatigue and pain of sciatica.
Poses like this are critical for a healthy back, considering what we have discussed above.
Looking at such pictures, a person extending the spine in this way, it can seem an easy thing to do. It actually took me close to two years to feel strong and open enough to do this without feeling sore in my lower back, pain in my wrists or neck. We find millions of us are most likely unable to do this posture for these reasons (and often indicates a life time of sitting or in the least a lifestyle that has prevented the body to move as it is designed to move!) You will hear many yoga and pilates teachers saying "if there is pain, don't do it" or "you can modify the posture by". They are right... this posture should feel amazing rather than horrible. And if it doesn't feel good... it just means there is work to be done beforehand.
If this is you, you need to: 📍Learn to lengthen back muscles to extend (rather than tighten them to lift you up)
📍Learn to engage and stretch the abdominal and hip muscles at the same time as using the back muscles.
📍Open the hip flexors and upper back.
📍Strengthen arms, wrists and back muscles. AND
📍Learn to breathe in extension!
The good news all the prep work is unwinding work. Practicing them a few times a day will make all the difference.
Helpful tip: Rather than heading straight up, spend time practicing lifting the belly up off the floor (while lying on your front) and using the arms, underside of the shoulders, middle back and belly to lift you up inch by inch. Locating your hands close to your armpits with elbows up and backwards like cricket legs helps get the correct alignment. Many will find their shoulders too tight to do this (another sign of over developed muscles that shouldn't be over developed).
Breathwise: So often the nervous system creates super shallow breaths in this posture. Ensure to breathe continuously; gently and fully. It is helpful to shut your eyes and watch as air moves to parts of the body it doesn’t usually go. Bonus areas include getting air into spaces of the upper back, under arms and deep down into the belly (without the abdominals spilling downwards).
Other things to help: Try not to sit so much at work, operate standing up, walk up escalators, take the stairs and ensure regular rests from being seated.
Good luck in your anti-sitting adventures!