Perched and pretty: The most important chair yoga pose you need to know
Being a yoga teacher, I try to be as fully aware of my standing and sitting positions as possible. I also notice the postures of other people. Just the other day when I was teaching my classes at the Integrated Pain Care, one of the patients brought his son in for the day. His son, who's about 15, came in and sat on a chair in the slouchiest and most slumped position one can ever imagine. It hurts my shoulders and lower back just by looking at it, and while he may not be bothered by it because he is still young, in about 5 years he will start to experience some tightness and soreness. I encouraged him to sit tall, and showed him how to do it, but he seemed to unnatural in that tall position that he just slumped back into his habitual sitting position after 30 seconds.
I get it. At his age, he is going through lots of changes that might manifest his insecurity, his lack of self-esteem, and his natural tendency to shrink himself. Knowing that I won't be able to correct his poor posture saddened me because he may likely end up in the same pain rehab program as his dad 20 or 30 years later (of course, crossing my fingers that it won't happen).
When we sit for long periods of time in this manner, our core is disengaged, and our hip flexors are shortened and weakened. One of the main jobs of the core (which includes the abdominal muscles, the psoas, and the back muscles) is to hold our spine in a healthy, aligned position. When sit slumped, our core is slack, hence dumping the weight of our upper body into the lower back. Our hip flexors are responsible for actions like standing, walking, jogging, running, and any other positions that require us to raise our legs.
Let's compare the spine when we slouch in our seat vs when we have a healthy alignment:
From personal experience, I know when I sit in a "bad" position, I experience shoulder and upper back soreness. I'd catch myself over and over again while typing away on my computer, because it is just so darn easy to slouch into my chair.
Furthermore, by sitting in a slouched position, we are compressing our lungs and digestive organs. obstructing blood flow and nutrient/waste exchanges in all these areas. Panic attacks, shortness of breath, digestive issues, constipation--sound familiar?
And what about your head and neck? When the mid/upper back curves in extreme convexity, the neck and head is pulled forward. As the head cranes forward, the neck has to work harder and harder to support the weight of our head, and as you can see below, that ain't easy! Constant craning forward of the neck and head can result in stiffness in the shoulders, neck pain, and even headaches.
And that is why we go to yoga class and practice Tadasana, over and over again, so that we can override the poor standing habits we have accumulated for decades. Similarly, in my pain rehab center classes, I teach "seated" Tadasana. If you are not used to a tall seated position, this might come across as very difficult for you because you have to rely a lot more on your core strength. On the other hand, when standing, you can distribute the weight bearing to your legs.
Follow the directions below to achieve your best sitting posture at your desk! (or anywhere else, like on a date, on the bus, in your car, at a meeting--you're sure to impress!)
I cue the patients visualize their sitting bones as their feet. Plant your sitting bones "feet" on the chair, preferably away from the back of your chair so that you don't have the urge to slouch back. From those two points, close your eyes and visualize yourself "growing" out of your sitting bones. Try to lift the lower back out of the hips and sacrum, and find the natural concave curve of the lumbar spine. If you have trouble lifting out of your pelvis due to tightness in the hamstrings or stiffer lower back, place a thick blanket under your hips to help boost you a little higher. With the knees now slightly below the hips, your hip flexors can relax and you have more access to your lower back mobility. With your eyes still closed, play around with shifting your upper body slightly to the left, right, front, and back, then find a "balancing" point where you feel as if the vertebrae are stacked in the neatest Jenga formation. Perform the same with your head until you find the head balancing effortlessly at the top of your neck.
Sit quietly for 10 to 15 deep breaths, with the eyes and jaws soft. You might notice your body slightly swaying--that is natural, since our body is a dynamic machine with the heart continuously beating, the lungs continuously taking in air, and the blood continuously flowing. Observe how your breath changes (or not), how you actually feel more relaxed (or not), and how slowly the tensions in your shoulders, neck, and lower back melt away (or not). Take note and internalize these sensations. Your body is smarter than you think, and it will remember this position overtime if you repeat this exercise.
Instead of appearing withered and dried, by sitting taller in the correct posture you would appear more like a thriving plant. Notice also how your mood, emotions, thoughts, and self-perception shifts when you allow the chest to lift.