As vertebrates, or creatures with spines, we have four developmental patterns that we go through to learn to move when we’re babies:
- Spinal: when we learn how to move our spines
- Homologous: when we learn to use our arms together and our legs together to push and pull ourselves across the floor
- Homolateral: when we learn to use one half of the body together, the left side or the right side
- Contralateral: when we learn to organize across our bodies, coordinating the left arm with the right leg and vice-versa.
This last, most complex movement pattern was the theme in many of my classes this week, with a focus on spirals and twists. Oftentimes, exploring the diagonal connections that run across our bodies can reveal weaknesses and restrictions that are sometimes hidden, but it can also create an entirely different experience and open up new movement choices.
The Dynamics Of Sitting
Several of you emailed to tell me you took up last week’s practice challenge to assess and re-engineer your workspaces. As a companion piece to last week’s look at how to sit, this week we’re taking a look at what to do while sitting.
We often think of sitting as being the same as relaxing, and that’s certainly true if you’re sitting in a comfy armchair reading the New York Times or watching WandaVision, but sitting up to work at a desk, or even to eat a meal, is an athletic endeavor. It might be a very gentle athletic endeavor, but think about those times you’ve been at your desk working for a long time and how fatigued you get. You might find that your upper back or your neck become fatigued. I find my hips and thighs become extremely tired, and my lower back starts to ache. Even something simple like sitting will become tiring if you sustain it for an extended length of time. Have you ever taken an exercise or yoga class when the instructor made you hold your arms up for an extended period of time? (I know at least some of you have. We did it in class this week. ?) Your arms can become extremely tired!
In any situation where we’re actively using our bodies, there are ways in which we can perform the activity that make the effort required more efficient and effective. Here are some simple things you can think about to help you when sitting:
- Balance your head on the top of your spine: Set yourself up so that your head isn’t dropping forward or pulling back so its weight (a human head can weigh anywhere from 10 to 13 pounds) is pulling your neck and torso off balance. Also, let all the big muscles of your neck be soft so that your head can balance on the top of your spine instead of being held in space.
- Remember the top joint of your spine: As an adjunct to balancing your head, remember that it can move atop your spine a certain amount without your neck getting involved. Take advantage of that movement, small though it may be, when you look down or around. It will reduce the load the weight your head places on your neck when it moves off balance.
- Balance your weight on your sitting bones: In the same way you balanced your head on your spine, you can balance the weight of your torso on your sitting bones, the bottom of your pelvis. If you sit with your pelvis tipped back or forward too much, the weight of your head and torso will pull on your lower back, making your back and shoulders work far too hard to hold you up. Finding the perfect balance point to sit on can be a little frustrating, but you don’t need to overthink it. Find a position where your legs and torso feel softest. They will always be working, but there will be a balance point where the effort is less.
- Let your legs release away from you: Your legs need to do very little to hold you up when you’re sitting, so let your leg muscles relax, and let the weight of your legs release through your feet into the floor. Sitting with your hips elevated above your knees and with your feet flat on the floor will help with this.
- As you work, notice how you tend to sink forward and down toward the table in front of you: Let yourself release back and up to counter that tendency.
- Release your shoulders into width: Working with your arms in front of you will tend to pull your shoulders forward. To counter that, don’t pull your shoulders back. Pulling them will only create more tension in your upper back and neck. Instead think of your soldiers releasing out to either side of you.
- Let your arms hang: When you are typing, using a mouse, or doing other work at a table, your arms and hands should be free of extra burden so they can focus on what they need to do. If you lean into your arms at all as if to put weight on the table surface, or your mouse, keyboard, or whatever else you are using, you will, in effect be making it a lot harder to do whatever you intend to be doing. Over time this can contribute to injury. To prevent this, think of your arms releasing away from you, supported by your shoulders and back, so that your hands can work freely.
That’s a lot of things to think about, but using the Alexander Technique can help simplify all of this into a few directions:
- Let your neck be free so that your head can balance on the top of your spine.
- Let your torso ease back and up away from the table.
- Let your shoulders release into width.
- Let your arms and legs release away from you.
Attending to these four intentions periodically as you work can help you sit and use your body more efficiently, creating less fatigue and reducing discomfort.
Your Practice Challenge: Dynamic Sitting
To help you put this into action, here is your practice challenge for the week. Once a day, take ten minutes to deliberately practice dynamic sitting:
- Spend a minute or two sitting quietly, thinking about the four directions listed above.
- Work for three or four minutes as you would normally.
- Stop and assess how you feel. Do you feel yourself falling into your usual habits that lead you to discomfort at the end of the day?
- Spend another minute or two sitting quietly, thinking about the four directions above.
- Start to work again, keeping in mind the directions.
This will give you insight into your habits and how to repattern them.
Here’s an additional tip to help you feel better as you work. Pause your work every 20 minutes to assess and think about your directions. Set yourself a timer to help you remember. If you feel particularly fatigued, take a break by getting up and walking around for a bit.
I you try the practice, let me know how it went, either via email or before/after one of my classes this week!