Work at Your Computer Without Pain
By Dana K. Davis
You’ve probably heard that 80% of Americans will have a severe bout of back pain at some point in their lives. Many have speculated about the causes, but researchers don’t agree on this.
Sitting is often blamed for our back problems, as well as shoulder and neck pain. Many doctors, including Christiane Northrup, M.D., believe that industrialized cultures have more alignment problems due to sitting at our desks hunched over.
It’s true. This misalignment began around 1920 with the “Flappers.” Since that time, our posture has suffered, with pain as the result.
Noelle Perez-Christiaens from Paris researched healthy posture beginning in the 1970’s. She studied people in natural alignment without back pain, who stayed straight into old age, in many countries. They have the same posture as all children up until age 3. After 3, children unconsciously imitate their parents’ posture.
Good News About Sitting
The good news is: sitting is not the problem! It’s HOW you sit that really matters. I used to sit all day at my job, and in the afternoon, my back and shoulders ached for a massage. I assumed the discomfort was normal and I had to just put up with it.
When I started sitting as I learned from Jean Couch, author of The Runner’s Yoga Book, based on Noelle’s teaching, I was able to work all day at the computer with no discomfort!
It all starts with the pelvis. Your pelvis must be placed correctly in order for everything above to be comfortable (spine, neck, shoulders, etc.). Most people sit on the back of their pelvis - on their sacrum or tailbone. This causes the back to round forward in a C shape, and the head and shoulders move forward, causing strain as the muscles of the neck and upper back work overtime.
We’re then told we need to use lumbar supports to keep the back straight. Well, sure, if you’re sitting on that part of your pelvis, you WILL need a lumbar support! But you don’t HAVE to sit on that part of the pelvis.
To realign, start with a simple chair with a fairly flat and firm seat bottom and back and a slight recline.
1) Stand in front of the chair and bend at your hip crease (where your legs join your torso), letting your sitz bones (ischial tuberosities) move way back.
2) Aim the front of your pelvis towards the chair (we call this the “fig leaf area” – where Adam and Eve might place a fig leaf), and sit down.
3) Lean against the chair back. You should feel your sitz bones underneath you. Resist the tendency to slide forward.
4) Let your belly relax.
5) Relax your back by dropping your front ribs. Don’t “sit up”; sit DOWN. This is a rest. There’s no need to work at it.
6) Let your thighs relax and place your ankles underneath your knees. Your feet point the same direction as your thighs.
7) Draw each shoulder back and down separately, then relax the shoulders.
8) Draw your chin in and stretch the back of your neck briefly, then relax and let your face come to vertical.
9) Don’t worry about “holding” any position. Just place your bones in alignment, and relax. Let the chair and your bones support you.
This is the basic sitting position. When I’m working at my computer, I also sit on a foam wedge. This allows you to sit more upright, and is useful when using your hands to type. You don’t actually use the back of the chair in this variation.
Make sure your computer keyboard is not too far forward. Your elbows should be under your shoulders with your forearms parallel to the ground. Make sure your wrists are straight rather than cocked at an angle, and your screen is not above eye level, which forces your neck to strain.
For more information, you can watch my video on pain-free sitting at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h2abFgAcLc8. You can also find articles on healthy posture at my blog at www.sonomabodybalance.com.
Remember to start with placing your pelvis first. Follow these guidelines and your back will be thanking you!
©Dana K. Davis, MA, CYT, is a Certified Balance Teacher by the Balance Center in Palo Alto, California. She has practiced yoga since 1984 and is a graduate of the 3-year Advanced Studies Program at the Yoga Room in Berkeley. She is the owner of Sonoma Body Balance, a posture and yoga studio in Petaluma, www.sonomabodybalance.com, 707-658-2599.
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