If you're like most people nowadays, you probably spend a good portion of your waking hours sitting, mainly at your desk at work, but also driving in your car, at home reading or watching TV. But in fact humans aren't well adapted to spend long hours every day sitting in a chair. Our bodies crave and thrive on movement. Sitting, especially for prolonged periods of time, is actually more stressful on our spine, and the little spongy disks between the bony vertebrae, than standing. This stress is compounded by two other problems: most modern chairs are poorly designed for healthy sitting, and most people have poor posture (and not only while sitting but standing as well).
All of this static sitting, combined with our inhuman chairs and slumped posture, can lead to chronic pain in the neck, shoulders and arms, legs and feet, and last but not least, the lower back. How about you: What's your sitting like? Naturally this question is difficult to answer right away, unless you're already an experienced yoga student or meditator, or are engaged in some other body-awareness practice-in which case you're more likely to be aware of your sitting behavior. Most people though are pretty unconscious about the way they hold themselves in just about any position.
Take a look around the next time you're somewhere where lots of people are sitting, like a restaurant. You'll notice that, first of all, the typically pelvis tends to drop backward. Ideally the lower back is slightly concave; but a drooping pelvis stressfully rounds the lower back outward, convexly. Then the spine tends to collapse, which increases the convexity of the upper back, leading to the familiar Hunchback-of- Notre-Dame appearance. This in turn hollows the chest and shoulders, narrowing the space across the collar bones (clavicles)-which interferes with easy breathing-and bows the head forward, shortening the back of the neck (nape). This latter position can lead to all sorts of problems, such as chronic headaches and jaw problems.
In the first part of this article we'll run through a few simple asana-based exercises that should help counteract some of the deleterious effects of protracted sitting. Of course no amount of exercising will have a significant effect if you continue your faulty sitting behavior. So in part two, we'll learn a few basic tricks that will help us to sit more consciously and gracefully.