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How to Sit Without Pain

It Is Possible to Sit Without Pain

Today we are going to talk about something that we deal with every day. It’s not something we talk about in public, and it can make some people a little uncomfortable.  Even on what seems like the best of days….SIT HAPPENS.  That’s right, you heard me correctly…SIT HAPPENS.

Just a little attempt at bringing cleverness to what could be a dry topic!

In all seriousness, let’s talk about sitting.  I mean, how many of you can say someone taught you how to sit properly outside of “sit up straight!”? Honestly, we don’t really have someone teach us how to walk or sit…we learn by watching those around us.

One of things I do as a Rolfer™ is help people gain better awareness into their bodies, so that throughout the day, they can be self-correcting poor postural habits.  That, along with our Rolfing sessions together, really can transform a person’s posture and sense of well-being.

Why Sitting Properly Is Important

But why is it so important to sit with good posture?  Besides how sitting properly helps us project confidence to those around us, it is important for the health of our spine and entire body.  A healthy spine is critical for moving and aging well.  Sitting with poor posture can compromise our posture and health significantly through compression of the spine, nerves, organs, and much more.

Now it goes without saying that we are healthier when we don’t spend as much time sitting, period.  Regardless of how good or poor our posture is. That is an article for another day.  Today, I want to focus on helping you start sitting with better posture, so that when you do sit, you are doing it without harming the rest of your body.

Now, if you are reading this article and are sitting like this….

Posture-when-sitting

…then there isn’t much point in reading further!  Great job on having excellent seated posture! But, most of you reading this are realizing you are sitting very differently than this picture.  In reality, it is more likely for everyone to relate to one of these three images….just looking at them can make your back, shoulders, and neck ache.  That’s okay.  I am going to provide you with a few helpful tips today to help you start sitting with better posture.

3forms of seated posture

But you might be saying, don’t worry about me, Dixie, I sit on a ball at work….

Business-Man-Fitness-Stability-Ball-Desk-Sitting-Posture-©-Endostock-Dreamstime-32789269-e1422887502944-1000x399

That is all well and good, but sitting on a ball is not an automatic guarantee of sitting with good posture.  You can have just as dysfunctional a seated posture on a ball as you do in a chair.  So the same principles of supported seated posture will apply if you are sitting on a ball.

Principles of Supported Seated Posture

So let’s get started!  First we need to understand some basics of anatomy. When I talk with clients about proper seated posture, it isn’t so much about sitting with a straight spine, shoulders back, head up….it is more about building a strong foundation with the pelvis.  It isn’t about having the right lumbar support either….we don’t walk around needing support for our lumbar spine, so sitting should be no different.


cropped skeleton image

The sits bones are at the bottom of our pelvis, and important to sitting properly.  In non-anatomical language, these are the two bony points under your bum.  This is the first principle of proper seated posture.

Principle 1:  Am I Sitting on my Sits Bones?

To determine this, take your hands and place them under your bum and you should find two bony points, one on the left, and one on the right. These are your sits bones.  You might find one pressing more into your hand than the other, and that’s okay.

Once you have determined you are on your sits bone, we want to look at the orientation your pelvis.  You might be in front of your sits bones with a more anteriorly tilted pelvis, or behind them with a posterior tilt of the pelvis.  I find most people are adopting the latter these days with hours in front of the computer or working on cell phones and tablets.  Now, with your hands still under your bum, and keeping your spine stationary, tip your pelvis back and forth until you can find the middle, where you are on top of your sits bones.

Principle 2:  Get my hips above, or at least level with, my knees

The next principle of proper seated posture, is determining where your hips are in relationship to your knees. Ideally, your hips will be slightly angled above your knees (getting your weight flowing into your legs). Your hips and knees can be level, but you want to limit or avoid knees above hips which rocks you back to where you are sitting on your tailbone and sacrum….and compressing the spine, and so much more.

Principle 3:  Make contact with the ground

Last principle—contact with the ground.  If you have ever sat on a bar stool for a long time or on a boat dock, you know how uncomfortable it can be having your feet dangling.  You have no support from the earth.  Even if you can only get one toe on the ground, this will still give you support up through to the pelvis and spine.

With these 3 principles of seated posture, you have a strong foundation of support.  In sitting with support from the pelvis and the ground, the spine, shoulders, neck, and head have a foundation to more easily rest on.  As I wrote in my last article, the goal with posture is for it to be effortless….this is true whether you are standing or sitting.

proper seated posture

If this is a new posture for you, you might experience fatigue until you establish better core support.  That’s okay—keep at it!  It will get easier. You can also use the back of a chair, but you want to make sure you still have the 3 principles in place first before hinging at your hips to rest your back against the back of the chair.  If you fatigue, roll up a towel or blanket and place it under your shoulder blades, not in the lumbar region.

This is something you can be practicing at home, at the office, in the car.  If you keep at it, it will become the new norm, and your body will not want to go back to the old way of sitting.  You might even find that some of your back, shoulder, neck, and head pain starts to go away.

I hope you will start practicing proper seated posture in your days, so that when SIT HAPPENS, you are prepared and can do it effortlessly and feel better in your body!