If you have upper back, neck or shoulder pain and spenda lot of time sitting in a chair, you may be sitting improperly. Spend some time right now learning supported sitting. You have nothing to lose but your aches and pains.
When you are standing the weight of your body is transmitted to the floor through your legs and feet. When you are sitting this weight is most efficiently transmitted to the chair through your sit bones (ischial tubero sities). To learn supported sitting you first have to find your sit bones.
Sit in your chair and put your hands underneath your buttocks, reaching underneath from the sides. Feel around for two bones shaped like Brazil nuts, one on each side. These are your sit bones.
Once you’ve found your sit bones, roll forward then backward. Feel how the movement of your pelvis changes the position of the sit bones on your fingers. If you rock too far forward or too far back, the bones seem to go away. In the middle the weight of your body will come through your sit bones onto your fingers. When it does you are sitting on your sit bones.
Now transfer your weight to your feet and lift your body off the chair a few inches. Reach for your sit bones, and when you find them grab the fleshy part of your buttocks that covers them. Pull it back as you lower yourself down onto your sit bones. (If you were supposed to sit on it, it would be called your under instead of your behind.) Now you are sitting on your sit bones with your behind be hind you. The mass of your buttocks works like the third leg of a tripod to help support the weight of your torso and shoulders above it.
You should feel more stable sitting like this than you usually do. If not, your hamstrings may be too tight. Try some hamstring stretches, then start again at the beginning. You may be holding the musculature of your buttocks tight. Relax your gluteal muscles and try again.
Of course, you can’t walk around the office grabbing your derriere every time you sit down. To find a supported sitting position without embarrassing yourself, follow these directions.
Back up to your chair until the back of your knees are touching the edge of the seat. Put one foot about three quarters of a foot length forward. Transfer your weight to the front leg then bend forward at the hip joint. It’s the same position your body takes when skiing. Maintain your weight on the front leg. Bend your knees and lower your body towards the chair using the strong muscles of your quadriceps. Transfer your weight to the back leg as you approach the seat but keep your torso leaning forward.
Right as you are about to make contact with the seat imagine you have a big bushy squirrel tail that you have to get out of the way before you sit down. This will require you to lift your tailbone up slightly, right before you lower yourself onto the chair. You should be sitting correctly.
The most common mistake people make as they practice this is shortening the back of the ‘neck as they imagine lifting their squirrel tail. Try it again, letting your gaze rest on the floor momentarily as you lower yourself into your chair. This will help you keep the back of your neck lengthened.
Reverse the process to stand up. Sitting toward the front of your chair, put one foot slightly forward and one foot back. Lean forward from your hip joint (maintaining the length in the back of your neck). As you continue to lean forward, your weight will eventually be over your legs. When it is, stand up again using the strong leg muscles. (If you fall out of the chair, you missed it. Try again.)
As you get used to the feeling of having your weight supported by your pelvis and appropriately transmitted to your chair seat through your sit bones, you will begin to let your shoulders relax onto the central support of your spine. Without this support you expend an enormous amount of energy trying to hold yourself up with your shoulders. This is a common cause of upper back, shoulder and neck tension.
Now you can experiment with creative slouching. Adjust your chair to support your lower back. Then lean back against the lumbar support of your chair without letting your sit bones roll out of contact with the seat. Try crossing your legs without rolling off your sit bones. Learning support sitting provides you with many new additions to your repertoire of movement patterns.
Like any new habit, this will take practice. Trust your, body. No one position is correct for the entire day. There will be times when you are completely unaware of how, you are sitting. When your’ body sends you a signal (commonly known as discomfort),, move around. Shift positions. Stand up and stretch. As you become familiar with supported sitting, you will find yourself using it often.
Much of this information came from Jason Mixter, Jane Harrington and Michael Murphy. Other sources include the work of F. M. Alexander and the book Centered Riding by Sally Swift.
I make high quality copies of this article and include it in mailings to people who inquire about Rolfing, and give a copy to each new client at ‘ the end of the first session as homework.