(This is Part 4 of the Repetitive Strain Series)
In the last post, I challenged some common assumptions about good posture. This time I’ll give you practical ways to find greater support when sitting. This support is essential to avoid strain in your hands and arms at the computer, as well as discomfort in your neck and back.
4 Points for More Effortless Upright Posture
As I mentioned in the previous post, there is no one “correct” posture, and mechanically arranging yourself into a “good” position isn’t so effective. Instead, using awareness, exploration and movement you can organically align your skeleton so your bones, not your muscles, are your primary support.
But how do you organize your whole self for skeletal support when sitting? By using four key points: your two sit bones (ischial tuberosities) on the chair and your two feet on the floor. You can think of these points like the four legs of the table, providing a strong, stable base. And just as a table that has one leg missing or not quite touching the floor, the base becomes wobbly and anything resting on top might tilt or slide.
So grab a chair (preferably without wheels) and take off your shoes (if you can). Then do these three short movement exercises to help you sit more comfortably.
Exercise 1: Are Your Sit Bones Working For or Against You?
Let’s clarify the two points on the bottom of your pelvis designed to bear weight when sitting.
1. Notice How You’re Sitting
Without changing anything, notice how you’re sitting. Which parts of each foot make contact with the floor? Is the weight on your pelvis in the center or more to one side; perhaps a little toward the back? What part of each sit bone makes contact with the chair? And is your low back flat or does it curve a little inward or outward?
2. Sit at the Front of Your Chair
Come to sit at the front of your chair so that both feet are flat on the floor. How comfortable are you sitting like this? If you’re used to resting against the chair back, it may feel new or unsupportive. If your skeleton is not well aligned, your muscles have to do excess work to hold you up. As you learn to arrange yourself so your bones support your weight, your muscles can become free for movement. And you may find you don’t need to lean on the back of the chair.
3. Find Your Sit Bones
Now slide each hand under its buttock so you are sitting on your hands. Feel for the bony protuberances under your fingers. These are your ischial tuberosities, commonly called your “sit bones” as that’s what they’re designed for. Take your hands out. Can you feel the contact your sit bones make with the chair? Where is the point of most pressure on each sit bone: more toward the front or back, the outside or inside? How is this different from before you came to sit at the front of your chair?
4. Roll Your Pelvis
Begin to gently roll your pelvis a little forward and back (your low back will curve a little inward and outward). Only go half as far as you’re capable of. Notice how the pressure on your sit bones rolls, as if they are the two rockers of a rocking chair. How long are your sit bones from front to back? Feel how your spine changes shape. When do you get taller; when do you get shorter?
5. Find the Easiest Place to Sit
Gradually decrease the rolling, honing in on a place in the middle that feels neutral and easy. Settle there and notice where the pressure is on each sit bone now? Sense the base of support your pelvis provides for your whole upper body. Is sitting a little more comfortable than usual?
Exercise 2: Are Your Feet and Legs Helping or Hindering Your Sitting?
Now let’s look at the other two points: your feet. Come to sit at the front of your chair, then…
1. Notice Your Feet
Without moving them, notice how you’ve positioned your feet. How close/far are they from the chair and how wide/narrow is your stance? Are the two feet symmetrical or is one farther away or more to the side than the other? Feel the weight on each foot and its contact with the floor. Also notice where the weight is on your sit bones and the shape of your spine.
2. Move Your Feet Away
Now stretch your legs long so your heels rest on the floor. How does this change your support or effort in sitting? Did the weight on your pelvis shift forward or back? Did the shape of your spine change? Move your feet back to their original spot and repeat this a few times noticing what adjustments you make to maintain your balance.
3. Move Your Feet Under You
Next bend your knees and bring your feet under your chair so that now your toes are on the floor (heels in the air). What part of your sit bones do you rest on now? How did the shape of your spine change? Does it take more or less effort to sit this way?
4. Find the Best Distance for Your Feet
Between the extremes of #2 and 3, there is a sweet spot that feels easy yet supportive. Experiment and gradually find the best distance for your feet. Often this is roughly below your knees, where the weight can drop down the bones of your lower legs into the floor.
5. Move Your Feet Wide then Together
Now, let’s experiment with the width of your feet. First, bring your legs and feet together. Observe how this changes your stability and comfort. Perhaps your breathing changed? Then move your legs and feet very wide apart and sense the difference. Repeat this a few times noticing how the weight on your pelvis, shape of your spine and overall comfort changes.
6. Find the Best Width for Your Feet
Finally, experiment to find the best width for your feet. Look for a place that’s easy yet supportive.
Exercise 3: Putting the 4 Simple Points Together
Now let’s see how the four points work together for support in sitting and moving. Begin sitting at the front of your chair, then…
1. Sit Using All 4 Points
Take a moment to roll your pelvis and re-find a neutral resting place on your sit bones. Make any adjustments to the distance and width of your feet to be more comfortable. Then play with distributing your weight evenly on all four points. How does sitting feel now? Does it take less effort to be upright? Perhaps your neck and shoulders are more relaxed?
2. Enjoy Easy Movement with the Support of 4 Points
Now shift your weight very slightly (half an inch) in different directions: a little forward, back, side, diagonally. Notice how your four points and skeleton provide support, allowing you to be both stable and mobile. Reach for an imaginary cup or turn as if to look at someone. Each time make the shift of weight between these four points simpler and more fluid. This sort of dynamic sitting allows you to have more ease and variation than holding one position, and thus reduces tension and strain.
Continue to Play with Sitting in Your Daily Life
I hope these explorations have brought more awareness to your sitting. Maybe you felt how even small changes in how you arrange yourself can make sitting easier (or harder!). When you have skeletal support, being upright can feel almost effortless.
How might you integrate what you just learned into your daily life? Perhaps just taking a moment to notice where the weight is on your sit bones or varying the position of your feet. May you enjoy more comfort in sitting and better support for your hands and arms, especially if you have a repetitive strain injury.
Tune in next time when I’ll talk about the other two behavioral habits that contribute to repetitive strain injuries—excess effort and lack of awareness. Addressing these habits will help reduce strain in your hands and arms, as well as your neck, shoulders and back.