You’ve probably heard by now that sitting could be as bad for you as smoking. (And if you haven’t heard, here’s a great infographic.) Even if you exercise regularly, you aren’t off the hook health-wise if you’re planted in a chair 8 plus hours a day.
So I think my first point about having better posture while sitting is this: Find ways to sit less.
Use a standing desk or treadmill desk. Hold walking meetings. Take frequent activity breaks. All great ideas.
Sitting is woven into the fabric of modern life. I am sitting while I type this. You are likely sitting as you read this. So there will inevitably be times when you’ve got a date with a chair.
To help figure out some ways to reengineer this sitting posture dilemma, I asked Brooke Thomas, a Rolfer and founder of the Liberated Body podcast, for her best tips.
“Posture shouldn’t feel like a tug of war,” she explains. “Rather, it’s about connecting with your inner architecture so you can be easy and upright, with your bones holding you up, instead of your muscles. There’s a sensation of being at rest.”
Now that your intention is set, here are Thomas’ four pieces of advice for better seated posture:
1. Sit on your butt. This one seems obvious, I know. But most of us don’t sit on our actual tushy. We sit on the sacrum—the triangular bony plate at the back of the pelvis.
We should be sitting on the ischial tuberosity—the bone located in the middle of each buttock that yoga teachers often refer to as the “sits bone” and which I’ll call IT from here on out.
Sitting on your sacrum makes your spine assume the shape of an uppercase C. The spine is designed to reside in more of an S-shape. When you sit like the wrong letter of the alphabet, this triggers the following not-great things:
It places a lot of pressure on the discs of your lower spine, and paves the way for low-back pain
Your abdominal organs get smushed, which impedes breathing and digestion—two pretty important things!
Your neck and head get pushed forward, forcing the neck and upper back to support the weight of your skull, which can lead to headaches and neck tension.
To sit on your actual sit bones, Thomas suggests imagining a beam of light shooting out of them, and then pointing that beam of light at the wall behind you as you sit down. This will help you land in the chair seat with a supportive foundation.
2. Stay on the edge of your seat. You may think that the chair back is a crucial piece of tall seated posture,
but it actually encourages you to roll on to your sacrum. Rather, sit on the edge of chair, making it much easier to sit on your ITs and for your spine to rest in an upright position, Thomas says.
3. Give your shoulders the day off.
Many people think they need to hike their shoulders and puff their chest to truly be sitting up straight—partly because they assume good posture requires effort. But maintaining that position creates a lot of tension.
“Remember, supported sitting should feel both upright and easy,” Thomas says, adding that instead of using your neck and shoulders to try and lift up and out, try adjusting your weight to rest on your ITs.
4. Sitting well is not the same thing as sitting still. “People think, ‘If I find the perfect position sitting still I’ll never move and I’ll never fatigue.’ But that’s not true, because we’re not designed to be still,” Thomas says.
When you notice you’ve gone back in to a slump, resist the urge to crank your body back into a better position. Get up and walk around. Change the cross of your legs. Wiggle. And then start again, shooting those laser beams at the wall behind you and letting your internal architecture do the rest.
Give these suggestions a whirl and tell me what you think. Happy sitting!