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Sitting Butterfly: undoing the havoc of chairs


What is the havoc of chairs? At age 5 you may have started to spend most days of your weeks in chairs: wooden, inflexible, unadjustable chairs - in which you may have shimmied around, draped, and otherwise slouched.

Slouching is what we do when we are uncomfortable. One might recline far back in the chair, rounding the upper body, and the lower body, and perhaps one leg is positioned over the other leg. Possibly, one sat erect with hips open and ankles crossed under the desk.

Inevitably, one has to bend at the mid and upper back - and head of course - to focus on something on the desk.

From the time we are about 5 to the time we graduate High School at age 17 or 18, we are in uncomfortable positions, in uncomfortable chairs. And it continues - through college, to desk jobs, to how we sit at the dinner table, to how we drive.

In short, chairs de-condition our spine, our core. "De-condition" is to make weak, to fall out of alignment, to be unprepared, which is what most of us experience as we attempt to have good posture.

Our bodies don't know where to begin.

The core muscles have not been engaged, functionally, in response to gravity. Other skeletal muscles, of the lower, upper and middle back, are left holding the bag to do this postural work that they are not meant for - plus their jobs. Hence low back pain. Hence "I carry my stress in my shoulders." The core muscles that are supposed to do the work of holding us up are weak, are out of balance, and more -- they are off-line.

Its not our fault.

The body holds to this principal without error: whatever positions we hold the most -- the body will conform to and hold for us whether we are intending it or not. So if we are overly rounded in the upper and lower parts of our bodies most of the time, such as the majority of our developing years, our body will have curvatures in our muscular and maybe skeletal structures that will continue to struggle against gravity, against further imbalance.

The uplifting part: this principal acts in our favor as we begin to train our bodies to hold itself up functionally. We can set the feedback loop the other way. We can train it to hold us up without having to think about it or struggle for it. We have to work for it - a little at a time, over time, for a long time.

We have solutions. Good ones. I have one easy, gentle, long term one that I think you will see and enjoy great long term results and short term results.

Sitting Butterfly

To have life long functioning core, commit to this 20-minute exercise once a week, forever basically....if we want to be an an upright person in old age, as opposed to bent over. After a month, feel free to add this at other times of the week, if you wish.

Find a time for this exercise on a day when you have fewer demands.

You may want a pillow for your seat, and two for your knees.

Set a timer for 20 minutes. Sit on the floor. No phone, no work for the arms or hands.

Bring the bottoms of your feet together in front of you, wherever it is comfortable.

And now sit up. As best you can. Keep sitting up.

This is a neutral position from which your core will start to awaken. The body starts to pull itself up from a neutral pelvic floor, neutral hip position, neutral position between the sacrum, lower back. Against the pull of gravity, and old habits, the abdominals, core, and torso are called into action.

During the 20 minutes, make it comfortable. Your knees may or may not want cushions for support. It is meant to be comfortable for your legs, as you are asking a different set of muscles to work hard for a while.

The first several times may be tiring; it may be frustrating that doing it perfectly does not come right away.

Very important: when the 20 minutes is up, come out of the position very slowly. This is not meant to be a stretch, but it will stretch your inner thighs. Shake your legs out gently before getting up.

The first several times may be tiring; it may be frustrating that doing it perfectly does not come right away.

Don't worry - you're doing your job: you are giving your core the opportunity to work it out. Perfection is not required. Quality will come with the quantity of opportunities we give our core the demand to hold itself up. The body will figure it out - perfectly - with time.

Before long, your upper body will have a solid core on which to stack. You will find its easier and more energizing to sit this way - and to stand up taller. And you're on your way to less neck pain too.

Principle: the body changes according to the "demands" we give it, in terms of frequency and dosage, i.e., how often we do something, and for how long or how strong.

The more change you seek, the smaller the baby steps need to be, and the more our patience needs to be. The body pushes back against major, fast change. The body is totally fine with small, occasional steps.

What happens to our core, our alignment when we sit in chairs?

Its about the hips/trunk. They are mostly locked in flexion, meaning the body is bent at the hips. Sitting cross-legged, they are locked in internal rotation, meaning the thighs are twisting inward (even as the ankles look like they are splayed out).

That's the problem - locked in flexion creates imbalance between the hamstrings and the quadriceps (movement front to back, as in walking). Locked in internal rotation inhibits the range of motion of the external rotators of the hips and trunk.

What supports the low back, and therefore the spine and upper body? The balance, support and strength of all the pelvic and leg muscles.

Imbalances front to back (quadriceps and hamstrings) and side to side (internal and external rotation of the hip/thigh) will wreak havoc for the entire pelvis, sacrum, abdominals, hips of course.

Imbalances of the pelvis, sacrum and low back mean the entire spine is unsupported.

In my training, we learn that the bottom of the neck is the bottom of the spine. An unsupported spine can have pain and dysfunction show up anywhere.

That's why we need to come out of the imbalances created by sitting in chairs.

One 20-minute Sitting Butterfly or something comparable, at a time, over a lifetime.

May you be happy.


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