By Amanda Tucker
As a yoga teacher, I find it hard to sit for long periods of time (that is unless I am meditating and then even that can be tricky at times). My body longs to move, wiggle, dance and twist. My muscles crave length and strength, my joints long for flexion and extension. I find that the longer I sit, the more I end up looking like someone who has a bad case of hemorrhoids, shifting and squirming in my chair until I finally give up, flop myself on the floor and stretch.
As Americans, we truly have a sitting problem. Some of us sit at a desk on the job for over 8 hour a day with very little break other than the occasional trip to the bathroom or lunchroom. After a hearty day of sitting at work, we change seats and commute home in the car, or on the subway. Once we finally arrive home exhausted from the day, we once again find a seat, although a much more comfortable seat, it is still a seat.
Long periods of sitting can be detrimental to your health. Not only does it cause poor posture (think long hours on a computer hunched over, head jutting out like a turtle), it negatively effects circulation leaving large muscles groups like those in the legs feeling atrophied and often achy. When sitting, our bodies stay in a constant state of flexion. Muscles shorten and the spine becomes weak, causing back pain, and rounding of the spine. When sitting, the body is doing exactly the opposite of what it craves, movement and a healthy balance of flexing and lengthening the body.
Lately I have become obsessed with a type of connective tissue in our bodies called fascia. A good way to envision fascia is the inner skin that covers an orange pulp. Or, for you carnivores, if you have ever eaten a chicken drumstick, chances are you have seen a bit of white tissue that covers the meat you eat. Our bodies are covered in fascia tissue. Without it, our muscles and organs wouldn’t really have anything to hold on to. Fascia tissue binds muscles, and allows muscle groups to slide past one another when moving. When our bodies sit for prolonged periods of time however, this fascia tissue gets sticky and tight, limiting mobility, leaving us feeling tight and rigid. Think about it this way, envision your most comfortable sweatshirt, the one you wear only on the weekend, when at home, it may or may not be your ex-boyfriends but it is most definitely the ultimate sweatshirt. In this sweatshirt you may clean the bathtub, wash your car, or walk your dog, it is loose and comfy, just right. Now, envision a sweater knit by your Grandma who still thinks of you as a prepubescent child. This sweater is tight, scratchy and uncomfortable, you want nothing more than to get it off because you can’t even bend over in it to tie your shoes. Now, which top sounds more your style?
Yoga has a way of helping us habitual sitters shed the tight sweaters, the skinny jeans that are just a little too skinny, and replace those ungainly garments with loose flowing threads. I’m not suggesting you go out and buy a bunch of trendy chill yoga clothes, but what I am suggesting you do is get out of your chair. If you haven’t already gotten up from your position, please do it now. I will wait.
Now, try moving your arms, stretching them over your head, rotate your wrists as well. Feel your feet pressing down in the floor, see if you can experience all of the parts of your foot, toes, arches, heels. Try lengthening your side waist muscles, (a.k.a I’m a little teapot muscles). Bend your knees slightly and bring soft fists behind you to rest in the small part of your back just on the fleshy parts of your hips. Allow your eyes to close if you wish. Take a deep belly breath, inhaling through the nose. As you do this, envision your spine lengthening to the ceiling, feel your feet press into the floor. Imagine a little thread connected to your heart, as this thread lengthens towards the ceiling, experience your shoulders drop back and down, heart extending and opening. Observe how your upper back arches, and slightly press forward through your hips. Can you sense your body opening up, shedding that tight awkward sweater?
The philosophy of yoga is just this. Tune in, focus on your breath, notice your body, what does it crave? Try not to get too involved in logic, reason and rhyme. Instead, hone in on the organic awareness that each and every one of us possesses within our bodies. Move, bend, stretch and extend your body in every way that you can all while paying attention to your breath, and how you feel emotionally. Get off your seat and move, tune into your body and ask it what it wants. Try doing it a few times a day at first and then perhaps every hour. Be forewarned, this type of moving with awareness is addictive, you may find that you no longer have a need for a chair.