Sitting in a Chair (Postural Relationships)
Updated: Jul 12, 2022
Let's explore the postural relationships while sitting in a chair. These will transform your time resting in a chair into an opportunity to cultivate qigong principles each day.
You're making tremendous progress! We have been investigating postural relationships through a basic standing practice. This is perhaps my favorite way to learn, but how often do you find yourself standing quiet and still? Depending on where you live in the world, you likely spend half of your waking life sitting in a chair. The health impacts of hours of sitting are monstrous, and I'd like to help you transform sitting from a harm into a health practice.
As a child, I was often ill, exhausted, and nearly always in pain. Between this discomfort, training as a musician, meditating, and public schooling, I spent most of my childhood sitting down. It wasn't until I became a personal trainer as an adult that I questioned the role of sitting in my health problems. It's well-known that excessive sitting causes problems ranging from impaired digestion and circulation to stiffness and spinal damage.
Pause for a moment and estimate how much time you spend in a chair each day. What can you do to reduce that? Some helpful new apps and devices will monitor your activity and remind you to move every 30 minutes during the day. You can always set a little egg timer if that's too high-tech. For years, I stood in the back of a room if any class went on too long. Even in a movie theater, I'm notorious for standing in the wings during a long show. Find a way to add movement throughout your day, and your body-mind will have a much easier time healing.
It's important to note that some people don't have the luxury of getting up from a chair. Perhaps they feel exhausted or use a brace that keeps them from moving easily. If this is you, please understand that improvement is possible for everyone. Seek a doctor or expert to work with your individual needs, and be extra diligent in applying these principles as you heal. I believe in you!
While it is true that some of the damage from sitting is due to being sedentary, much of it comes from improper postural connections. Because you have already studied the basics through standing posture in a previous lesson, I will lightly reference them there.
As usual, begin with softening the neck. Release the head as though allowing it to float upward, freeing the spine of its weight. Please don't allow it to sag forward, round downward, collapse backward, or fall to the side. In later lessons, you'll learn that the more you can relax your whole body, the easier it will become to feel the head suspended.
Maintain this good posture while sitting throughout the day. If you are staring at a screen, position it near eye level. If you spend lots of time on the phone, get some headphones or use speakerphone instead of kinking your neck. If you are studying, find a way to prop your books and papers so that you don't have to slouch as you learn. I spent much of my graduate studies reading textbooks on a music stand or using audiobooks while walking. If you start to feel tension creeping into your neck during the day, take the time to do some practice to loosen the musculature there. Try using a heating pad or some liniment throughout the day to maintain its ability to be soft and long. Your body has 206 bones, depending upon your age and how you count them, and they can all be aligned so that your head is effortlessly supported. Take the time to develop that ability!
Next, soften your shoulders, allowing your arms to fall alongside your body. Relax your elbows and your hands constantly throughout the day. In future lessons, there will be greater detail about each of these relationships. First, however, it's helpful to spend a while feeling how your whole body can be shaped around them more generally. Notice how your neck feels as you release your shoulders. Do you notice your mind growing slightly quieter? You might place your hands on your thighs in a position that allows your shoulders to settle alongside your body. Avoid using armrests if they force the upper body into an unnatural position. Don't allow your shoulders to roll forward, crunch backward, or lift toward your ears. Let them fall comfortably outward along the length of your arms, your elbows sinking and your hands soft.
If you spend lots of time on the computer, ensure that you correctly position your desk, keyboard, and mouse height. Also, place useful objects close to you to avoid excessive twisting and reaching. Keep your elbows softened downward as often as possible. At this stage, your shoulder becomes tense whenever your elbows point outward. With training, this problem will vanish, but please be cautious for now. Keep your shoulders softened as you look at your phone. Ideally, lift your device to the level of your eyes rather than looking downward to avoid developing "tech neck" problems. Keep the shoulders released as you raise your hands. Depending upon how you count, you have about 700 skeletal muscles in your body. Feel a wave of softness travel downward through them all, releasing your weight into the chair.
Do you find yourself holding a form of excessively upright or militant posture as you sit? That pose is exhausting and only leads to a slouched and collapsed structure after a while. Sound familiar? This sunken chest damages your spine and places a lot of pressure on the heart and circulatory system. Your heart works hard to pump around 5 liters of blood through your body, contracting perhaps 100,000 times a day. Maybe pause for a moment and appreciate its hard work. Let's not do anything that makes its job even harder. It would be best if you found a way to be comfortable and effortless with this practice so that it becomes part of your daily life. An essential key is to empty your chest and allow it to settle into a neutral position. This allows the upper back to soften and the weight to travel further down through your torso. During meditation, this is particularly helpful for cultivating the dantian and nourishing your health.
Notice how your chest, neck, and shoulders all release in directions that seem to move away from each other. The neck softens upward to float the head, the shoulders relax downward and outward to the hands, and the chest empties into the belly. Can you feel how this creates space effortlessly in an area typically tangled with tension? It's incredible how well this works!
Now is your opportunity to relax your lower back. First, let's ensure that your hips are aligned correctly beneath you and that you're sitting on a suitable chair. Suppose you are slumped backward or rolling forward too far. In that case, letting gravity pass through your body and into the chair becomes impossible. The average human spine has about 220 ligaments, 100 joints, 120 muscles, and 33 vertebrae, depending on how you count. This is a lot of complexity; each structure affects every other structure. Tension in one area pulls on the whole structural system. It's important to settle this marvelous structure onto the appropriate foundation. Find the ischial tuberosity bones where your legs meet your hips, sometimes called the "Sitting Bones." These are the boney part of the butt we can feel putting pressure onto the chair. Move forward near to the edge of your chair. Tilt your pelvis forward and back a few times, and feel how you can roll in front of the bone, onto the bone, and then behind the bone. Most people spend their time slouching so that they are actually sitting on their lower back when in a chair. Very destructive! Settle your hips where your weight rests slightly in front of your sitting bones. To accomplish this, you will need to fold at the hips slightly until this alignment is correct. This process will become simpler as your body softens, and your weight naturally falls through your body and into the chair. For now, play with these angles until you find one that seems suitable for relaxation. The qigong movement "Turtle Spirit Drinking Qi" will help soften the hip enough to make this exploration easier.
You'll want to choose your chair carefully. It's worth investing your time to find one that fits your body! For most people, it's good to have a chair seat that is flat and level. Avoid one that forces your pelvis to round backward onto the backrest. We won't be using that backrest for this practice. Of course, if your body has unique challenges, choose a chair that helps your hips achieve the optimal angle to explore these principles. Meet with a doctor or other expert to get recommendations if you need one, especially if you often find yourself in a wheelchair.
Many people will find it more comfortable to sit on a chair with some form of cushion. However, don't choose one that slides around beneath you, becomes deformed over time, or is so excessively fluffy that you aren't able to find the support you need. You should still feel the weight passing through to this position in front of the Sit Bone, rather than distributed too widely across your rear, as you might with an air cushion.
Your chair height also is of great importance. Too high, and your knees are well below the level of your hip joint. This may be ok, but it does change the pressure angle against the sitting bone. It also increases the amount of pressure against the edge of your chair. If a tall chair works best for your body, please choose one with a rounded edge that doesn't inhibit circulation through your legs. I have heard from a few larger-bodied students that this kind of higher chair is helpful for them.
Too low of a chair, and your knees will rise above the level of your hip joint. This angle forces your lower back to round into a slouch and makes it impossible to loosen. Remember that slumping may feel relaxing, but it's just redistributing pressure onto structures damaged by this excess stress. I've never heard of a person who finds practicing in a low chair helpful, so I recommend avoiding sitting in them during our practice. In later lessons, we will explore different forms of seated postures, including sitting on the ground once our bodies are sufficiently open. It's often better to begin all seated practices in a chair because these relationships are easier to uncover in a more comfortable position.
Remember that most cars don't allow these healthy postural relationships to be easily accessible. Review my previous lesson about adjusting your car seat to make it easier to relax and avoid back pain while driving.
With practice, you will settle your weight down through the center of the neck, the torso, the pelvis, and onto the correct area below your hips. Feel your lower back and belly beginning to relax. As with the standing practice, your pelvis will slightly change its angle as the tension around your spine releases. Don't rush. You're not supposed to be able to get it the first time. Your body will adapt to the training, which is the point. Slowly, your back will begin to let go. Be patient and persistent with the practice.
Your spine is softening long as your head hangs up into the sky and your tailbone sinks toward the Earth. Your arms soften long as the shoulders release outward along the length of your arms. Your legs soften outward from the hips toward the feet. Your whole spine lengthens as the tailbone and the head release away from each other. Allow your relaxed feet to remain on the floor beneath your knees, and avoid crossing your legs. As the weight continues to sink through your lower body, it's essential to allow your hips and legs to remain perfectly free and soft. You should be able to use your hands to shake your legs without resisting the movement. Also, remember to keep your feet warm as they rest on the ground. If your floor is cold during the winter, and your feet will be resting upon a rug or warming pad, make sure that it doesn't lift your knees above your hip joint. Always find a way to maintain good postural relationships through the method of letting go rather than through force. Let go of whatever forces your body out of alignment, rather than pushing into the obstruction and making the problem worse.
Soon, you will develop the ability to relax deeply into a perfectly upright and poised seated posture. It will become an excellent tool for healing and preventing the spectrum of damage from sitting and slouching. You'll find that it helps clear your mind, quiet your heart, and open your body. Welcome to a whole new world of practice!
The Next Step:
Spend several hours investigating these seated postural relationships. I'd recommend combining it with the quiet sitting practice we worked with in earlier lessons. These principles will be valuable within every single qigong and meditation practice we explore in the future. Experiment with the seated Snake & Turtle qigong set over the next few days to uncover new perspectives on these connections.
In the following lessons, we will use these seated skills to explore the correct use of the mind during qigong practice.
Pay attention to how much time you spend sitting each day. How often do you get up to move your body while sitting? In the comment section, write your thoughts in your journal and share them with the community.
If you have access to the technology, find a health app that will remind you to get up and move throughout the day. Buy an appropriate chair and desk. Support for your monitor, cushions, headphones, heating pads, or any other tool that will help restore a healthy posture. Be careful using ergonomic tools like back braces if you don't have to because they can become problematic over time.
There are only four times in your life that you can practice your qigong skills. Standing, sitting, moving, and lying down. Which is to say, begin including these lessons in your daily life to make lasting beneficial changes. It is in this moment that you have an opportunity to heal.
So make the best of it, and enjoy your practice!
Remember that this is only a tiny part of a more extensive system and sequence of teaching videos. Subscribe to my channel to learn more!
Make sure that you begin your practice at the beginning of the sequence
Ready to train? Follow along with traditional practice sessions
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