Monthly Archives: April 2014

10 Beware the Backward Sloping Chair

backward sloping chair 2Try this experiment—this works best if you have two identical chairs. If you only have one you can work with that. The chair should have a relatively firm seat—a typical kitchen chair works well. Determine if the chair seat (a) slopes backward (the front of the seat is higher than the back), (b) is level or (c) slopes forward (the front of the seat is lower than the back). You will create two different seats so you can contrast them—one that slopes backward and one that is level or slopes forward a bit. You will need several same sized books to adjust the chair seats. If your chair is level put two same sized books under the front legs so that the seat slopes backward. If your chair slopes backward put two same sized books under the back legs so that the seat is level or slopes slightly forward.

Sit on both chairs. Sit toward the front of the chair seat and don’t lean back. This is called active or task sitting (as contrasted with restive sitting, when you lean against the back of a chair). Don’t think too much. See if your body prefers one seat over the other.

Which one would you prefer to sit on if you were going to work on your laptop at the table, eat your lunch or write a letter?

Most people find is that they prefer the chair with the seat that is flat or sloped slightly forward.

Why would this be?

Sit on your chair that has the level or slightly forward sloping seat. What are you sitting on? If you have your bottom behind you (refer to Post 9) you will be sitting on your sitting bones. Remember that these sitting bones are rounded or rocker shaped.

The fact that your sitting bones are rounded is very important. What happens when you put a round object on a backward sloping seat? It rolls backward! When the sitting bones roll backward it pulls the pelvis backward and causes the whole trunk to collapse into a c-shape, putting pressure on the lower back. It is nearly impossible at this point then to bend forward using the hip joints. Instead you are left to bend at your waist, which is not a joint at all. A recipe for disaster!

To deal with backward sloping chairs I often fold up my jacket and use it as a pillow to level out the seat as best I can. There are commercially made wedge shaped cushions to help correct backward sloping seats. If you invest in a wedge cushion I suggest a rather firm one.

Take a survey of how many chairs you see that slope backward, even slightly. You will be surprised how ubiquitous they are.

So, why do so many chairs have backward sloping seats? One reason is that they are easy to stack.

Our bodies are paying a high price for the ease of storing a bunch of chairs!

If this topic is of particular interest to you check out this podcast with Galen Cranz, author of The Chair: Rethinking Culture, Body and Design

9 Your Bottom Belongs Behind You

Let’s stay down at the bottom end of the spine and get more acquainted with the pelvis.

When you are standing you stand on your two feet. I think we can agree on that. When you are sitting upright on a chair you sit with the majority of the weight on your two sitting bones. Sitting bones is a term often used for the two rocker shaped protrusions at the bottom of the pelvis. Ischial tuberosities is the correct anatomical term but that is a mouthful. Besides that it sounds like some sort of disease. Sitting bones is easier to remember and sounds more benign.

illustration of pelvis with rocker shaped sitting bones

Fig 1: Your sitting bones are your internal rocking chair.

If you sit down on a relatively firm chair and put your hands under you, between you and the chair you should be able to feel these two rocker shaped bones. Rock and roll around on them. Rock forward and back. Make a circle going to the right. Make a circle going to the left. Get fancy and make a figure eight! I like to think of my sitting bones as my internal rocking chair.

Your pelvis serves as the foundation for your upper half. Therefore you want to make sure it is squarely under you when you are sitting. In order to have your pelvis and sitting bones squarely under you, you must get your bottom behind you. That’s important so I am going to repeat it.

In order for your pelvis and your sitting bones to be squarely under you, you must get your bottom behind you.

Don’t sit on your bottom. Sit on your sitting bones.

Young girl using laptop on beach

Fig 2: This girl is sitting on her bottom

young boy seated on a pumpkin

Fig 3: This little boy is sitting with his bottom behind him

If you sit on your sitting bones you will have much easier access to your hip joints which is where you need to bend from if you are going to move forward toward something like the computer keyboard or some project you are doing on the table in front of you, or to reach for something.

If you imagine that you had a tail, sitting with your bottom tucked under you would be like sitting on your tail. Sitting with your bottom behind you would be like placing your tail out behind you.

So go forth, explore, experiment and get to know your sitting bones. You will, by the way, find it much easier to get your sitting bones squarely under you if you are sitting on a flat seat as opposed to one that slopes backward. Why would that be? Stay tuned…

Picture Credits: Fig 1: Aron Czerveny. Available as a free download  (Thank you Tim Soar!); Fig 2: Image courtesy of photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net; Fig 3: Image courtesy of Clare Bloomfield at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

8 Your Waist is Like a Unicorn

I have spent quite a bit of time explaining what your head is (skull and lower jaw), where your skull balances on top of your spine (way up high between your ears) and the function of your Nodding Joint (to look up and down). This all in order to help you evaluate, and if need be, correct your body map of the head-spine.

Body map? Huh?

We all have in our mind maps of our bodies and how they work. These body maps include size, shape and function. Many things have gone into the creation of your body map over the years. What is important to realize is that you will typically move in accordance with how you think you are structured, even if your thinking is inaccurate. If your body map is faulty, movement suffers.

Body mapping is the conscious correcting and refining of one’s body map by assimilating accurate information provided by kinesthetic experiences, mirrors, models, books, pictures, and teachers. Alexander teachers frequently use body mapping to help their students.

Don’t worry. In my experience you don’t need to understand every minute detail of your anatomy to manage your posture and move with ease and efficiency. But there are some key relationships and joints that I find are fundamental to map correctly. The Nodding Joint is one of them. The Hip Joints are another.

We’ve been up at the head for a while. Let’s move down to the other end of your spine. What is at the other end of your spine? Your pelvis. The head and pelvis are like two bookends on either end of your beautifully curved and somewhat flexible spine. In between is your rib cage.

The Hip Joints are where your legs join your torso. And this my dear friend I find is the second most mismapped joint in the body along with that Nodding Joint. So, let’s find it!

To locate your Hip Joints stand up, march in place and slide your fingers into the crease the legs make with the torso in front. Your fingers should be pointing in toward the hip joints. This is a ball and socket joint and allows for a great deal of free movement. If you have low back pain it is extremely important to locate and learn to use your hip joints freely for bending, as opposed to your waist.

Skeleton as viewed from teh front showing the locatin of the waist vs the hip joints

Fig 1: Notice the location of the waist vs the hip joints and the considerable distance between the two.

The waist, like the unicorn is a myth. The waist is not an anatomical structure. It is where we put our belts. However, we often think of the waist as a real entity with hinge like qualities. The spine is flexible in this area but is not designed to be used as a hinge. Faulty thinking often leads to faulty use—repeated use of the waist as a hinge joint, as opposed to the hip joints lower down, is responsible for a lot of lower back problems.

Illustration of bending at the (fictitious)  waist joint.

Frg 2: Bending using my (fictitious) waist joint. Ouch!

Illustration of bending using teh hip joints

Fig 3: Bending using my hip joints.

Experiment with bending lower down from your hip joints as opposed to your waist.

Picture credits: Fig 1: Back Trouble by Deborah Caplan