Making the Best of Your Chair

The other day I went to see the Pompeii exhibit at the Pacific Science Center in Seattle (the exhibit was awesome, by the way, and a little sad too...this was it’s last stop, but if it ever goes on tour again you should check it out!). I had the day off so I figured since I was there, I might as well explore the permanent exhibits.

If only my living room was big enough for one of these!

If only my living room was big enough for one of these!

One cool thing I came across is this jumbo chair. I’m not a fan of most chairs and try to avoid them whenever possible. In fact, since starting to sit exclusively on the floor at home in the last couple of years, my tolerance for chairs has gone way down. I get all sorts of weird looks now at restaurants, concerts, plane flights, and anything else where the societal norm is to remain seated in one position the entire time (why, oh why do we tell kids to hold still so much?), because I’m constantly shifting my sitting position, and standing up whenever I can without actually being in the way.

Why am I such an anti-chair weirdo?

In case you haven’t heard, “sitting is the new smoking”. Sitting in one position for long periods of time has all sorts of negative health consequences, from abnormally shortened muscles to decreased blood and lymph circulation and cardiovascular disease.

Left: One tucked and unhappy pelvis! Notice how my shoulders are hunched and my head is jutting forward. Right: Much better!

Left: One tucked and unhappy pelvis! Notice how my shoulders are hunched and my head is jutting forward. Right: Much better!

As I've mentioned before, sitting in your average sofa, chair, car seat, or plane seat forces you into less-than-great alignment. Most of these modern sitting devices sink or slant down in the back, which causes pelvic tucking (imagine your pelvis as a bowl of soup, and you're trying to tip your pelvis back so that you pour the soup down the backs of your legs - that's tucking). This can cause all sorts of unpleasant issues, including pain in the back, shoulders, neck, and knees (crazy but true!), and Pelvic Floor Disorder, just to name a few. (Never heard of PFD? It’s caused by excessively tight pelvic floor muscles - often caused by lots of chair sitting - and can manifest as a whole host of different symptoms in both women and men. One common one is peeing when you sneeze or laugh - this ISN’T just a normal part of bearing children or aging!)

What to do if you really and truly have to sit all day?

I feel pretty lucky in that I don’t need to sit at a desk or computer all day, and I really sympathize with people who do. While I recommend getting up on your feet whenever possible, there are also some things you can do to make chair sitting a little more bearable. One great thing is to elevate your hips slightly above your knees. This will help avoid the dreaded pelvic tuck - your pelvic floor and hamstrings muscles will thank you for it!

A few ways I like to sit when I’m in a chair. FYI, that poster in the background is titled “Think Outside the Chair”!

A few ways I like to sit when I’m in a chair. FYI, that poster in the background is titled “Think Outside the Chair”!

Coming back to that awesome huge chair - who says that you always have to sit in the typical Western chair posture of legs in front of you and feet on the floor? Not me! Depending on the size of your chair and your hip mobility, you can experiment with different sitting positions, such as sitting with one knee bent with the foot on the seat of the chair (sort of like a one-legged squat), criss-crossing your legs, tucking one foot under the opposite knee, and so one. Obviously that jumbo chair had a little extra space to stretch out, but it IS possible to do variations of these in your average chair. Every little bit counts, so the next time you’re in a chair have fun experimenting with how many different ways you can sit!