Sitting properly at work is possibly one of the last things on your list to think about during your busy day but it’s one of the most important.
The fact is that most of us don’t sit in an ergonomically correct position at our desk or at an office task chair – and it affects our productivity, the way we think and the way we feel.
What Bad Posture on a Chair Looks Like
Below are some photos of incorrect posture on an office chair:
In this man’s posture, his legs are not 90 degrees to the floor. He’s leaning forward and his back is hunched over in a reverse letter C. This is putting a lot of stress and strain on his neck, shoulders, and upper back.
In this second photo, this man is also not sitting correctly. His tailbone is tucked underneath him, rounding out his lower back and increasing the compressive forces on his spine and loosening your lower back and tightened hip flexors.
By putting his ankle on top of his knee, he is further deviating his posture from the stability his body wants to feel.
In this third photo, the man is not sitting on a chair but you still see the C-shape in his back with his head in a forward position and his tailbone tucked under him. This position is causing undue stress in many parts of his body.
In this fourth photo, notice the strain in the upper chest and neck, the collapse of the lower back and the overall stressed body look he exhibits.
Restore Your Primal Posture – That’s the Key
According to Esther Gokhale at a TEDxStanford presentation, it’s the posture in the low back area that has to be correct. Most issues occur from a lumbar curvature that is straightened when the tailbone is tucked underneath us.
When we can essentially stick out our tailbone instead of tucking it underneath our body, the spine straightens up. There’s no need to try to fight against slouching because automatically the body aligns itself in proper ergonomic position. The shoulders pop backwards, and the head moves backward. Now the stress in the neck and upper back is released and the hips are placed properly.
“We can restore our primal posture and truly natural ways of bending, walking, lifting and sitting,” Esther says. “You want to be upright and relaxed and what it takes is a well-positioned pelvis (in the chair). The easiest way to do this is to imagine you have a tail. For our species, the natural way for our tail is to be behind us, not underneath us.
Instead, she teaches people to fold their body forward and push their buttocks really far backward in the chair with their tailbone pointing upwards towards the sky. Ask yourself where is your tail? Are you sitting on it? Or is it out behind you? If it’s behind you, then when you breathe your whole back can move and receive oxygenation.
Why do we tuck our pelvis and our tailbone?
Esther says that the bad habit starts in infancy. The way we are carried in the arms of parents and body position in baby chairs and in baby furniture sets us up neurologically for bad posture. We have to restore our primal posture.
In this photo, you can see the collapse of posture occurring at an early age with the chest collapsed and the baby sitting on his “tail”.
In this second photo, you can see that the baby’s low back and pelvis are not positioned correctly and he is sitting on his tailbone.
In this third photo of a baby in a car seat, you see similar bad posture with the baby’s forward head position as the indication of that bad posture.
How to Get Situated Properly in the Chair
Here’s an exercise you can do to get sitting correct, one that Esther calls “stretch sitting.”
- Push your bottom well back into the chair.
- Move your back away from the back of the chair.
- Put your fists on the lower border of your rib cage in front. Gently push backwards to elongate your spine.
- Then grab the armrest with your hands and push the top of you away from the bottom of you.
- Then lean into the backrest. Ideally the chair would have some grippy thing to hold you in this position, even like a towel that can hold you up in the mid-back. Hook yourself there and relax. You have elongated your spine, restored your primal posture and relieve back and neck pain.
In this picture of the woman on a chair, note her nicely elongated spine and good posture. Note how relaxed she looks, and how her tailbone is not positioned underneath her.
Esther is one of the only posture experts that even addresses the issue of elongating your spine when you sit.
Here’s the link if you want to watch it on video:
Esther Gokhale at TEDxStanford https://youtu.be/k1luKAS_Xcg
Ergonomist Adds One More Detail to This Picture
Dr. Alan Hedge, Ergonomist at Cornell University reports that you actually don’t want to be sitting at 90 degrees but a little more in an extended position.
“The (correct) posture of the person sitting down really depends on what you’re doing with your hands. Suppose you’re sitting at a table and I put a plate of food in front of you. As the food is pulled away from you, you will chase the food forward. You’re going to lean forward. It’s a hunched posture, like being a turtle. Leaning forward will double the compressive forces on your lower back. You’re increasing the forces on the neck as well because now your head is in an awkward position.”
Your posture at work can mimic this. For example, you usually stretch your arms to reach a keyboard and a mouse. Then your body moves forward. That’s a really bad posture to work in.
The problem is that people sit forward not backwards at work even though they may have some of the most expensive chairs.
The most relaxed position while you do your work means sitting back in the chair, reclining the chair back 10 to 20 degrees away from being completely vertical. This is the ideal position to reduce the compressive forces on the lower back. It also reduces the muscle activity in the torso because now the chair is acting to take some of the pressures from the body weight.
This position also reduces the compressive forces on the pelvis. It allows you to put your feet out in front of your knees, which improves circulation to your lower legs. And it allows you to sit and work in that relaxed way for a much longer period of time. The position mimics you driving a car.
When you sit back in this posture, you have to adjust where the mouse, keyboard and computer screen is on your desk.
Once you master sitting on a chair at work, remember to take breaks so you aren’t sitting too long in one position – even if it’s a good position.
The ActiveSeat Co. new generation of chairs will make you sit right, without having to invest in more accessories or do anything else, just sit. Stay tuned.