We are one of the most sittin’est societies, aren’t we? We sit hunkered down in our low-rider cars (or high-rise SUV’s), not even getting up or out to eat a meal; we sit on hard, unfriendly chairs with our heads straining forward at glaring computer screens; and we sit slouched into our lazy-boys while watching the idiot box at home.
Since we’re going to sit so dang much, let’s at least sit properly!
Have a seat. Wherever you are. Whether on your yoga mat, on the floor or in a chair. Get comfortable. Now, notice your posture. Don’t change anything about it; just notice it. Do you find that your head is leaning way out in front of the rest of your body, elongating the front of your neck? Are your shoulders rounded forward, or jacked up by your ears? What’s happening with your lower back? Don’t go changin’ anything yet; just keep noticing. How are you breathing as you sit? Do you find the breath is mostly hanging out in the upper chest?
You know how some old-school cars have bucket seats and they have that round knob on the side that tilts your seat forward and backwards? Visualize that you have two of those round knobs on either side of your hips (and some knobs will be bigger than others!). Bring your hands down to these imaginary knobs and begin to tilt your pelvis forward until you notice a significant change taking place in the way you’re seated. You may have observed that your lower back arched dramatically and your chest went flying forward. Feel different? Now, using your knobs, tilt your pelvis back until you’re completely schlumping, rounded through your entire back and your chest hangs down towards your belly. Feel familiar? Play around with this a couple more times, gently rolling your pelvis forward and back and feeling the difference between the two. Go ahead and be extreme right now so that you can get to know and understand what exactly is moving, how it’s moving and where it’s moving to and from. After toying with your knobs, see if you can figure out where the happy medium is. Where can the pendulum rest in the center?
Here are two illustrations to assist you:
When you’re sitting properly aligned, if you could see yourself from the side, your ears would be right above your shoulders, and your shoulders would be right above your hips. This creates a nice plum line down either side of your torso. By holding onto this visualization of the plum line, you’ll be able to assess your posture while seated anytime, anywhere throughout the day. You’ll come to discover that when you change a muscle, you change a feeling. It feels good to sit up tall! Suddenly the lungs and diaphragm both have more space because they’re not getting scrunched up against one another as they do when we’re schlumping! Suddenly that irritating lower back issue begins to dissipate just a bit, as we’re now using some abdominal strength to keep our spine lifted up. And suddenly, if we’re paying attention – we discover our sitting bones!!
The sitting bones are another indicator to assess the way we sit and to know if we’re sitting balanced and appropriately. You may have noticed the sitting bones when you were rolling your pelvis back and forth. They’re located at the base of your pelvis and anatomically-speaking are called the ischial tuberosities. I like to call them my tubers. They’re like little potato spuds that ground me into the earth when I sit. Once you have figured out where your tubers live, it’s now time to plant them. Since you’re still sitting down, lean over onto your left hip lifting your right hip up off the chair/floor. With your right hand take a hold of your right butt cheek and pull it out to the right and slightly back. What? You think this is weird?! Just do it. Now sit your right butt down. Feel that bone at the base of your butt? That’s your tuber! Now, do the other side. Lean to your right, lifting your left butt cheek, take a good, solid hold of your cheek meat – go ahead and grab, it’s your ass, don’t be shy – and gently pull it out to the side and slightly back, then sit. Eureka!! You have found the sitting bones! A little awkward at first perhaps, but you’ll get used to it and before long, every time you take a seat you’ll want to immediately pull your butt cheeks back and out so that you can stabilize your entire upper body weight evenly onto your tubers.
Remember, the purpose of asana practice (the poses) is to prep the body to sit quietly; with ease and steadiness for pranayama (breathing) and meditation. Just as we lift and spread our toes to create balance, stability and ease when we stand on our yoga mats and in our lives; we lift and spread our cheeks to create balance, stability and ease on our tubers as we take a seat to eat, pray, and meditate.
Or drive around in our big, fat, thirsty cars.
Lisa Bracken owns and teaches at The Yoga Barn at The Canebrake. She never knew she had a veritable garden within her body until she came to practice yoga.