June 4, 2012

Sitting for Eight Hours a Day is Worse than Smoking.

Even if you exercise and live a healthy lifestyle.

That may be depressing for many people out there, however the solution is simple.

Kneeling chairs and stand up workstations are the best resolutions if your old ball and chain is actually a desk and a chair.

Does it sound terrifying to stand all day long while you plug away at the digital world? If your answer is yes, consider the possibility of a stroke, then re-evaluate.

When I first started practicing chiropractic I thought most of my patients would be construction workers and manual laborers. Turns out I rarely see someone who moves their body for a living. Seven out of 10 people in my practice have a sedentary occupation. And when their eight hour work day is done and they hit the mat, pavement or elliptical—bam! Time to call the chiropractor.

But there is one yoga related factor that must be considered for those who have a home practice and especially for those who lead other people through vinyasa on a daily basis. In Biomechanics it’s called rheologythe study of the flow of energy through materials. The materials in your body are bones, ligaments, tendons and fascia. Rheology studies how these structures move and deform with stress.

Commit this analogy to memory:

Ligaments and tendons are like credit cards. Bend them once and they pop back. Bend them and hold, they will permanently crease.

This is why consistent practice can increase flexibility. But it is also why all day sitters have poor spinal stability.

In biomechanics, a permanent crease is called deformation. If you’re sitting down reading this, your ligaments and tendons are deforming. So I’ll try to keep this short and then you can take a quick sun salutation.

You can probably guess which tendons are most at risk. Our primary concern are the hip flexors and extensors. In the seated position the hips are flexed. Therefore, the hip flexors are being shortened. These muscles include some major players in spinal-pelvic stability. The hip flexors are the following.

  •  >>Iliopsoas, which is made of psoas major, psoas minor and iliacus.
  •  >>Two muscles of the anterior (front) thigh, rectus femoris of the quadriceps and sartorius.
  •  >>Tensor fasciae latae, a gluteal muscle located on the outer thigh.
  • >>The inner thigh muscles, adductor longus, adductor brevis, pectineus and gracilis.

The hip extensors are simply the gluteus maximus and most of the hamstring group. The hamstring muscles cross and permit movement at two different joints of the lower extremity, the hip and the knee. Therefore, they get a double dose of deforming stress in the seated position because they are elongated near the hips and shortened at the knee. This unnatural engagement is what gives chronic sitters “tight hamstrings.”

The one element that you can’t adjust while sitting, even with the best posture, is your hips (where your thigh bone connects to the pelvis). When you’re sitting, pelvic muscles, tendons and ligaments are deforming. Period.

Thankfully, good yoga can help. Good yoga is balanced. Balanced means there are as many forward folds as there are backward bends. I don’t usually sit in the back of a class tallying up how many times I have bent forward or backwards. I try to keep my anatomical, analytical mind quiet and open.

Great yoga, in my opinion, is imbalanced.

Great yoga has more extension postures then flexion. Which is why at home I keep the down dog and the forward fold on the sidelines. I just don’t feel the need to fold forward in my yoga practice because that is what I do all day long, bending over to work on someone’s spine, entering information in the computer, picking up my daughter, etc. When I do yoga I want to counterbalance the postures of real life.

It’s very metaphorical and all that jazz, too. I am opening, giving, exposing and submitting to the moment. For me there is very little balance in life anyway. Instead, the pendulum swings from one slightly imbalanced moment to the next with shades of balance in-between. This means I do more bridge, crab, wheel, camel, bow, locust and reverse plank because seriously, do you ever find yourself in these positions throughout the course of the day?

So how do I transition from standing down to the floor? Its a good question that I would bet many of you are asking. Down dog and forward fold appear to be the golden gate transition postures of almost every yoga class. I have one word for you.


I can already hear all the groaning at the thought of replacing the beloved forward fold with a squat. Clearly, some people may not benefit because of, mostly, knee pain. I understand. One of my patients is an 85 year old avid gardener who can spend all day weeding in a forward fold without pain, but her face scrunches at the mere thought of a squat.

So it may not be for you. However any biomechanics textbook will tell you the same thing. If you want to balance out all the sitting, bending and folding that you do in real life, you have to start extending your low back and pelvis.

If you’re saying to yourself “I love the forward fold, it feels so good”—Stop. One rational explanation that it feels so good is because you are jumping right back into the position you’ve been in all day. For you, good = comfortable and familiar.

Remember, growth occurs when you are outside of your comfort zone. That goes for both emotional and physical growth.

If you have low back, pelvis or hip issues and you are one of those yogis who can forward bend all day long and never feel a stretch in your hamstrings, please consider what I am presenting here. You may need to strengthen those big guys on the back of the leg, not lengthen them more in a down dog.

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Editor: Lynn Hasselberger

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