February 13, 2015

“Manspreading” is a National Health Issue.


Jon Stewart’s Daily Show had a piece on Manspreading in the subway last week. This is a hot topic in New York.

I grew up at the mercy of two Manspreaders. In the backseat of our family car, I was smooshed on the hump while my brothers made themselves comfortable, spreading their legs wide and taking up as much of the back seat as they wanted for their sprawling limbs.

“Why,” I wanted to know, “were they entitled to all that space?”

Manspreading is a term that was coined just this past year to describe the wide-legged style of sitting that some men on the subway assume as though claiming their territory. New York City’s MTA is even addressing the issue as part of a courtesy campaign.

At first glance, Manspreaders may appear to be rudely draping themselves open in relaxation. But this characteristic collapsed posture could actually be evidence of physical tightness. Most of these poor guys would probably have a hard time sitting with their legs parallel even if they tried!

Some of the postural challenges that lead to spreading the thighs wide while seated include:

Tension in the Buttocks:

Many people hold tension in the buttocks without being aware of it. It’s good to have strong gluteus muscles but, like anything, there can be Too Much of a Good Thing. When the gluteus muscles grip, they overpower the deeper, intrinsic abdominal and core muscles that then become weak and uncoordinated. So the spine can be pulled down by tight buttocks.

What to do? Focused relaxation (to undo habitual patterns of holding tension): Breathe and relax buttocks completely, in any position.

Tight Hips:

Legs that are spanned open and held in a turned out position get stiff and less mobile over time. Also, hip flexors can be thick and tight making it difficult to bend the knees toward the chest. Since the legs can’t fold well, they fall out to the sides.

What to do? Knee to chest practice (to find ease in hip flexion and slight stretch in buttocks): Lie on your back with knees bent and feet flat. Support your head with a towel, blanket or book. Keep both buttocks relaxed and on the floor. Bring one knee up towards your chest, maintaining weight on both sides of the pelvis. Breathe. Repeat second side.

Unconscious Tail Tucking:

Bringing the tail under towards the pubis tucks the entire pelvis, like a sad dog with its tail between its legs. This forward movement of the tail while seated can compress the lumbar and shorten the hamstrings.

What to do?  Find a neutral spine (to increase mobility in low back, pelvis and hips): Lie down, knees bent with feet flat on the ground or a mat. Inhale tip the pelvis—pubis towards tail creating a slight arch in the lumbar spine (low back away from floor). Exhale return to neutral. Allowing space for the tail can bring freedom to the natural curves of the spine.

Overly Tight Abs:

Endless curl ups and crunches promote a hollow hardness at the front of the body. This can shorten the front of the torso while putting pressure on the lumbar spine. The whole core (front, back and sides of the torso) needs to be strong and supple.

What to do? Bird Dog (to strengthen and stabilize entire core): Begin on all fours. Lift right leg back and up to hip height. Breathe steadily. Maintain your posture on three limbs for several breaths. Then, if you’re steady, reach the left arm forward. Breathe. Rest and then repeat second side.


My brothers didn’t have these postural issues (yet!); more than likely they just couldn’t contain themselves. But regardless, yoga can help us gather our energy and align our posture in a healthy way, whether seated or standing. It can also help us be more aware of how our actions affect those around us. I’ve already spoken to my brothers, now if I can just get a contact at the MTA…

See you on the mat, and the whole world is a mat.


Jennifer Brilliant


Author: Jennifer Brilliant 

Editor: Caroline Beaton

Photo: City of New York

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