Sitting for long hours has been linked with a number of health concerns, including obesity and metabolic syndrome a cluster of conditions that includes increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist, abnormal cholesterol levels, increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease and cancer.
Right after you sit down, the electrical activity in your muscles slows down and your calorie-burning rate drops to one calorie per minute. This is about a third of what it does if you’re walking. If you sit for a full 24-hour period, you experience a 40 percent reduction in glucose uptake in insulin, which can eventually cause type 2 diabetes.
There is one way you can limit your death-by-sitting risk? Sit smarter with yoga. Notice your posture. Be aware of your breath. And know when it’s time to move.
Practice Good Posture While Sitting
- Feet and knees: Place your feet hip-distance apart, with your knees at hip level. Keeping an even pressure through the inside arches and outside heels of your feet helps maintain neutral knee and hip position. Avoid crossing your legs or ankles, which can stifle blood flow and cause swelling.
- Hips and pelvis: Evenly distribute your weight through your “sitting bones,” the bony parts of your pelvis you can feel making contacting with your seat. Our feet and knees indicate and affect our hip position, so avoid letting a foot or knee drift forward, taking the hips out of balance.
- Back and spine: Maintain the natural curves of your spine — don’t try to straighten it. Your mid-back curve is naturally kyphotic, which means “hump” in Greek. Your low back is lordotic, so it curves into some extension. Keep spinal curves soft, not exaggerated.
- Shoulders and chest: Your chest should be open with your shoulders sitting evenly. Concentrate on pulling the bottom points of your shoulder blades downward rather than inward. It’s a common mistake to squeeze your shoulder blades together and puff your chest out, which lifts your rib cage, arches your mid-back and decreases your ability to breathe deeply.
- Head and neck: Align your head and neck between your shoulders rather than lurching into “text neck.” The action of engaging muscles to draw the shoulder blades down, helps position your head properly by initiating a muscular action called “reciprocal inhibition,” which turns off (inhibits) the overactive neck, upper back and chest muscles that tend to pull your neck forward.
Shallow breathing, feeds poor posture. Also, the breathing quality dictates rib cage position, which in turn affects your shoulder and chest position. Proper core stabilization is generated through the diaphragm’s dual function of respiration and postural support.
Kolar et al and many others (see references for Core stability from the inside out ) have shown that the diaphragm is an important muscle for postural stabilization, and also that it is under voluntary control and can perform its respiratory function and postural tasks simultaneously.
Since the diaphragm inserts in the last thoracic and first 3 lumbar vertebrae, tightness in the diaphragmatic pillars can pull on these vertebrae. This can cause changes in curvature of the spine (too much lordosis) leading to muscle tension and back pain.
Practice deep, diaphragmatic breathing whenever you’re seated. Focus on inhaling through your nose into the bottom and back of your lungs. Exhale slowly and fully, internally rotating the bottom ribs and releasing the rib cage downward by engaging core muscles(internal obliques and transverse abdominus). Exhaling like this feels fantastic and also promotes low-back stability.
Alternate Sitting & Standing
Change your posture between sitting and standing, every 15 to 20 minutes throughout the day.
Yoga Poses that address hip, back and upper-body tension are helpful for counteracting the effects of sitting.
Virabhadra (warrior pose I)
This challenging pose strengthens the entire body while improving mental capacity and self control.
- Stand tall with your feet together and arms by your sides. Separate your feet 4 to 5 feet apart, keeping them parallel. Inhale and lift your arms up overhead shoulder-width apart, palms facing each other.
- Exhale and turn your right foot and leg 90 degrees out to the right. Turn your left foot in, toward the right, at a 45-degree angle. Rotate your hips and torso to face the same direction as your right leg. Chances are your left hip will not be completely forward. That s the beauty of this pose: Squaring both hips so they face the wall in front of you may seem like it takes a few lifetimes, but when it happens, you will have greatly increased your flexibility.
- Take a deep breath. As you exhale, bend your right knee so your right thigh and shin form a right angle. Less than 90 degrees is okay; bend your knee as far as you can while keeping the outer edges of your back foot pressing flat into the floor. Don t collapse in your back ankle; try to pull up through your left arch (the ankle stays on the ground) to protect that left knee joint. To align your spine, focus on drawing your ribs in toward your body, pressing your tailbone toward the floor, and elongating the back of your neck. Hold for 3 to 10 slow, deep breaths about an 8-second inhale and 8-second exhale, both through the nose.
- To come out of the pose, lower your arms, straighten your right knee, and return your feet to their starting position. Repeat on the left. Do each side three times.
Trikonasana (Triangle Pose)
- Stand up straight and step forward with the right leg until your feet are about 4 feet apart.
- Raise your arms and extend them out to each side of the body. Turn the right foot in 45-degrees and turn the left foot out 90-degrees.
- Exhale and turn your torso toward the right. Breathe in.
- When you exhale, turn your body farther to the right. Reach down with the left hand and upward with your right hand.
- Place your left hand on the floor outside of your right foot and look upward toward the ceiling.
- Hold this pose for 30 seconds to one minute and then repeat on the other side.
Anjaneyasana (Crescent Lunge)
- This variation, with a twist, increases the challenge of balancing, while also stretching out the spine, shoulders, and chest. Begin in Downward-Facing Dog ( Adho Mukha Svanasana). With an exhalation, step your right foot forward between your hands. Bend your front knee to 90 degrees, aligning your knee directly over the heel of your front foot. Your feet should be hip-width apart with both feet facing forward, and your front shin should be perpendicular to the floor. Come on to the ball of your back foot, lifting your heel and drawing it forward so it aligns directly over your back toes. Lift your back leg strongly, drawing your knee and quadriceps up toward the ceiling. Straighten your back leg completely.
- With your back leg strong and active, gently draw your left hip forward as you press your right hip back, squaring your hips so they are parallel to the top edge of your mat. If it is too difficult to keep your back leg raised while keeping your toes on the mat, lower your knee to the floor and slide your leg back a few inches. Un-tuck your back toes and rest the top of your back foot on the floor.
- Inhale as you raise your torso to an upright position. Sweep your arms overhead. Draw your tailbone toward the floor. Spin your little fingers toward each other, opening your arms so your palms face each other. Gently tilt your head and gaze up at a space between your thumbs. Make sure your front shin stays vertical. Widen your stance as needed to make sure that your knee does not move forward past your ankle. Tuck your tailbone under and engage the muscles of your abdomen to help stabilize your core. Extend up through the crown of your head, lengthening your upper body. Draw your shoulder blades firmly into your upper back.
- Draw your lower front ribs in and down toward your belly do not let them poke forward.
- Hold for up to one minute. Release your hands back to the mat and step back into Downward Dog. Repeat on the other side.
Core stabilization starts with proper function of the diaphragm!
- Yoga to Handle Metabolic Syndrome
- The Basic Makeover for your Posture