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Yoga to Combat the Effects of Sitting, Part 1

July 9, 2012

Human bodies are designed to be walking most of the day or lounging around in the shade, not sitting.  Unfortunately, if we aren’t mindful, we may move from bed, to the car, to the office—where we sit for 7 or more hours with minimal break time—and back home into an easy chair before returning to bed.  Does that sound too familiar?

Many of the seats we take each day—office chairs, car seats, and home furniture—all force our pelvises into a backwards tilt, and, according to Dr. James Levine of the Mayo Clinic, this causes our health to suffer in a number of ways. Our central nervous system, unaccustomed to a sedentary lifestyle, slows even more, causing fatigue and poor metabolism, as well as weakened pelvic floor muscles and an increased risk of heart disease.

The natural curve of the lumbar spine is eliminated, causing stress on the joints of the sacrum, pelvis, and lower lumbar vertebrae.  Also, the organs of the lower pelvis are unsupported- the uterus, bladder and rectum in women, and bladder and rectum in men. These organs are supported by the bony structure of the pubic bones in the front of the pelvis with its natural anterior tilt when standing.

This lack of bony support brings the weight and downward pressure of the organs to rest on the muscles of the pelvic floor.  These muscles can handle the strain for short periods, but sitting for prolonged periods of time can cause great harm to these crucial muscles.  Our pelvic floor muscles are largely overlooked, but a weak pelvic floor can cause pain in the lumbar spine, phantom abdominal pain, stress or urge incontinence, organ prolapse, hemorrhoids, IBS, cystitis, painful intercourse, or lack of sensation during intercourse.

The pelvic floor muscles may be weak due to a lack of tone, where they cannot contract, or hypotonic, or the converse, when they are too toned and cannot let go, or hypertonic.  These conditions can exist in only one side, or both, and it is possible to be hypotonic on one side and hypertonic on the other.

Yoga that is helpful for people who sit too much includes poses that open the hips, release pain in the low back, and toning/unclenching the muscles of the pelvic floor.  Here are some postures to bring into your daily practice to open tightness and counter the abuse that sitting might have on your body.

Suptabadha Konasana – Supine Bound Angle Pose Variation 
Benefits: Creates a realignment in the natural lumbar curve, opens up the hips, heart and upper back; grounds and balances overactive minds, and opens the door to releasing stress.

1.   A reclining version of the traditional posture. Sit on the floor with a bolster running the length of the spine behind you, positioned against your sacrum.

2.  Using the arms, lower yourself back onto the bolster with your hips remaining on the floor.  If this is too much, put a blanket under the hips to elevate.  A blanket under the head may also release tension in the neck and shoulders.
3.    From here, draw the soles of the feet together and allow the knees to release wide towards the floor, catching them with a block under each knee if they do not release all the way to the floor.
4.   BREATHE deeply in and out of the nose, taking the breath all the way into the belly and pelvic floor.  Stay for 5-10 minutes.

Chakravakasana – Cat/Cow Pose Variation
Benefits:  Warms up the spine, stretches abdominal wall, shoulders, stretches the spine in opposition to it’s habitual posture, slightly warms the core, and links movement with breath.

1.   Start in a kneeling position with hands below shoulders, shoulder width apart, and knees below hips, hip width apart.  Find a long spine, parallel with the floor.

2.   On an inhale, start by lifting the tailbone and rolling the spine one vertebrae at a time towards the earth and focus especially on opening the heart down and through the shoulder girdle into a ‘cow’ position.  Gaze lifts slightly.
3.   With the exhale, again originating movement with the tailbone curling the spine one vertebrae at a time towards the sky, focusing on the opening in the lumbar spine with the breath for ‘cat’ position. Gaze towards knees slightly.
4.    Repeat for several rounds, moving with wave like motions up and down the length of the spine with your breath rhythm.

-By Sarah Louisignau

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