Posted: Wed 15th Feb 2012
Those of us whose work requires us to spend a good part of our day sitting down run a serious risk of developing back pain from poor seating and posture. In the first of two posts, Alexander Technique teacher Penny Ingham explains how to relax your head, neck and shoulder while sitting at your desk, with illustrations by Enterprise Nation member Colin Shelbourn.
Do you suffer from backache or tiredness at the desk? Do you find yourself constantly adjusting your chair to get comfortable? If so, you are probably sitting badly. Most of us do. Sitting puts three times more strain on the spine than standing, yet few of us learn how to sit balanced and relaxed. The adult head weighs about five kilograms. That's the weight of two bags of sugar. Imagine carrying that on your head and how much pressure it puts on your neck and spine. The trick to comfortable sitting is to balance the weight of your head with as little effort as possible. Here's a simple exercise which will help. Start with the chair. Nothing hi-tech with infinite settings. Choose one with a firm seat which places your hips at the same height as your knees (hips slightly higher than knees is ideal). Feet flat on the floor and knees slightly apart. Now direct your attention to your head and neck. We're aiming keep your head, neck and back aligned in such a way that you're not overworking neck, back and shoulder muscles to keep just to support the weight of your head. It should be nicely balanced, muscles relaxed, your back moving more easily and feeling relaxed. Imagine a string attached to the crown of your head and leading upwards. A friendly puppeteer is gently tugging your head towards the ceiling, crown first. The crown is important; as it rises, your forehead rolls slightly forward and your neck moves back and lengthens. Muscles lengthen by relaxing so already your neck and shoulders will begin to loose tension. By imagining a puppeteer doing all the work, you avoid the temptation to work too hard. You're not forcing your head and neck into a new position, you're allowing it to relax, lengthen and balance naturally. As your crown rises and neck lengthens, your chin will dip slightly and you may feel that you're peering out from under your eyebrows to see the computer monitor. That's natural. You may want to adjust the height of the monitor downwards. This is the first step. Next time, we'll find our sit bones and continue the work by relaxing the lower back.
About the contributors
Penny Ingham has been teaching the Alexander Technique for 22 years. She is the author of The Well Tuned Body and regularly advises on posture in the workplace. Her posture tweets can be found at @welltunedbody and her website is www.thebusybody.co.uk Colin Shelbourn is a professional cartoonist, author and illustrator and you can see his work at his (and buy) Â Radio Cartoonist website. Colin's also a regular chatter during during our daily 11am #WaterCoolerMoment on Twitter. You can follow him at @ColinShelbourn or simply join in the chat.