What are some common postural mistakes?
The appropriate seat height is important, so is the ideal position of the knee joints in relation to the hips and ankle joints. All these factors must be accounted for in order to sit optimally on the “Sitting bones” (ischia). These are part of the pelvis and look a little bit like skids on a sled. As the name already indicates, the “sitting bones” are designed for sitting. Not following this physiological prompt can be a mistake. However, lazing around on your chair from time to time is as acceptable as sitting upright. The ideal seating posture is a position from which you can move effortlessly in any direction. And this is what makes sitting on your sitting bones so important. The sitting bones are covered in a small low-friction layer, making a change of position effortless. For example, reaching for the phone, getting paper out of a drawer or sorting documents on your desk should come naturally and in an unforced fashion. If you were to lounge about in your chair, you would increase the body’s contact area and therefore use more energy. This is much more taxing for the body.
Does anybody know how to sit correctly?
Everyone once knew how to, at least. Babies develop their skeletal form through movement under gravity. The joint sockets, for example, or the arrangement of the ribs are all influenced by attempts at balanced movement. A baby does practically nothing other than to find out economical means of movement. This capacity for conscious movement is then unlearnt over the course of one’s life, at least in industrialised society. Nobody sits on the floor anymore, where it was necessary to move the hips in a variety of positions. Nowadays, we use furniture, which leads to a loss of flexibility as well as the perception and presence of balance.
What are the consequences?
These could play out as follows:
Really, muscle atrophy?
Of course. The ideal resting position for a muscle is a neutral one. In a neutral position, the muscle is able to expand and contract. Muscle that is contracted for eight hours at a time loses the ability to expand and vice-versa. Thus, muscle atrophies – if you don’t use it, you lose it.
How many people come to your practice to prevent such problems?
In fact, most people come when they already have a problem. As opposed to classic physical therapy, however, the Feldenkrais Method has a more preventative character. Where emphasis is otherwise placed on symptomatic treatment, our approach focuses on the interrelationships within the body. Rather than the classic medical-therapeutic approach, whereby the practitioner seeks to decrease or remove pain, the Feldenkrais Method has a more pedagogic background. The aim is to improve quality of life. And to live better, you have to move better, to learn to be conscious of your own movement patterns and to move as efficiently and ergonomically as possible. We therefore start where there is no pain and recalibrate movement processes. This also creates a big change in awareness, because attention is directed away from the pain or problem.
So you teach the correct way to move?
In my opinion, that sadly does not exist. There is, however, something I like to call the individual “handwriting” of movement. That is why we begin treatment by observing an individual at daily run-of-the-mill tasks. We would, for example, ask a librarian to take a book out of a shelf and would then demonstrate alternative ways of performing that action. By introducing new, ergonomically correct movement, we aim to bypass the motion that caused the problem. Everybody has a unique way of moving, and treatment must be carried out according to individual needs. Thus, we cannot develop a generic spectrum of optimal movement patterns but can show an individual the best way for them to move. We also note that this process leads the original symptoms to disappear. Almost as a “side effect” (laughs).
In that case, the healing process is rather indirect?
Exactly! Our whole philosophy is fundamentally different. When most people go for treatment, they want to return to the condition they were in before they had the problem. This is definitely questionable, because the original state led to the problem in the first place. As such, something has to change in order to ensure that the problem disappears – and that it does not arise again.
Is there such thing as the ideal office chair?
A certain level of mobility is definitely a good thing: a height-adjustable seat, for example. An individually adjustable backrest is also of benefit. One must be aware, however, that the human skeleton is more flexible than any office chair on the market. Thus, it is better that the skeleton adapts to the chair than the other way around A baby can sleep anywhere: on its mother’s arm, on the floor etc. because its skeleton is soft and ergonomically shaped. So it does no harm to sit on a simple wooden stool for a change. Through comfortable chairs, we lose flexibility and movement.
Is there a national epidemic of “sitting disease” – or, in other worlds, was everything better in the past, when less jobs involved deskwork?
Every job requires optimal movement patterns, regardless of whether it is carried out sitting, standing or driving. Of course, some jobs demand a greater level of caution than others: for a professional climber, for example, balance is significantly more important than for someone who is working in a chair and can’t really fall out. In my experience, carpenters have almost optimal movement patterns until they are very old, as they spend a lot of their working lives balancing on roof beams. There is also a lot that has improved since the “good old days”: construction materials are lighter, resulting in less health problems for tradesmen, and workplace health and safety has improved.
Do you have a Feldenkrais exercise for everyone who spends most of the workday sitting at work? Would this help to teach optimal posture?
Of course. Our first aim is to ensure improved comfort at work. Commensurate of this aim, it is first necessary to be aware of your own body. How do you sit in your chair? Are you conscious of your hips? Which side of your pelvis has more contact with the seat, and which side do you put more weight on? Are your feet resting flat on the floor? Which part of your back is resting against the backrest? Is it your upper back or your lower back? It is also important to be aware of your breathing. Is your breathing shallow or deep? Do you feel it in your throat, in your belly? After answering these questions, you will have a better idea of how you actually sit.
Indeed. And now?
I would now ask that you sit further forward, towards the edge of the seat. Now ask yourself the same questions, but also ask yourself how you have had to change your posture? How long could you maintain this position? Minutes? Hours? And are you comfortable? Now reach under your left hip and find your left “sitting bone” (ischium). This small, skid-like protrusion of your pelvis is easy to find. Now do the same thing with your right hand.
Alright, so those are the “sitting bones”…!
(grins) Exactly! You will now notice them consciously and this awareness will be of use. For example, you could carefully transfer your weight to the right “sitting bone”, then over to the left one. Subsequently, combine the transition of weight with a circular motion. This can all be done at the comfort of your desk and you can hold telephone conversations, text and read emails at the same time. And if you notice positive changes through this exercise, you will come to understand the sitting bones as “feet” and will begin to “walk” on them, moving from side to side over the edges of your seat. As a result, your spinal discs will be in motion, which is essential in ensuring comfort at work. Through such exercises, you will learn a lot about human movement patterns. And in fact, understanding human movement is the only means to optimal posture.