Base Thoughts

In my experience as a teacher of the Alexander Technique, learning how to sit well is one of the greatest challenges for new students.

And one of the most important.  Most of the people who come to me for lessons sit many more hours a day than they stand, or do other activities.  Much of their sitting time involves focusing on things outside themselves – computer screens, the TV etc – and often they are not paying any attention to themselves, or to the surface that’s supporting them.

Making the situation even worse is that those supporting surfaces sometimes provide a very diffuse quality of support.  Heavily cushioned chairs and sofas, for example, tend to spread the support they offer over a wide part of your bottom and as I’ll discuss below, this makes it quite challenging to sit easily upright.

“Sitting is the new smoking” so the new popular expression goes, and for good reason.

In some ways, it’s a little ironic that this should be the case.  Take a look at the picture above. The two bones supporting the upper body in the center of the picture are the sit bones.*  They are quite solid and are perfectly designed to bear your weight and to rock easily back and forth, move sideways shifting your weight from side to side etc. Such a simple base ought to allow more efficient and easy support than standing, where your weight is distributed across two feet that have far more complex structures.

The triangular bone at the right bottom above (in the center of the photo below) is your sacrum and is much more delicate and ill-equipped to bear any significant amount of weight.  And yet, many people sit in a way that places a great deal of weight on their sacrum, thereby creating unnecessary strain and discomfort.

(The 2 pictures in this blog were taken by me of my teaching skeleton.  I tried to find a nice professional illustration showing the weight being borne by the sit bones but was unable to find one I could use. Most showed weight being borne by the sacrum, or by the legs!)

If you’d like to sit with greater ease, locating your sit bones is an excellent first step.

Here’s how to do it:  Find a chair or stool with a flat wooden surface and sit on it.  Then, put your hands underneath your bottom and see if you can feel your sit bones – two bony bits near the center – and ask yourself if your weight is actually on them or, as is often the case, further back.

If your weight is not directly on your sit bones, rotate your pelvis a bit back and forth until you can feel with your hands that your weight is coming through your sit bones. Then take your hands out and see if you can sense those bones directly.  It may be easier to do this if you sit on the front part of the chair.

You may need to experiment a bit, but once you develop the ability to sense your sit bones, and what happens when you move forward and backward, then experiment with moving from side to side so that your weight comes down more on the one bone than the other.  Notice that having your weight transferred to the chair through your sit bones makes it much easier for you to move your torso around.

I like to experiment with doing figure eights around my sit bones as way of encouraging my mind to notice what happens at my support points.

None of this is likely to be possible if you’re sitting on a soft surface with a lot of give.  Because the support you receive is so diffuse, it’s difficult to sense just where it’s applied, and your sit bones are likely taking only a small part of it.

Exploring your sitting base in these kinds of ways can go a long way towards making your time in a chair easier and healthier.

I’d love to hear your experiences with this bit of self-discovery on Facebook or below.

*Technically, your ischial tuberosities.

Images © Robert Rickover, 2018. May be used with explicit permission.

Off topic, yet weirdly related, is this short funny video.  Enjoy!


Base Thoughts — 8 Comments

  1. Robert, thank you for the article. You’ve worked with me on my sitting and I’ve shared some of my frustrations in the past. Sitz bones feeling too sharp; getting “vertical” feeling too tense & uncomfortable, etc.

    The breakthrough happened one day last summer as I was working on this problem with a nice firm chair in my living room, and I just decided, “Screw it. Trying to balance on my sit bones is unbelievably uncomfortable. I just feel like collapsing.” So I let my upper body just fold over and (more or less) collapse.

    And then something magical happened. When I gave myself the freedom to collapse, after a few seconds my body was like, “Wait a minute … I don’t feel like collapsing anymore.”

    My hip flexors had relaxed, my abdominal muscles had relaxed and released, and I felt myself very slowly rising up and getting more upright. As though my body were doing this entirely by itself, without any conscious prompting from me whatsoever. And before I knew it I was as free and upright as I had ever naturally found myself, with my sit bones firmly under me. And my whole upper body felt great doing it.

    Whenever I slip back into old unhelpful sitting habits, I take a few quick minutes to revisit this and get back to freedom again.

    I realized that this has always been your message anyway: When you give the body complete and total freedom to do its thing, without bossing it around or feeding it a bunch of shoulds and ought-tos, it will find natural, easy, beneficial use entirely on its own.

    It’s been a fun ride. Thank you again! Let’s do another session some time soon.

  2. Sitting is a skill, but from my experience squatting is more “natural”. I may be unsuited for either. The pelvis is meant to sway. Squatting permits that more than sitting does.

  3. Great blog, Robert! I also like Brian Todd’s discovery: I i have noticed that when some pupils start noticing the sitting bones, they are still doing their usual stuff of pulling themselves upright, and don’t let the sitting bones and the chair take the weight, fully. I then ask them to slump, which relaxes their ‘doing’ muscles, and then I ask them to rotate forward on their sitting bones without changing anything else. As they come more over the sitting bones, and because they are no longer tensing all their back and abdominal muscles, their torso is free to move into the upright – by itself (with the natural uprighters). As Brian experienced – the body is coming up by itself! It is always beautiful to witness this happening with a pupil.

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