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.