Sitting Fit for Everyone
by Susan Winter Ward
Public enemy #1 for our bodies . . . the simple chair. Or is IT how we use chairs that’s the problem? When I was a kid, my Dad asked me if I could design a chair for people whose knees bent backwards. I’m still working on that one. And since I began doing yoga, I’ve been working on designing a body for those of us whose knees bend forward many hours a day.
More accurately, what do we do with bodies that ache because we sit, and sit, and sit? We’re a society of “chair people”. We sit for meals, sit for classes, sit in the car, sit at a desk, sit in meetings and movies. We sit to talk on the telephone and watch TV, sit at computers, on planes, on trains, in waiting rooms. Some of us sit due to accident or illness, weakness, or job requirements. Some of us sit because we just have a lazy lifestyle. Do you ever feel that your life has become a series of transitions from one seated location to another?
I don’t think our bodies were meant to live that way any more than our knees were meant to bend backwards! Most chairs aren’t designed to support our bodies with healthy posture. They cause us to slump, curve our spines, push our heads forward or lean us back onto our tailbones. The worst back problem I ever had came after sitting in a seminar room for three days of lectures.
Inactivity can cause stiffness, backache, weakness, constipation, poor circulation, mental dullness, nervousness, cramps, and degeneration. Depressing thoughts. Whatever the reason and wherever you sit, it is possible to begin becoming fit, even while sitting in your chair.
Yoga, the 5000-year-old gift of body/mind balance, can be adapted to a seated stretching program that can counteract the inevitable results of too much sitting. Body awareness, better posture, relief from aches and pains, as well as increased flexibility and strengthening, and a deep sense of relaxation can be achieved right where you are . . . are you sitting down?
Although a consistent yoga program of standing, balancing, lying poses, and inversions is a more complete practice, yoga need not be relegated to the yoga studio or health club. The time commitment of hours per week can sometimes be difficult to fit into a busy schedule. Doing a pose or two hourly throughout the day can give you some of the benefits of a yoga practice and help to relieve the results of sitting too much.
Small efforts while sitting in various daily situations, can contribute greatly to our strength, flexibility, relaxation, increased circulation, stronger respiration, and clarity of mind. Yoga poses adapted to small bites may not have the same intensity as a full yoga class, but the benefits of yoga are readily available to those who nibble on yoga throughout the day.
Those who are physically challenged due to age, illness, or who just can’t do poses on the floor, need not miss out on the many benefits of yoga. Those who are physically challenged, confined to wheelchairs or recovering from injury, with their physician’s approval, can benefit from their own adaptation of the breathing and gentle seated poses.
Seated yoga can build the strength and flexibility, needed to progress to more and more challenging poses. Breathing, stretching and strengthening can be introduced at a slow pace, gently bringing bodies to new levels of fitness, increasing circulation and bringing in healing “life force” energy.
The Sitting Fit (tm) programs on CDRom and ScreenSaver benefit all of us, regardless of our physical condition. Sitting needs to be balanced with moving, breathing and stretching, so try some of these simple poses for a “mini yoga break”. You’ll feel the difference and return your attention to work refreshed, more relaxed and with a clearer mind.
SIMPLE EXERCISES YOU CAN DO WHILE SITTING
Sit up straight on the edge of your chair, feet flat on the floor directly below your knees. Let your hands rest on your thighs. Take a long, deep breath, and exhale completely.
Inhale deeply again, reaching for the ceiling with the crown of your head, lengthening your spine. Continue breathing with full deep inhalations and complete exhalations for 10 to 20 breaths.
As you inhale, bring your arms out to your sides and slowly raise them overhead. Try to keep your elbows straight and bring your arms along side your ears.
Keep lifting your ribs away from your hips, flattening your back, elongating your spine. As you exhale, slide your shoulder blades down your back, dropping your shoulders away from your ears as you reach through your finger tips. Keep breathing deeply for 3 to 5 breaths. Exhale as you lower your arms.
Inhaling, bring your shoulders up tightly toward your ears. Roll your shoulders back, pressing your shoulder blades tightly together.
Exhale as you press your shoulders down toward the floor. Inhaling again, bring your shoulders up again, roll them back and press your shoulder blades together, and release down. Repeat several times and don’t forget to breathe!
Still sitting on the edge of your chair with your feet hip width apart, inhale as you bring your arms out to your sides.
Reach forward with your chin as you rotate from your hips, exhaling as you bring your chest toward your thighs. Keep your back flat. With your next exhalation, allow yourself to relax, chest on your thighs, arms and head dangling, relaxed. Take 3 to 5 deep, full, relaxing breaths. Inhale as you sit up slowly with a flat back.
Sitting up straight, inhaling as you raise your right knee up in front of you. Grasp your leg in front of your knee with both hands.
Keep your back flat as you exhale and draw your knee in toward your chest. Hold it there for 3 to 5 breaths. Release as you exhale. Repeat with your left leg.
Susan Winter Ward, an internationally recognized certified yoga instructor, has created the “Yoga for the Young at Heart” Collection; programs on CDRom, videos, cassette tapes, books and TV. These offer inspiration and instruction for a healthier life through yoga. Susan also leads exciting, nurturing and healing yoga vacations. For information, call (800) 558-YOGA (9642) or see www.yogaheart.com
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