Sitting Up Straight
SITTING UP STRAIGHT
It is said that when a yogi sits for meditation, he is like an iron stake embedded in the ground: straight, strong, fixed and unwavering.
What was a yogi’s posture got to do with us? For one thing, most of us especially office people spend a number of hours confined in a chair doing desk work. Our sitting posture must be stable yet comfortable, though I don’t mean propping up the body with a bundle of pillows. My friend works like this in her office, and she complains of a recurring back pain.
When we sit like an iron stake, the deeper states of awareness are available to us. This condition makes us very productive in our work as more insights come.
Actually, trying to sit perfectly still for any length of time for any length of time is quite difficult to achieve. One common complaint is physical, ranging from the urge to squirm and fidget, to pain. Another is mental chatter. Physical comfort and mental chatter are actually intertwined. The first thing that would be obvious is faulty alignment. Even slightly postural inefficiencies can become agonizing as our sitting time lengthens. Remaining comfortable and steady becomes farfetched, unless we work on our structural alignment – our spiritual flow.
What does sitting up straight means? Sit sideways in front of a mirror and watch your spinal alignment. How close your back look? To sit steadily and comfortably for any length of time, the head, neck, and trunk must be aligned directly over the base of the spine. Any distortion is not only uncomfortable and destabilizing, it also blocks the energy flow on a more subtle level.
People who meditate have a greatly enhanced awareness of their bodies. Those who have a steadier and more refined awareness find it easier to detect the subtle energy blocks. Those who are a bit more sensitive are able to feel those blocks in their bodies, even if they do not do meditation. Yogis have given us a number of sitting postures when properly executed, keeps the spine straight, the subtle energy collected and directed, breath steady ans smooth, and the mind calm and clear.
The spine is naturally S-shaped, with gentle curves in the lower back, chest and neck. So sitting up straight actually means balancing ourselves around a straight vertical axis. This is not as simple as it sounds. Most of us habitual muscular tension, stiffness and/or weakness in the spine, in the pelvis, in the legs or the shoulder girdle. If the shoulder is rounded and pulled in towards the chest, for instance, it is very difficult to strengthen the upper back and open the chest.
Another common problem is pelvic alignment. A steady, stable posture requires sitting squarely on the base of the spine. If the lower back is stiff or the hamstring or inner thighs are tight, these muscles tug on the pelvis, distorting the natural curve of the lower back. As a result, the lower back collapses and the upper back rounds forward to counter balance the falling backward. Sideways, the lower back gets a limp. Sitting like this brings pain in the upper back area.
The foundation for sitting can also be distorted by over arching the lower back in an attempt to sit up straight. This thrust the pelvis forward, creating tension in the spine as well as the hips, thighs and neck. Sideways, the lower back has a deep curve, bringing lower back pains to the person.
A simple prop offers dramatic improvement for the collapsed lower back. This will elevate the base of the spine and compensate for limited flexibility, restoring the natural curve to the lower back. To correct an over-arched lower back, release unnecessary tensions in the pelvis.
These problems are alleviated by regular practice of hatha yoga. Hatha yoga postures improve the alignment and comfort in the sitting poses by developing flexibility in the legs, hips and spine, strengthening the lower back, opening the chest and increasing self-awareness.