Healthy sitting – dynamic sitting

An movement-therapeutically oriented consulting concept

1. We stand, walk and sit – but do not know how
2. Sitting is more complicated than standing
3. Sitting upright places more stress on the intervertebral discs than standing relaxed
4. Relieving movement instead of one-sided load
5. The eyes control the head
6. A new generation of seating furniture

 

1. We stand, walk and sit – but do not know how

The mechanization of our world affects our whole lives. Even areas such as leisure, sport or entertainment are now methodized and handled by specialists. Only the most fundamental human activities have not yet been recorded and systematised. This applies to both the basic structures of thought and the simple movement sequences such as walking, standing and sitting. As little as we know about the gaps, prerequisites and limits of our consciousness, neither do we know what we do when, for example, we raise an arm. The movement of an arm can begin with the hand, the forearm or the shoulder, for example. Nevertheless, it remains a secret how we actually carry it out. The power of movement naturally comes from the muscles and the impulse to do so comes from the central nervous system.

Likewise, people are not aware that their movement patterns are very personal. Every single movement is as individual as a thought. The connection between consciousness and muscle activity is not accidental, but characteristic of our being: There is no arbitrary muscle activity without consciousness, just as there is no thought and no state of mind that does not connect with a conditioned pattern of muscle contractions.

These muscle activities are of course often very fine and occur subliminally, be it a slight tensing of the hands, a movement of the eyes or a change of the breath. Just as muscle impulses flow through us, most of our thoughts come and go unnoticed. Perception and thinking means consciousness, but that does not mean that every thought conveys consciousness about consciousness. In other words, most phases of our consciousness run as a waking dream without reflection or awareness of what we do.

 

2. Sitting is more complicated than standing

Sitting is so natural to us in all areas of our lives that it almost seems strange to remember that it was different not so long ago. The office clerks, for example, used to stand all day at high desks to carry out their office work. This had nothing to do with the poverty of the employee life at that time, but corresponded to the customs of that time.

Our present spirit, on the other hand, is programmed so that we have to find a seat for every occasion. What is it that makes sitting so difficult? The vertical alignment of the spine is subject to a constant, fine balancing movement, comparable to a tightrope walker, which also only finds its balance by constant fluctuation. When standing, the spine is aligned completely unnoticed by the central nervous system. The long back extensors keep the spine upright against gravity without us intentionally doing anything about it. The impulse to straighten up comes from the feet, from the receptors of the nervous system on bones and joints, the tension is transmitted through the pelvis.

When sitting, however, the feet lack the counterpressure of the floor and the pelvis is in a more unstable position. This affects the spine, which is anchored in the pelvis. As soon as the natural balance is lost, the spine can only be maintained by intentional tension. Efforts, however, are exhausting in the long run, so that the pelvis tilts backwards at some later point, the back bends and the chest is falling inwards.

As long as you have a healthy and strong muscle-ligament system, there is nothing wrong with a bent sitting posture, although this places a greater strain on the spine. In a weakened ligament system, however, this stress can have a negative effect in the long term. And unfortunately, weakened ligament systems are the norm nowadays. The main reasons for this development are a lack of exercise and the increasing spread of sedentary activities.

Die Wirbelsäule und der sich verändernde Körperschwerpunkt

The spine and the changing centre of gravity of the body

In the middle of the picture a standing person. The entire weight of the upper body is carried by the spine and transferred to the pelvis. The line in the middle of the body runs offset to the spine (about 5 cm in front of the lumbar vertebrae). To prevent the upper body from tilting forward, a constant tension is exerted in the back by the long back muscles (back extensors). The pelvis is fixed by the pelvic muscles.

Im Bild rechts ein aufrecht sitzender Mensch. Das Becken hat sich gedreht, die Wirbelsäule musste sich neu ausrichten. Die Linie des Schwerpunktes hat sich dadurch nach vorne verschoben. Das bedeutet nach den Gesetzen der Statik, dass die Rückenstrecker mehr Kraft ausüben müssen, um den Oberkörper aufrecht zu halten. Dementsprechend erhöht sich natürlich auch die Kraft, die nun auf die Band- bzw. Zwischenwirbelscheiben einwirkt.

 

3. Sitting upright places more stress on the intervertebral discs than standing relaxed

This statement can only be understood if one realizes that the centre of gravity of the body is shifted further forward when sitting. The back-stretch muscles must therefore exert additional forces in order to compensate for this load shift and to keep the trunk upright. This force is also necessarily transmitted to the intervertebral discs.

Pressure measurements in the intervertebral discs (research project by Prof. Wilke, University of Ulm) have shown that, in addition to the forwardly bent sitting posture, the upright sitting posture recommended by the back schools of all things creates the greatest pressure in the intervertebral discs. Supported, casual sitting, on the other hand, is less stressful for the intervertebral discs. The lowest pressure when sitting, for example, was measured when leaning back with a sagging lumbar spine.
However, it is not necessary to look around for chairs on which one can sit more or less lying with a sagging cross, because a high pressure in the intervertebral disc is, taken alone, not damaging, but one-sided strain, especially in connection with disharmony and weaknesses of the muscle-ligament system in the lower trunk area.

We conclude that the current “sitting in a chair” of our Western culture cannot be regarded as a final attitude of civilization and by no means as an optimal permanent position for working.
With the indigenous peoples one is not fixed in such a way and can settle down among other things also on the ground or squats on all possible bases and stools.
We therefore agree with the recommendations of the “back pain researchers”, who say, among other things: lollipop more!

Sitzend Lümmeln: hocken, kauern..

Lolling while sitting or even squatting

The consequence of the above considerations is that there can be no “disc-compatible stool”. Studies by Peer Eysel and Ulrich Betz at Mainz University Hospital confirm this. They let test persons work on computer chairs that were particularly demanding and allegedly particularly back-friendly. The strain on the muscles and the curvature of the spine were then measured, with the result that none of the chairs had any biomechanical advantage.

There are therefore neither “disc-compatible” chairs nor “correct” or “incorrect” sitting. However, there are positions that place a one-sided load on the back and the intervertebral discs and thereby reinforce existing weaknesses. The most natural way to avoid or reduce problems is to become aware of these weak points and to find positions that have a relieving effect. Pain in the back should under no circumstances lead to the conclusion that it should be strained as little as possible from now on. Without the normal daily stresses, the bones and intervertebral discs would break down and the muscles and ligaments would shrink. The one who takes too much care of his body with the intention of preserving it ultimately causes the exact opposite.

3. 1 The “correct sitting” and the “anatomically correct” chair

The consequence of the above considerations is that there can be no “disc-compatible stool”. Studies by Peer Eysel and Ulrich Betz at Mainz University Hospital confirm this. They let test persons work on computer chairs that were particularly demanding and allegedly particularly back-friendly. The strain on the muscles and the curvature of the spine were then measured, with the result that none of the chairs had any biomechanical advantage.

There are therefore neither “disc-compatible” chairs nor “correct” or “incorrect” sitting. However, there are positions that place a one-sided load on the back and the intervertebral discs and thereby reinforce existing weaknesses. The most natural way to avoid or reduce problems is to become aware of these weak points and to find positions that have a relieving effect. Pain in the back should under no circumstances lead to the conclusion that it should be loaded as little as possible from now on. Without the normal daily stresses, the bones and intervertebral discs would diminish, the muscles and ligaments would shrink. The one who takes too much care of his body with the intention of preserving it ultimately does the exact opposite.

4. Relieving movement instead of one-sided load

The only way we can strengthen our back and keep it healthy is through exercise. Apart from the need to move around more and as versatile as possible, the daily sitting time should be reduced and, as often as possible, interrupted.

There are also possibilities to relieve yourself during the sitting periods, e.g. by a varied “abuse of the chair”: Kneel on your chair or sit on it upside down. Just sit on the chair with one half of your buttocks and leave the other hanging. Try different ” lounging positions ” to find counter-movements to the usual posture. But you should do so with feeling and attention. If you feel pain or numbness in your back, let them guide you. In addition, we recommend taking part in movement therapy training, especially Feldenkrais exercises. Feldenkrais theory is a learning method that teaches the nervous system new patterns of movement. It is not, as already mentioned at the beginning, about exercises in the conventional sense, but about the learning of alternatives in spontaneous muscular organization. Conventional physiotherapy, stretching or similar has nothing to do with it(x) Movement is not only possible when standing, walking and running, but also when sitting.

4.1 Little exercise in sitting

In this way, one can learn to put different loads on one’s spine even when sitting, e.g. by shifting the weight playfully alternately to the left and right seat bones. However, the prerequisite for this is that you are sitting on a solid and level surface. We would like to recommend another very effective exercise to mobilize your back muscles: To do this, sit on the edge of a chair that is as flat as possible, so that one half of the buttocks protrude sideways beyond the seat. Now lift this half of the pelvis a little and then slowly lower it back to the normal level. Repeat this movement five to ten times, then start to lower the pelvis half downwards and then return it to the middle position (also five to ten times). Note the movements of the head, perhaps they “want” to support the pelvic movement. Finally, you combine the two movements into a single movement. If you do this exercise with the other half of your pelvis afterwards, your back will have more lightness again.

There are also possibilities to relieve yourself during the sitting periods, e.g. by a varied “abuse of the chair”: Kneel on your chair or sit on it upside down. Just sit on the chair with one half of your buttocks and leave the other hanging. Try different “lounging positions” to find counter-movements to the usual posture. But you should do so with feeling and attention. If you feel pain or numbness in your back, let them guide you. In addition, we recommend taking part in movement therapy training, especially Feldenkrais movements. Feldenkrais theory is a learning method that teaches the nervous system new patterns of movement. It is not, as already mentioned at the beginning, about exercises in the conventional sense, but about the learning of alternatives in spontaneous muscular organization. Conventional physiotherapy, stretching or similar has nothing to do with it. Movement is not only possible when standing, walking and running, but also when sitting.

 

5. The eyes control the head

In office and writing activities, attention must be paid not only to the position of the buttocks but also to the position of the eyes. Or rather, the point of view required for the activity. Most people are so organized that the position of head and shoulders is controlled by the eyes: For example, if you look down, your head tilts, your chest sinks and your shoulders push forward. In the long run, this posture can lead to muscle tension in the neck and to anxiety in the chest area. And this sitting position is very common, it can be found in every school class and in every office.

A technical solution to prevent such problems would be, for example, a table with an inclined worktop. In this way, the writing or reading surface meets the eye. If one also often remembers his sitting posture, the position of the head, the inclination of the neck, the tension of the shoulder, consciously balancing positions can be taken before the neck muscles begin to harden into a painful package.

5.1 Small Eye-Head Exercise

In addition, eye exercises can also help to gain more freedom in these areas. Normally the head, neck and shoulders are moved quite “alone”, i.e. always in the same direction, following the gaze. The rigid harmony of this movement pattern can be loosened up by simple exercises, e.g. by moving the head in the opposite direction than the eyes. The movement is further differentiated when the shoulders are also included, e.g. by letting them follow the eyes once and the head another time. Detailed descriptions of such exercises can be found in the literature in the appendix.

By differentiating the movement of eyes, head and shoulders, the nervous system is provided with alternatives that make it possible to dissolve the compulsiveness of the ingrained contexts of movement. Eye exercises are usually very effective because the people of our culture organize their posture one-sidedly through the gaze. A greater independence of movement between eyes, head and shoulders therefore has an effect on the tone of the entire musculature. When “learning movement” according to Feldenkrais, it does not depend on strength and speed, but on the quality and sensitivity of movement. The more you exert yourself and use undirected energy, the lower the sensitivity and the less the nervous system will learn. The success of these exercises can be significantly increased if the movements are thought through beforehand.

6. Special, mobilizing seating furniture

Various chairs and seating aids have been developed to promote dynamic sitting and encourage the body to move. Both the differences between people and the different purposes require individual solutions. Therefore we only want to show the basic functions without making recommendations.

Seating ball
Sitting on a ball whose diameter corresponds to the seat height keeps the body in motion. The unstable surface forces the spine to keep realigning. The sitting ball is particularly suitable for therapeutic purposes. Negatively, it should be noted that the buttocks on the airtight plastic material easily start to sweat.

Movable monopod stools
Movable stools have a semicircular foot, so that they do not offer a firm stand. In principle, they have the same effect as the sitting ball, because here, too, the balance has to be reestablished again and again. Movable stools, however, are more stable and not so expansive. They can therefore be used well in the office. However, due to the lack of possibility to lean back, they are not necessarily suitable for “permanent sitting”.

Chairs with skids (rocking chairs)
When tilted forward, these chairs look like the well-known wedge cushion. The pelvis is raised slightly at the back and turned slightly forward. The disadvantage is that the hip joints have less room to move and the back can tilt into the hollow back. Rocking chairs allow a variety of sitting positions as well as leaning and leaning back (normal position and tilting position to the rear). However, it is not possible to move to the right and left.

Knee stool (seat swing)
Sitting on a seat swing with shin supports is comparable to the forward tilted sitting position on a skid-base chair. Due to the support points on the shins, it offers the body more support, but restricts mobility and permanently stresses the knee joints.

Chairs with tiltable seat
The mobility of these chairs does not come from the construction of the foot, but from the variable fastening of the seat. Depending on the construction, tilting movements to the front and back as well as to the sides are possible.

Saddle chairs
Saddle chairs are not only used by dentists, they are also available for the office. The most famous and also used model is the saddle chair Capisco by Hag.

 

Bibliographic references

For further information, please contact us. Upon request, we will be happy to provide you with the addresses of Feldenkrais teachers in your area. Instructions for simple exercises are described in the book “Leben ohne Rückenschmerzen” from Ruthy Alon, published by Junfermann Verlag, Paderborn 1993. Detailed explanations of the method can be found in the writings of Moshe Feldenkrais: “Bewußtheit durch Bewegung”, Suhrkamp, paperback st 429, Ffm 1978 “Das starke Selbst” Suhrkamp, paperback st 1957, Ffm 1992 “Die Entdeckung des Selbstverständlichen”, Suhrkamp, paperback st 1440, Ffm 1987 “Die Abenteuer im Dschungel des Gehirns”, Suhrkamp, paperback st 663, Ffm 1981 “Der Weg zum reifen Selbst”, Junfermann Verlag, Paderborn 1994 “Die Feldenkrais Methode in Aktion”, Junfermann Verlag, Paderborn 1990

Contact to Feldenkrais teachers (information and addresses) can be found at  www.feldenkraisnetwork.de and at www.feldenkrais.de

As the most important corresponding methods to that of Moshe Feldenkrais, we would like to refer to “Rolfing” and to “Structural Integration” according to Ida Rolf (information and contact www.rolfing.de) and on “Eutonie” by Gerda Alexander (Information and contact at www.eutonie.de).

 

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