I would wager that most of us don’t think about what is happening to our spines when we sit for long periods. There may even be those among us that LOVE sitting, and equate it with relaxing! But of course! When was the last time you were completely relaxed when standing?
The thing is, your good old back is working hard when you sit. The compression on the vertebra down at the bottom is almost twice that when you are standing. Your spine is, after all, holding up your upper body.
This can be especially true when you are at work, at your desk, diligently doing your job, and cranking out the next report, follow-up to a meeting, or whatever. Some of us even spend more time sitting at an office chair than sleeping!
For those of you who have days like that, I have a suggestion that may help you avoid accumulating stiffness, chronic bad posture, and pain or injury down the road.
The Cat/Camel Exercise
First a small digression. I am going start by giving you the floor version of the Cat/Camel exercise. This one is done with you on your all 4’s (see below).
You start out in with your back in neutral position (not sagging or rounded). Next, you tuck your chin, and round your back by pressing up with your abdominals. Without further adieu, you then move smoothly to arch your back, and look up at the same time. You go back and forth in this way, slowly and smoothly, for about 10 times.
Think of this exercise as a way to warm up your spine. It is NOT a stretch, so it is not necessary or even desirable to go to the end of your ability to do the rounding and arching.
What happens when you warm up your spine? Basically, you are preventing it from becoming stiff. When sit for long periods, the fluid in your spine becomes viscous, or less moveable. This warm up makes that fluid more moveable for you, which is a good way to keep things healthy, and you moving well.
Now let’s get back to your day at the office. I am kind of assuming that if you suddenly get down on your 4’s and start doing the floor version of this exercise, it may not go down well. You may feel extremely reluctant to do this in that setting, never mind that you might not be dressed appropriately for it!
So, here’s what you can do. (See below) If you have an ergonomic chair, that’s great. But, the movement required here is best done on a “regular” chair, a sort of basic one, or even a stool, as long as you can rest both feet on the floor.
Sit on the chair or stool in the way you are accustomed to doing. Now, if you don’t do this already, sit tall, shoulders back. Put your hands on your pelvic bones just below your waist so that you can feel your pelvis moving. Activate your abdominal muscles to press on your low back so that it becomes rounded. Tuck in your chin and make your whole spine/back into a big “C” (for Cat). Let your pelvis rock backwards. In a way, this may feel like an exaggerated slouch.
Next, push forward with your low back muscles to arch your back. Untuck, open out, looking up and squeezing your shoulder blades together. Let your pelvis rock forward. (this is the Camel part).
Go back and forth this way slowly 10 times.
Long Term Benefits
Now, here’s the thing. If you can apply some body awareness to this, you will be way ahead of the game in terms of long-term benefits from this exercise. The potential benefits:
- Helps to alleviate a static sitting posture.
- Gets your abdominals involved in your sitting posture, which is a savior for your low back.
- It can lubricate your shoulder joint as you curl and uncurl. Pay attention to how it feels when you open out, and try to keep that open shoulder posture going throughout the day.
- This teaches you to find where it is that your pelvis is in neutral, with your back not rounded or arched. If you can learn to maintain this feeling and sit on the base of your pelvis, it can be huge for taking pressure off your low back area when you are sitting or standing.
- All this translates to better posture, which is always a big win.
- And, I am positive that you will you feel refreshed and more focused afterwards.
PS! Feel free to do the full Cat/Camel on your 4’s at other times. You will be getting all the benefits mentioned above.
***IMPORTANT! If you have back pain already, be sure to check with a health professional, and get it evaluated to determine if this exercise will be of benefit to you before you decided to try it.
All the best,
© 2018 Kristen Carter. All rights reserved.