Canyon Ranch (Arizona)
Attention, workaholics and multi-taskers! The average American works 1,978 hours per year, which, according to the United Nations' International Labor Organization, is more than the citizens of any other industrialized country. You spend a lot of time at work, so if there's one place where you should look for ways to be healthier, it's at the office.
If you need additional incentive, consider this - especially if you work sitting down: Eight of 10 adults suffer significant lower back pain at some time, and lower back pain is the leading cause of missing work in the United States. Sitting for extended periods puts more strain on the lower back than jumping, lifting or twisting - the only thing that's harder on the lumbar spine is lifting while sitting.
The bad news doesn't stop there. Sitting slumped in a chair for eight-plus hours a day can lead to pain in the neck, shoulders and upper back, as well as in the vulnerable small of the back.
The work-a-day world
There's plenty you can do to ease and protect your back while you're on the job. Integrating simple yoga poses into your workday is a practical, effective and efficient way to minimize back pain, improve flexibility, promote emotional well-being and maximize mental performance.
Yoga is a vast discipline that encompasses spirituality, breathing, flexibility, movement and fitness. You can dedicate a whole lifetime to studying its many aspects and not exhaust all it has to teach. Yoga also offers many ways to tune up body mechanics.
Better body mechanics
How good are your body mechanics, and how can you improve them? The "Stand up straight!" rule of posture too often collapses when we sit down. Even if you stand perfectly, keeping your legs, feet and pelvis in alignment, it's too easy to simply plop into a chair with your pelvis tucked under and your shoulders rounded forward. In this position, your spine is bowed, pulling your head and shoulders forward and down, closing your chest and eventually causing pain in your shoulders, back and neck.
To correct your sitting posture, see yourself from a different perspective. Viewed from the side, you should look like a right angle. Fold your body at your hip joint, not your waistline, so that most of your weight is on the backs of your thighs. Your pelvis should not be tucked under: It should remain directly under your spine to support it, allowing you to sit up tall.
Your base, your feet
Don't forget your feet: Be sure they're placed firmly on the floor. It helps, too, if they can be bare. Take your shoes off when you sit at your desk so your toes and feet can breathe. When you can move your toes and the balls of your feet, the rest of your body is more relaxed.
Get on the ball
To improve core strength and enhance posture, try sitting on an exercise ball instead of a chair. To stay seated upright on a ball, it's necessary to lift your sternum (breastbone). When you do so, your shoulders and head automatically go back, banishing that forward stoop. It's all about core strength: Lifting the sternum uses abdominal muscles from the pubic bone to the sternum, integrating and strengthening the whole torso.
When you sit correctly, your spine will stay supple, allowing fluid to flow into the spinal channel and preventing the spine and the muscles around it from locking up.
Back pain no more
Try this simple strategy for easing your back while seated at your desk:
. Sit with your chest lifted and your abdomen muscles engaged.
. Clasp your hands behind your back. Beginners may want to simply grasp their fingers or wrists. Advanced: Put your palms together.
. Straighten your arms behind your back while simultaneously lifting your sternum even higher.
. Breathe deeply 10 times. This releases pressure and tight muscles under the shoulder blades, which are connected to the muscles in the neck, and which, in turn, cause most tension headaches. Expand the stretch into your lower back by maintaining the position just described while moving your chair away from your desk and bending forward.
. Lift your arms over your head as you bend forward from the hips.
. Breathe deeply 10 times before releasing your hands and slowly sitting up.
With loving care, you can keep your back healthy and happy and continue to do all the things you love to do. What a wonderful gift to yourself!