Does your neck ache after a day at your desk? Does your back feel stiff when you stand up after a long meeting? Chances are, you’ve been too preoccupied to notice that your incorrect sitting posture could be to blame. Simply learning how to sit correctly and avoiding wrong postures can save you from a host of health disorders and even make you feel better about yourself.
The manner in which we hold our bodies during active (standing, walking, sitting) and non-active (lying down, sleeping) periods is called posture. We don’t typically think about maintaining posture because there are muscle groups that do the job for us.
The Muscles Involved
Some large muscle groups play an especially important role in posture – the hamstrings and back muscles, for instance. These are known as postural muscles that keep us propped up against the force of gravity. As we move around, the postural muscles help us stay erect and balanced. When we sit or stand correctly, our body parts are properly aligned and the muscles exert just enough tension to keep us from toppling over.1
Our muscles are marvelously complex lengths of fiber. There are two types of muscle fiber involved here:
- Static muscle fibers (aka “slow twitch”) lie in the deeper muscle layers. These are the postural muscles that keep us upright and balanced. When we shift from sitting to standing, for instance, they “sense” our changing position and message this to the brain. And we aren’t even aware of this!
- Phasic muscle fiber (or “fast twitch”) is what we use for movement and actions, like picking up an object, waving an arm, or kicking a ball.2
The deep lying static fibers are akin to workhorses. They burn energy, slowly and steadily, functioning tirelessly for long periods. Phasic muscle fiber, on the other hand, tires out quickly.
Posture Impacts The Body And Mind
When we sit or stand correctly, we allow the static muscles to do their job, which is to maintain the body in various positions. Incorrect posture forces the body to depend more on the phasic muscles, which run out of steam quickly.
When poor posture remains uncorrected over years, the static or deeper postural muscles start to waste away. Unutilized and weak, they tighten up and become shorter, leading to the vertebrae getting compacted. This makes posture even worse – a vicious cycle that could be easily avoided!3
Your body can take a hit all around with bad posture. For instance, it can:
Impact the joints and bones: With correct posture, joints and bones stay properly aligned. There’s less friction between joint surfaces and reduced stress on ligaments. Arguably, good posture is the simplest way to avoid aches and pains, stiffness, and – ouch! – degenerative arthritis.4
Lead to an unappealing appearance: How we use our muscles impacts our appearance as well. Hunched shoulders and a potbelly are also the outcomes of incorrect posture.5
Take an emotional toll: Good posture, maintained by healthy, strong muscles, influences emotional well-being, say scientists. When you sit upright, you feel happy and confident. You are less anxious, and more focused on the task at hand. Conversely, slouchers tend to be inwardly focused, speak less and use language denoting negative emotions and sadness.6
Step-By-Step Guide To Sitting Right
Now that we know the importance of good posture, let’s look at ways to sit correctly. If you’re used to the wrong posture, this may feel awkward at first. With practice, you’ll find yourself at ease as your body achieves equilibrium.
- Chin: Parallel to the floor
- Back: Straight but relaxed
- Elbows: At your sides
- Shoulders: Even; lift shoulders up, back, and down to achieve this
- Buttocks: Should touch the back of the chair
- Knees: Bent at right angles, even, or slightly higher than the hips (using a footrest)
- Thigh: Right angled to your body or slightly sloped downward
- Feet: Flat on the floor; use a footrest if it’s comfortable7 8
How To Sit Correctly – For Good!
Be Attuned To Your Body
Often, we force muscles into unnatural positions while trying to correct them. But good posture should not feel like an effort. Start by making small adjustments to your posture and see what puts you at ease. Make it a habit to tune into what your body is feeling. That way, you won’t shut out signals like fatigue or discomfort. This tends to happen especially when you’re concentrating on a task, say at work.9
Create An Environment For Good Posture
These tips will help you develop and comfortably maintain good sitting posture through different scenarios in your daily routine.
If you need to sit for long periods, make these adjustments to keep yourself seated correctly:
- Use an adjustable chair so you can alter its height and tilt. Your back should feel well supported.
- Place your laptop or monitor at an arm’s length. The top of its screen should be at eye level, more or less. If it’s too high or low, use a monitor stand.
- Avoid staying in one position. Switch your posture as often as you can. Even better, get up and take a short break from sitting. This allows one set of muscles to relax while others take the load.
- When sitting on a swivel chair, don’t turn sideways or around from your waist. Instead, turn with your whole body.
- When you stand up, slide to the seat front and stand by straightening your legs. Don’t bend forward from your waist.10 11 12
Driving Your Car
While driving, your knees should be level with your hips or slightly higher. Adjust the distance between your seat and steering wheel so that the curve of your back is comfortably supported. The seat should be close enough to the wheel for your knees to be bent. Your feet should be able to reach the pedals easily.13
Avoid excessively soft chairs that sink deep when you sit on them. Curling up on the sofa sounds like a comfy thing to do. But your back, neck, and spine don’t take kindly to the acrobatics on the couch, especially when you overdo it – just ask that crick in the neck! Sit up comfortably with your back well-supported instead.14
Learn The Alexander Technique
You may also consider practicing some well-established techniques to improve your posture. The Alexander Technique is one such technique that can reverse old habits of bad posture. This discipline, developed by a 19th-century Shakespearean actor, teaches people to unlearn incorrect and negative physical habits and to return their bodies to a state of balance and alignment, the way nature meant it to be. The teacher will observe your movements and then gently guide you through optimal positions, whether it’s while standing, sitting, moving, or lying down. You will need to attend several sessions of 30–45 minutes each to learn the concepts. Consult your physiotherapist or chiropractor about taking classes in the Alexander Technique.15 16
Yoga, with its measured, graceful stretches and emphasis on balance and flexibility, has several exercises (asanas) especially suited to correct poor posture. One unique benefit that yoga offers is inculcating awareness of your body. Here are examples of asanas that can help you focus on your posture and correct harmful mistakes you may have been making:
1. Tadasana: The mountain pose teaches you how to stand, keeping your spine erect and relaxed.
2. Bhujangasana: The cobra pose expands the chest and shoulder area and is a beneficial back stretch.
3. Marjariasana: The cat pose arches the spine and helps keep it flexible.
4. Veerbhadrasana: The warrior pose eases the shoulder blades and relaxes the lower back and knees.
5. Utkatasana: The chair pose strengthens the lower back, hips, and knees.17
If you are new to yoga, talk to a qualified instructor to develop a program that suits your body and takes into account any existing medical conditions you may have.
|↑1, ↑4||Tips to Maintain Good Posture. American Chiropractic Association.|
|↑2, ↑3, ↑5, ↑9, ↑14||Posture. Better Health Channel.|
|↑6||Nair, Shwetha, Mark Sagar, John Sollers III, Nathan Consedine, and Elizabeth Broadbent. “Do slumped and upright postures affect stress responses? A randomized trial.” Health Psychology 34, no. 6 (2015): 632.|
|↑7||Tools. NHS Choices.|
|↑8||Why Good Posture Matters. Harvard Health Publications.|
|↑10, ↑13||Get Up, Stand Up For Correct Posture. University Health Services.|
|↑11||How to sit correctly. NHS.|
|↑12||Tools. NHS Choices.|
|↑15||The Alexander Technique can help you (literally) unwind. Harvard Health Publications.|
|↑16||Alexander Technique. NHS.|
|↑17||Yoga Poses For A Better Posture. The Art of Living.|