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Sitting
body awareness

By Barb Frye

Originally published in Massage Bodywork magazine, July/August 2011. Copyright 2011. Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals. All rights reserved.

Sitting, like standing, is a basic functional posture of manual therapy. In fact, sitting has become the posture of choice for many massage and bodywork therapists. Increasing your body awareness when sitting will ensure a comfortable, yet effective, sitting posture.

These are some basic principles to keep in mind when sitting:

- Sitting on the ischial tuberosities distributes the body's weight optimally throughout the pelvic region.

- Aligning the ankles underneath the knees increases balance, comfort, and stability.

- Balancing the head over the spine promotes neutral alignment of the thoracic cage, unrestricted breathing, and effective use of the arms.

Consider these principles during the following self-observation exercise.

Self-Observation
Action.
Sit on a supportive surface. Place your legs comfortably apart with your ankles underneath your knees. Sit with your spine in a neutral position, meaning not flexed forward or extended backward. Now, begin to tilt your pelvis a little bit forward and backward.

Ask.
Can you feel your ischial tuberosities moving on the surface of your chair or stool?

Action.
Place your hand underneath your pelvis while continuing to move. This will help you feel the structure of the tuberosities. Once you have a clear tactile sense, take your hand away and continue to roll your pelvis back and forth until you feel yourself sitting on your ischial tuberosities. Be sure to distribute your weight equally between both ischial bones.

Now that you have a sense of what it is like to rest your weight on your ischial bones, take a minute and find the neutral position of your pelvis. In this position, allow the muscles of your abdomen and back to relax, and truly let your ischial bones carry your weight.

This is a position we will refer to often in this lesson, so become familiar with it before you go on.

Rest.

Action.
Sit again, as before, with your pelvis in a neutral position and on your ischial tuberosities. Spread your legs comfortably apart with your ankles underneath your knees. Slowly begin to round or slouch your body, bringing your head, neck, shoulders, and back into flexion.

Feel.
Notice how this flexed position influences the position of the ischial tuberosities.

Ask.
How does flexing your upper body change the contact between the ischial tuberosities and your sitting surface?

Feel.
Notice how your body responds to this position.

Ask.
How does your low back feel in this position? What part of your pelvis is your weight resting on? How does this position influence the balance of your head over your spine? Do you sit in this posture when working?

Rest for a moment.

Action.
Sit as before, in the neutral position. Slowly begin to arch your upper body, bringing your head, neck, shoulders, and back into a bowed or hyperextended position.

Feel.
Notice how this position influences the position of the ischial tuberosities.

Ask.
How does extending your upper body change the contact between the ischial tuberosities and your sitting surface?

Feel.
Notice how your body responds to this position.

Ask.
How does your low back feel in this position? What part of your pelvis is your weight resting on now? How does this position influence the balance of your head over your spine? Is this a familiar position for you?

Rest.

Action.
Sit again in a neutral position with your weight on your ischial tuberosities. Bring your attention to the muscular and fleshier contact your pelvis and legs make to the chair.

Feel.
Notice the contact made by your pelvic floor, your buttocks, and posterior thighs. Let these aspects, along with your ischial tuberosities, carry the weight of your upper body.

Ask.
Is your low back able to relax, allowing your pelvis and legs to support you? Do you feel less effort in your mid and upper back?

Rest.

Action.
Sit as before. Bring your attention to your feet and their contact to the floor. Make sure that both feet are in full contact with the ground and that your ankles are underneath your knees. This increases your skeletal support and decreases the muscular effort in your legs.

Feel.
Notice how using your feet in this manner stabilizes and balances your body.

Ask.
Do you feel less effort in your lower legs? Low back? Mid and upper back?

Rest.

Action.
Once again, sit as before. Bring your attention to your overall sitting balance and comfort.

Feel.
Notice how your body responds to using your pelvis, legs, and feet for support.

Sitting with your pelvis, legs, and feet aligned reduces your muscular effort and allows your body to move in a more dynamic way. However, this may be a very new way for you to sit, and it may even feel strange or tiring at first. Take your time to become comfortable with this new way of sitting. If you begin to feel tired or strained, relax into a more familiar sitting position, coming back to the new posture when ready.

Give yourself some feedback.
How did sitting in the flexed and extended postures compare with sitting on your ischial bones? What are the advantages to sitting on your ischial tuberosities and using your feet for balance?

Barb Frye has been a massage educator and therapist since 1990. She coordinated IBM's body mechanics program and authored Body Mechanics for Manual Therapists: A Functional Approach to Self-Care (Lippincott Williams Wilkins, 2010), now in its third edition. She has a massage and Feldenkrais practice at the Pluspunkt Center for Therapy and Advanced Studies near Zurich, Switzerland. Contact her at barbfrye@hotmail.com.




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