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How to get an ideal seated posture

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Lee Wickham DC FRCC

Lee Wickham DC FRCC

I'm a non spine-centric Chiropractor and a 'Neuroplasticity' advocate, who believes in variety of movement.

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Sitting for long periods doesn’t help people feel good naturally but is this really a problem or are some people moaning?! When we sit we sit on our gluteal muscle group as well as the backs of our legs (Hamstring muscles), possibly sit bones and greater trochanter (hips). Recent findings about the gluts has changed professional opinion about the gluteus maximus in humans. It was thought to be different to monkeys but now is thought to be very similar to that of monkeys with almost identical origin (where the muscles starts) and insertion (where the muscle goes to).

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The gluteal muscles pull along the lines drawn to create a tension around the back of us whilst we squat.

What I can deduce from our current anatomy is that we’d have had a functional element to the gluteus maximus other than a cushion way before even the first chair or log was sat upon. Our anatomy suggests that we have a sling system (roughly) incorporating the tensa fascia latae, gluteals and sacroilliac ligaments; meaning we have the tools within our body to squat down and be supported by a sling of tendon know as the IT Band or Tensa Fascia Latae (TFL).

The ‘natural squat position of a child and that of a monkey are very similar. When we use a chair we do not need to hang supported on our natural sling and thus do not have the muscular co-ordination required to hold the body in the seated shape (within Earth’s gravitational field). Thus the brain will be getting ‘bum(!)’ information and given enough time will not be able to coordinate sit down or stand from sitting efficiently. It is common thought that people who have had more time on the planet cannot sit to stand or stand to sit due to age; this concept I dispute. We simply do not practise or reinforce the co-ordination of movement required to sit down and stand up efficiently and thus we will over time go more and more wrong. When we go wrong we cause wear and tear, pain and tight or slack musculature.

By squatting down we are resembling how monkeys will ‘sit’ and how our anatomy can increase circulation in our hips rather than reduce circulation by sitting on our gluteus maximus. It is a medical norm to expect to see some wear and tear (coxarthrosis) and reduced circulation in a man of only 40 years of age! I think this is a medical norm because medics are looking at the smallest parts of physiology and have not yet begun to understand the machinery (anatomy) of the body.

I believe that when we become uncoordinated it will be the cause of pain in cases where there is no obvious injury 97% of the time. An insidious onset for back pain is presumed to be due to age. Medicine falls so far short in understanding the body mechanics that it would be like going to see a caterer to help you put up a marquee.  There are some overlooked aspects of muscles that can lead to musculo-skeletal dysfunction which are easily explained without having to describe a primary injurious mechanism. People who have had back pain or treat people that have low back pain are often fixated on the cause. This day and age if it isn’t cause and effect then it must be a trick or something sinister! Whilst almost every western person is having to perform sit to stand and stand to sit I suspect that very few are practising how to perform this movement. To condition our body to be strong in a particular way we need to repeat the action in an intensity that is enough to create adaptation but not enough to injure. The best posture to sit in is a squat. How you get to a squat position in my opinion is through the Qi Gong wall squat technique as this enables us to integrate our body from head to toe. Other variations on a squat movement may concentrate force at particular points of the body. Ideally for health one would look to integrate their whole body in a given movement. Through integration we reduce thixotropy and improve proprioception.

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This method concentrates force along the hamstrings

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This method utilises the gluteal muscles

The time it takes you to learn the wall squat techniques can vary from a few weeks to a few years depending upon your current ability. The point of the exercise is to coordinate your whole body within the movement and not to simply reach the lowest point. If you can only squat down a very short distance like many out there will find, then begin with a short distance and with practise within your chosen personal limits increase the distance you can squat. The only thing to improve against is your previous ability. If you are not improving then you are likely getting worse as our dynamic body and brain do not hold static ability. The art of integration of your body is much more important than copying the full movement. If it doesn’t feel right then odds are it isn’t! consult an expert who can help you to reach the goal of always being able to sit to stand and stand to sit in a whole body integrated way so that you are aware of how your body works together through your own internal representation of your body through your mind’s eye. The internal art of movement is something being slowly lost from the human race which will lead to more focus on accumulating stuff and experiencing more pain. Movement and a chiropractor like me is what your body wants …

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