Have a Seat

“It hurts to be beautiful.” I remember this saying when I was growing up. It referred to the idea that many fashion trends, particularly for women, are not made for comfort. Just think about high heels and panthose. Ah…the suffering we go through for the sake of fashion! Perhaps you’ve “evolved” beyond those harmful trends. But many of us still bow to fashion in our homes even if that means using furniture that contributes to bad posture or an achy spine.

Most people don’t know this, but my first degree is a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Interior Design. Although I still think of myself as an artist, I only put my interior design background to work when someone asks my opinion of how something looks in their house. However, the worlds of physical therapy, yoga, and interior design often share paths when it comes to our living environment. Certainly the artist in all of us veers toward the beauty or emotional feeling of a piece of furniture. But maybe we should reconsider that big, squishy couch. As we sink into furniture to binge watch our favorite shows, the tissues of the body are slowly remodeling into an unnatural shape. That’s why when we get up after TV time our body may not want to recoil into its correct posture. This  can lead to achiness or, eventually, back problems.

I’m a big advocate of proper posture. In past posts, I’ve given tips on proper seated alignment. Good posture is important for desk workers. But what about during our “couch potato” time? Certainly good posture can be achieved in any environment, but when considering furniture why not think about how it can help us maintain good postural habits while still feeling comfy cozy? Perhaps these seem like opposite sides of the spectrum, but when working in concert, then comfort and good posture can help you relax and restore.

When looking at a piece of living room furniture, one must assess the height, firmness and depth of the item. A piece of furniture that is too low can stress the knees, hips and back as one sits or stands. If it is too soft it can be difficult to get up out of. Soft cushions also do not offer support for the spine and can cause us to round the spine while sitting or reclining. A chair that is too deep can also cause us to slump. Potentially as we lean back to the back of a chair, the body may be creating an uncomfortable shape. A lack of support and slumping in our seats also puts more stress and weight on our low back…ouch!

Don’t worry….I’m not advocating ugly living room furniture that only allows our body to sit in one perfect postural position for hours on end. However, I am suggesting to keep the following tips in mind the next time you’re looking to update your furnishings.

First, know your body, your sitting style, and that of those that will be using the furniture the most. Think about leg length, hip strength and whether back pain is an issue. Know how long your legs are from hip to knee crease. This will give you an idea of what depth of furniture would work well for you. You may find a couch you love, but your back doesn’t touch the backrest because you have short legs. This may be fine if you usually sit with legs elevated or you like to scooch back and sit cross-legged while you relax. If you prefer to have your feet on the floor, opt for a different couch or use a firm throw pillow behind your back to take away some of the seat depth.

If you, your family, or someone who visits frequently, has arthritis, knee problems, or back problems consider getting seating that has a set height of 16 inches or more. This height will help put less stress on the joints on the descent to sitting. It will also be easier to rise up out of. Using the arms of an arm chair is also helpful for those who have trouble rising. If sitting and rising from a seat is, or becomes, uncomfortable or feels unstable, try strengthening the hip and low back muscles. A healthy back definitely benefits from comfortable, supportive furniture. Strengthening leg, hip and back muscles will further support the body.

Maybe you already have the perfect sitting area. Now it’s time to work on those muscles! Try these exercises and yoga postures to keep your body in great shape to be able to really relax into that furniture!

  • Sit to Stands:
    • Sit into a chair really slowly, then rise up from a chair  slowly and repeat (you’d be surprised how 10 or so of these will strengthen those thigh muscles!)
  • Clamshells
    • Lay on left side with hips and knees bent (fetal position)
    • With ankles together slowly open legs, raising right knee up
    • Make sure the pelvis is stable (not rocking backwards). Only lift knee to a height that allows you to keep pelvis stable.
    • Slowly lower the knee back to the starting position.
    • For more resistance you can place your right hand on your right thigh and apply resistance as you lift the knee.
    • Repeat 10-20 times per side
  • Supine Leg Lifts
    • Lay on back with knees bent and feet flat
    • Engage your deep abdominals first
    • With right knee straight, lift right leg 12-18 inches off ground
    • Slowly lower heel towards floor, then back up again
    • Repeat 10 times per side
  • Heel Raises
    • Lift heels up and down slowly 10-20 times
  • Utkatasana (Chair Pose)
  • Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose)
  • One-legged Bridge Pose
  • Standing Figure Four that slowly transitions to Virabhadrasa (Warrior) 1

For a personalized sequence for to strengthen hips or relieve back pain, contact me at lorie@wellnesswithlorie.com Find more tips on pain relief and injury prevention through yoga and physical therapy on my website at http://www.wellnesswithlorie.com or follow me on social media on FaceBook @yogalorie, Instagram Wellness_with_Lorie, or LinkedIn yogalorie

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