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Sit well, breathe well and move well – keys to balance in a sedentary world

As an Occupational Therapist, Yoga Teacher and Feldenkrais Practitioner with over 25 years supporting people to find more freedom of movement, peace of mind and balance in their lives I think there are some simple tools we can learn to reduce the impact of so much sitting that has become the norm in the modern world. These tools don’t cost much, have no negative side effects and are guaranteed to help you feel more joy and peace in your daily life.

Let start by looking at sitting. We have all been told over the last few years that sitting is bad for our health and it’s hard to know what to do when we have to sit for work. There are several considerations here and they complement each other. Let’s explore a bit about setting up your workstation for comfort and injury prevention.

First make sure you are comfortable in your chair in terms of ergonomics. I have been doing workstation assessments for over 15 years and having a good supportive well-fitting chair can make a big difference to reducing back and neck pain.

  • Is your chair the right height? are your forearms parallel to the desk and feet flat on the floor
  • Are the arm rests interfering with bringing your chair close to your desk?
  • Is the back support resting comfortably in the curve of your lower back?

Secondly how often do you stand up and move throughout the day? It may seem like common sense but I when I ask folks I am always surprised how many people say sit for 2-3 hours before getting up …. This is too long. Sitting for his long will cause your muscles and joints to tighten not to mention the effects on your circulation and mental well-being. So, get up every 45 minutes!! Stretch, breathe and move around and sit back down feeling a bit refreshed and even more inspired about whatever work you are engaged in.

Next let’s look at the way you breathe. Breathing is the link between your conscious mind and your body. The way we breathe is affected by our perceived levels of danger and stress. Our body has a complex web of physiological activation patterns that help bring about balance in our nervous system. The sympathetic (fight and flight) and parasympathetic (rest and digest) parts of our nervous system are designed to bring balance. When we are stressed for too long (fight or flight) our body initiates a chain of events such as heart rate increase, stress hormones flood the bloodstream, muscles tense and the immune system does not function well. Prolonged stress also impacts the part of our brain that is associated with fear. You may have noticed that when you are stressed your breath is short, tight and in our upper chest.

The best part of this situation is that we can learn to manage this stress response by changing the way we breathe, and this is at the heart of yoga and meditation and why they make us feel so good.

Take a moment just now to pause and notice your breath. Where in your body is it located? Is it short or long, bumpy or smooth? Now try sitting tall and relaxing your belly a bit … now take a slightly deeper breath count slowly to 4 or 5 as you inhale and then as you exhale count out slowly to 4 or 5. It might take a few rounds but continue to do this for 10 breaths bringing a curious and kind quality to your experience. After 10 breaths pause and notice … how simple was that? Do you feel a bit more at ease??

This little exercise is part of a bigger picture of really good news! We can learn to change our response to stress through developing awareness of our breathing and how it feels to breath in a slower more diaphragmatic way. The science of the breath shows us that when we allow the breath to become longer and more conscious we create healthier patterns of heart rate, digestion, hormone function and mental health. It does take a bit of practice though, so you might like to consider exploring this more through a yoga or meditation class or downloading one of the many apps available on your smart phone my favourites are Headspace and Calm.

The other area I wanted to touch base on in terms of well-being is movement. Think about how our bodies evolved over millions of years … hunting, gathering and exploring the environment. Movement creates internal rhythms that like the breath improve our health on all levels. There is a multitude of evidence but anyone who exercises regularly knows how much better it feels when we move. Our joints free up, our bodies feel light and mood is definitely improved. Exercise is one of the best ways to stave off depression and anxiety.

It doesn’t have to be going to the gym or joining a boxing class, even a 20 minute walk a day is of great benefit. The main thing is to find a way to enjoy moving … what makes you feel good? Dancing? Bush walking, swimming, cycling they are all good for you so find your passion for movement and do it … don’t just sit there move!!! Your body will thank you and in return bring you greater vitality and joi de vive .