What a simple, supportive and effective piece of equipment a chair is! Yup. We love ourselves some chairs for sitting, lounging, laying, relaxing. I'm afraid, however, research shows that sitting for extended periods of time is just not that great for our health. In fact, it shows that sitting is the new smoking. Sitting too much is linked to a host of serious diseases and overall is detrimental to our health. The good news? As long as we get up a few times each hour and simply walk around for a few minutes, we'll do our body a host of goodness. We can all do that, right?
Sitting too much affects our upright posture. Typically we sit comfortably, and that means with a bit of a curl in our low back and a hunch in our upper back. It's not really our fault. The body takes the path of least resistance. No need for blame; but now that we know, we can correct our posture all day, every day. YAY! Plus, remember what the research says? All we need to do is get up and walk a little bit, and now that spring has indeed sprung, you may feel the pull to be outside more. Walking outdoors is a great way to get in some cardio, some Vitamin D, and to feel the flow and counteract all that "computer posture". Today, I'd like to focus on specifically how the hamstrings (yup! we have 3 on each leg) help us to walk better.
Which makes me think about my own experience of hiking Mt. Whitney in 2010. There was a 3 year period in my life where I just walked. My friend, Suzie, a mountaineer herself, and I got it into our heads to walk the 40 mile section of the Appalachian Trail. In one day. Which we did. My hip joints ache a bit just thinking about it... And then my friend Baylor and I walked the White Angels Trail down to the Colorado River and back up to the top of the Grand Canyon. Truth be told, I was the crazy one that made it all the way down and up in a day. Baylor is much more sensible than that. And then I applied for and won the lottery (I was living in MD at the time) to hike Mt. Whitney, the tallest mountain in the contiguous United State, and clambered my way to the top. The culmination of my crazy-day-hike walking days. Whew. Remembering all that movement, all that ball-and-socket gliding in my hip joints - and the fact that I can actually still walk today! - makes me utterly grateful for and amazed by our hip joints and leg joints, to support us up and down and all around this life.
Our quadriceps, the group of 4 large muscles that run along the front of either thigh already do a lot of work for us. Their function is to extend or straighten the knee and assist in hip flexion. They should work in balanced conjunction with the hamstrings, the group of 3 muscles that lay along the back of each thigh. Their function is to bend the knee and assist in hip extension. However, more often than not, we're stronger on the front of our body than the back. Rather than pull ourself along with our quads and hip flexors (which of course we need in the mechanics of walking), we need to push ourself forward with the hammies for optimal walking flow. This will help us to open up the front of our pelvis so the legs can swing more freely, and, you know, counteract all that inevitable slumping from living under gravity al day long.
That's all well and good, Stephanie, but how do I do that? Ok, I hear you. So here are some simple ways to feel your backside as you move through your day:
1) Slow down. We often don't even recognize our posture when we're about to stand up from sitting. Take a moment before you get up to simply acknowledge the back of your body. Imagine your spine as a slinky, and reach up through it to find some space. Find your sitting bones. Rock your pelvis to help you do so. Then find your feet. Spread your toes. Wiggle them to bring some circulation there. Then root them into the ground - after all, it's there just waiting to support us. Acknowledge the space in your spine, the support of your pelvis, and those wonderful feet of yours. Bring the heels closer to you, and then as you begin to stand reach through the crown of your head and rise, float, levitate upward by pushing down through the heels to engage the hammies at the sitting bones. Then you'll suddenly find yourself standing, full of length and decompressed joints.
2) Roll through your feet. Now that you're standing, acknowledge those feet in a standing position. Do you feel evenly weighted between the left foot and the right foot? Does it feel like you're standing in the center of each foot? Take a moment to shift up to your toes and back to your heels. Our stride begins with a heel strike, and the more we pull through our heels, the more the hamstrings will engage and propel us forward through our stride. Try a little rock: put one foot in front of its partner, and rock forward and back. Notice how the back arch and toes get a stretch as you rock your weight forward. Notice how as you rock back, the front ankle flexes, allowing the heel to ground a bit more. Gently dig the heel into the ground and rock again. Try this with the next leg and then get moving.
3) Look up. Now that you're moving through space, it's important to acknowledge what's around you. Especially if you're outside, you need to know if there are cars coming to cross the road, but even more importantly, seeing your environment and those around you can be really rewarding. The simple act of looking up, toward your horizon line, can connect you to the world and the people around. That in itself is fantastic - especially now that every tree and bush and plant is blooming. Lifting your eye line further helps to counteract that computer posture/head forward position and open up our middle back. By looking up we not only stand taller, we make it easier for our bones to stack in neutral alignment so our hips and legs can do their thang. And perhaps it'll help open your heart too. Body language is important. Let someone moving toward you know that you are open. Pass along that energy to your neighbors and your environment to help all around you stand taller.
4) Practice Balance. Part of the reason we may keep our eyes on the ground is because we - rightly so - wish to stay upright. Trust yourself. Your proprioception and balance will help you navigate where you are in space. The more you practice, the more heightened that system will become. Practice balance everywhere - standing in line at the grocery store, in the morning when you're brushing your teeth, at your standing desk at work. Keep a spiky ball or a balance pad in your living room or at your office. Take 2 minutes every so often throughout your day to test your balance by standing on one leg, or closing your eyes with both feet firmly planted. Just like it only takes a few minutes to counteract the effects of sitting, it only takes a few minutes to make strides in your balance. Incorporate it in your everyday routine to make it simple. 'Cause small steps do indeed make large shifts.
i'm stephanie. my last names mean "hedgehog" in Czech and "pretty calf" in French. i have an MA from Oxford in English lit, and a MFA from Riverside in experimental choreography. i like to write. i have lots of thoughts on the body. and i want to help you understand your own better. oh, i'm also plant-based and love to bake with vegan ingredients.
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