Sitting Is the New Smoking: And How Yoga Can Help

Sitting Is the New Smoking: And How Yoga Can Help

As a physiotherapist I spend my days working with people who are in pain. Some of them have been unlucky enough to injure themselves but lots of them are suffering simply because of what they do all day. Think about it, what do we spend our days doing? Most of us spend a lot of time sitting. Think about how we sit when we drive or use our laptops, tablets and smart phones…

Back to Basics

Well, when I say sit, I really mean slouch. Heads bent over, shoulders hunched forwards, your spine bent into a big C shape. A bit like the foetal position maybe? The human body is an amazing thing, but it’s designed to move out of that curled up posture while we’re babies, not stay in it when we are adults!

Toddlers are a great example of how the body is designed to work at it’s best. When they pick things up off the floor they squat down the stand up again keeping their back straight. They often squat rather than sit to play. It’s such a shame that we develop such bad habits as we get older and suffer pain as a result.

Did you know that back pain is the largest cause of disability in the world and most of us will get spinal pain at some point in our lives? Low back pain can be caused by lots of things, but bad posture, lack of fitness, weak core muscles and tight hamstrings are way up there in the top five reasons. Other big problems that can make life a misery are neck pain and headaches. Poor posture and whiplash injuries are often at the root of these. Anyone spending lots of time sitting, driving, or working on computers is likely to get spinal pain.

You Don’t Just Lose Flexibility

Painted Legs
Image Credit: Nicki Varkevisser on Flickr.

Another common problem I see is knee pain. Some of these patients have damaged ligaments and torn cartilages, but more often people experience pain related to tight hamstrings and quadriceps muscles in their thighs. Another big group of knee pain sufferers have weak hip and thigh muscles, the glutes and quadriceps usually. Often this loss of flexibility and lack of strength is just because they have become less active for one reason or another.

For some people this can be when they leave school and stop doing any sport or when they have children and don’t have time to get to the gym. For me it was when I took a managerial job and was stuck behind a desk all day and my joints started to ache for no reason. Even doing up my bra was a bit of a struggle as my shoulders got tight. My balance was so bad that standing on one leg to do anything was positively hazardous!

Remember as a kid how you could sit with your legs straight out in front of you or sit cross-legged effortlessly? Tried that recently? All that flexibility that we are born with is lost as we learn to sit in chairs. And what about headstands and handstands? How do kids just do them so naturally?

As adults, we need something that will stretch us out, strengthen our core, thighs and hips while improving our posture that doesn’t take up hours every day. I think you know where I’m going with this. The good news is, I’m here to tell you that yoga can do all of this for us and more!

How Yoga Can Help

The best thing about yoga is that it can help prevent you losing strength and flexibility whether you are nine or 90. Even better, it can completely cure some musculoskeletal pains! I experienced achilles pain for years and about six months after starting yoga I realised it had gone, and has not bothered me since!

b&w Yoga Pose
Image Credit: Seniju on Flickr.

The best treatment for a lot of knee pain is to stretch the thigh and calf muscles. Yoga poses like Downward Dog and Warrior One can help the knees, while strengthening the legs too. Sun Salutations and standing poses like Warrior Two and Triangle Pose work our core muscles which is essential when trying to solve back pain.

As for the spine, Mountain Pose encourages good posture and releases tension in neck muscles that may be causing neck pain and headaches. Yoga opens the chest in lots of poses which helps to bring shoulders back away from the hunched position we adopt in so many things. Balancing poses like Tree Pose mean that I no longer have to sit down to put my socks on — which came in very handy on a recent walking trip to Wales when a change of footwear was required after a rather soggy mountain ramble!

It’s Time To Re-Align

So it’s a bit of a no-brainer really. Yoga really can turn the turn the clock back for you. A couple of classes a week, or a few minutes of yoga each day, can bring back the joy of sitting on the floor again (and being able to get back up)! The delight of walking tall, the joy of striding out with strong legs and long hamstrings, the feeling of having a strong core are all there for the taking if you want it.

New Years resolutions are well behind us now, but maybe Spring is the time to take action against those aches and pains. Resolve to do a bit more yoga. If you’ve never tried it before, start gently by booking into a Beginners Yoga Class and let me know how you get on by commenting on this article! I know you’ll feel better for it and would love to hear about your journey to a stronger, more flexible, and more aligned version of you.

Sally Schofield
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