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Sitting Straight

At some point, I had given up on sitting properly altogether and decided to just stand. Surely that I can’t screw up. But standing is for me not sustainable. If I stand in the morning for four hours, my legs will be fatigued for the remainder of the day. And so it’s back to sitting.

I’ve tried fixing my posture. But I seriously have no idea what I’m doing. Is it me? Is it the chair? Is it the way my shoulders are arched? My chest? My lower back/upper back/butt/legs/feet? I have no idea. And anytime I’ve tried, more pain was the only immediate result. So I wrote it off as a cost of doing business.

In the last year, I kid you not, I have bought five different chairs. This chair..this will be the one. It will fix all my problems. No luck. They were all at some point generously donated to my alley, swooped up by mysterious strangers in a matter of hours. The chairs were all in the ~$250 range, which means I’d spent over a thousand dollars on chairs in a single year.

So I said, that's it. I’m going to buy a high quality chair this time. An investment. It’s the thing I do most in a given day, second to breathing. Surely even $5,000 would be a suitable investment. So I looked to the Apple of office chairs—Herman Miller. These things are not cheap. The base chair with no “add ons” runs for about a grand. If you want adjustable arms (which of course you do), lumbar support (duh), adjustable tilt, and quiet rolling wheels for hardwood floors, you’ll have to dish out an extra $500, bringing us to a fabulous grand total of $1500..for an office chair.

I sat on this decision for 3 days. Am I really going to spend $1500 on a chair? The decision making process itself was more painful than the problem it was seeking to solve. But I mean, what’s the alternative? I can continue buying a $250 chair every 3 months for the rest of my life. OR: I can see what all the fuss is with these ~Herman Miller~ chairs.

There are a certain class of products which I never regret buying: tools of production. I have never regretted buying a computer, a camera, a desk, useful software. These things all pay for themselves. A chair certainly qualifies.

Worst case scenario I can return it, right? So I went for it.

Here’s my review: it's a damn good looking chair. As if Apple themselves designed it. But..my back still hurts. Even more.

Either this chair—and all chairs—suck, or, the problem is me. It’s the way I’m sitting.

Soon after, I came across this article on sitting. The idea was that sitting is not inherently evil, but the way we’re taught to sit is. The emphasis is always on “sitting straight”, or pulling back your shoulders, and puffing out your chest. But anytime I’ve done that, it's only served to accentuate the pain. The article instead advocates for focusing on the lower part of your body, rather than the upper.

The article is frustratingly low on detail, with no illustrations for guidance. But there was one important detail that really helped me: you know you’re sitting properly when your hamstrings are tight. Your hamstrings are right under your thighs. If you’re sitting now, feel your hamstrings: are they loose, or are they tight? If they’re loose, it means another part of your body is doing the heavy lifting. And likely, it’s your back. Which means you’ll be in pain.

If they’re tight, you can be sure they’re doing some work, and taking the load off other parts of your body.

Here’s what I’m trying now, and it seems to be working. It feels good, and I’ve been waking up with my thighs sore, like after a good workout, which means new muscles are being flexed.

Sitting Tutorial:

  1. Sit.

  2. Make sure your butt is the furthest back point of your posture. Like you’re sticking it out to wag your tail.

  3. Bend the lowest part of your back inward, but not too strenuously. Just a little bit.

  4. Lean forward slightly with the upper part of your body.

  5. Feel your hamstrings. Are they tight? If so, and everything else feels good, this might be a good way to sit. If not, it means you’re doing something wrong. Read the article again and see what you can garner from it.

It’s worth noting that adjusting to this arrangement will require work. It’s not easy. It’s like a workout. I did this for the better part of yesterday, and it was torture. But it’s half as hard today. It feels rather easy now.


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