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The Way You Sit Affects Your Breathing & Your Health

September 8, 2009

Poor Sitting Posture, from Mike White,

Poor Sitting Posture, Courtesy of Mike White,

The way you sit has a powerful influence on your life. The diagram to the left shows one of the most common sitting postures for people working at computers. As you can see, such a posture has many negative influences on your breathing and your health and well-being.

To sense how this posture affects your breathing, take the posture as shown and observe your breathing as you stay in this position for several breaths. What does the posture feel like? How easy is it to breathe? Take impressions from all over your body, including your belly, back, chest, and neck.

Now try an opposite, but equally poor posture: straighten up rigidly with your spine and back immobile, thrust out your chest (military style), and observe your breathing. Notice how tight and constricted your breathing is. Again, take impressions from all over your body.

Now let’s try another experiment. Sitting toward the front of your chair, rock slowly and gently back and fourth (it is also helpful to rock side to side if you wish) on your sit bones until you find a balanced and relaxed posture with your spine erect. Again observe your breathing. Notice how free and easy it is now compared with the previous two postures.

Here is a passage from Free Your Breath, Free Your Life that goes more deeply into the significance of the postures we take:

The life force expresses itself in structural configurations of many kinds. These configurations represent each organism’s way of balancing its own inherent physical form with the many inner and outer demands of living on this gravity-weighted earth. The specific positions and postures that we most often take reflect not just our needs, hopes, fears, goals, perceptions, traumas, and physical habits at any moment but also our psychophysical history and our basic stance toward living. They also reflect the degree of our openness to ourselves and others. By learning to observe our positions and postures more clearly and more often, we gain direct sensory impressions and knowledge of the forces at work in us and on us.

Every Position We Take Shapes Our Breathing

Our positions and postures, however, do more than just reflect what is happening in us. Every position and posture that we take shapes our breathing in a particular way. This fact has both negative and positive consequences. On the one hand, if we sit, stand, or lie down habitually in postures or positions that overly tighten or constrict our back, belly, diaphragm, or rib cage, these postures will over time impede the internal movements associated with healthy breathing and thus have a powerful negative influence on our breath. On the other hand, if we take a specific posture or position that helps release or open up a part of the body that is generally tight or constricted, our breathing can regain its natural coordination, elasticity, and fluidity.

Copyright 2004 by Dennis Lewis, this passage is from Free Your Breath, Free Your Life

I suggest that you experiment with your sitting posture as you work at a desk or computer, paying special attention to the influence your posture has on your breathing. If you catch yourself collapsing into the posture in the diagram above (and many of us do when we are in a hurry, anxious, tired, or stressed out), or puffing yourself up into its military opposite, stay in that posture for several more breaths and consciously sense how your breathing feels. Then get up, move around, and stretch as you continue to sense your breathing. Notice any changes in your breathing and the overall sensation of your body. After a minute or two sit down again and rock on your sit bones until to you find an erect, balanced posture as discussed above, and again sense your breathing and body. How do they feel now?

Sitting in a relaxed, erect, and balanced way has many benefits. But you will need to pay attention to your posture and breathing frequently and on a daily basis. Try it not just when you are sitting at tables and desks, but also when you sit on a couch or in a chair to read, watch TV, or talk with friends. This practice of mindfulness, of awareness, in relation to your sitting postures and their influence on your breathing will, by itself, help bring you into a more balanced alignment that will help free your breath and your life.

Copyright 2009 by Dennis Lewis. Poor Sitting Posture figure reprinted courtesy of my friend and colleague, Mike White, Optimal Breathing.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. September 9, 2009 4:56 am

    Thanks for the reminder!

  2. September 12, 2009 11:35 pm

    Very good reminder, although I am not sure how it would improve a stomach ache or stomach related problem.

    • September 13, 2009 4:45 pm

      Of course, this essay was not about improving stomach aches. I’m glad, though, that you found it useful.

  3. Susan Way permalink
    November 15, 2009 10:46 pm

    As I sit at a computer most of a day with my transcription job, I appreciate the heads-up (literally) on how one should sit and to be mindful of one’s body posture. Thank you.

  4. September 1, 2010 3:05 pm

    Thank you, very interesting and useful post… btw: my sister started a month ago to practice everyday the exercises proposed on your book “The Tao of Natural Breathing”, a book that helped me to understand a little more the dynamics of breathing and how we are far from a natural way of breath; she noticed an increasing of her awareness in the sense that she has an impulsive behaviour, and now, instead of reacting immediately, she notices that she for example feels angry and how her body reacts to this emotion. It seems incredible how only in a month she seems so centered and more attentive to her reactions. Thank you Dennis!!!

  5. clickholistic permalink
    July 27, 2012 3:22 am

    as a Body Stress release practitioner and a Buteyko educator, I am always looking for new ways to explain this issue to clients. Good ergonomics really should be a priority for all – and schools and large corporations in particular should be cognizant of these facts – especially when considering how the impact of poor ergonomics affects production, overall health costs and absenteeism. Thanks for your article.

  6. September 5, 2012 1:40 am

    It’s good to read the importance of rocking on sitting bones,posture and breathing.
    It is quite a challenge to encourage this in others. I am a sport therapist and find we have so little understanding of where we are in movement both athletic and non-athletic.


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