By Jean Elvin
Many people have the idea that the pelvis should be “vertical” to have proper posture for sitting. This means that the sacrum, or the back of the pelvis, is at roughly a ninety-degree angle to a flat chair seat, with the “bowl” of the pelvis neither tipping forward nor backward. There are ways to use our pelvis more effectively when sitting, so that we can stay comfortable for longer periods of time, and for moving while sitting, in activities such as computing, driving, visiting with friends, reading, writing, and eating, to name just a few. The short lesson in this article will begin with a vertical pelvis, and then explore another alternative. This experiment should take about ten minutes or less. If you start to get tired or sore, of course, stop and rest immediately.
As a reference point in this personal experiment, consider that the bones under each side of the base of your pelvis are like deep rockers on a rocking chair—they allow you to rock forward and back, as well as to shift side to side, by lifting one rocker up away from the supporting surface. Slide one hand under each side of your pelvis until you can feel the rocker-like bone with your fingertips. Then see if you can more clearly sense the rockers without your hands underneath you.
First, move forward toward the front edge of a fairly firm chair, so that you are sitting on the front third of the chair seat, with your feet comfortably on the ground and your pelvis vertical. To find the vertical, rock gently forward and back making the movements smaller until you feel you are “in the middle,” with your pelvis in a position that you sense as vertical. Stay there and notice how your back feels. Is there a bit of tension somewhere? Imagine putting a sticker on that part (or parts), so that you can check on it easily later.
Now, place the palm of one or both hands on your belly, and rock your pelvis forward slightly, so that your belly pushes your hands forward in space, toward being over the front edge of the chair. Allow your belly to soften and your breathing to be easy. This is not about inflating or sticking your belly out, rather you are rocking your pelvis forward slightly and allowing your belly to soften. Your pubic bone (the very center of the front of your pelvis, the bony part just below your belly) will move forward and down slightly, toward the chair. Practice this movement a few times, pausing when you get there, so that you get used to this feeling. Now, you are in a new configuration, slightly forward of vertical. How does your back feel now?
Check back to the spot(s) where you placed the imaginary sticker(s). Is there less tension than before? If so, it is likely that you have found more support from the natural curve of your lower back, or lumbar spine. Notice that you can still allow your belly to move slightly as you breath and your pelvis to shift, without destroying the feeling of ease and support. Your lumbar spine is curved naturally in this direction and with practice, you can learn to recognize the feeling of support that your spine affords you in this configuration. A “forced vertical” can interfere with your ability to sense and use your natural structural support, and is also unnecessarily demanding on the postural muscles of your trunk.
Sometimes at this point in the experiment, people report, “My lower back feels better, but now I’m tense up higher.” It is possible that even with more comfort in your lower back, you may feel some increase in the tension in your ribs, or middle or upper back. The reason for this is that the spine is one system, all parts relating to each other. When you change the way you use your lower back, the other parts must also learn to change harmoniously. Structurally, this is about balancing your head over your pelvis. Refining the relationship through your trunk—notice what happens to your trunk when you rock your pelvis slightly forward. Do you tip like a leaning tower? If you can, soften your waistline and allow your pelvis to roll forward without bringing your shoulders and head forward in space. Can you feel your chest softening? See if you can resist the urge to stiffen and lift your upper chest. Notice if you can relax any part of yourself a bit more, perhaps your jaw. You may notice that your back has the feeling of getting slightly taller when you rock forward. That is okay, but don’t exaggerate it or hold your breath. For this movement, see if you can leave your shoulders and head roughly over the same spot on the chair as you rock your pelvis forward, rather than tipping them forward.
The next step in this process might be to explore Awareness Through Movement® group lessons or Functional Integration® sessions which will help you to soften your sternum, (or your jaw) and then integrate that feeling into your new understanding of sitting. If this personal experiment is interesting to you, consider scheduling a lesson to further customize this improvement in sitting with your favorite Feldenkrais® practitioner. They are trained in helping you to discover the balance of your spine, the dynamic balance of your head and pelvis and how wonderful you can feel in sitting (among other things) when the new patterns become automatic.
Sitting is much more than sitting still. A “mobile seat,” (or an adaptable way of sitting comfortably) is one that can move with you in any number of seated tasks. Enjoy revisiting these movements as often as you wish during all your activities.