The world has changed for so many of us. The average day for millions of people use to be composed of a quick breakfast before dashing out the door to work, then traffic, meetings, lunch, desk work, after-work drinks, dinner… rinse, and repeat. But now unprecedented global health concerns have transformed many people’s workday into 8-10 sedentary hours chained to a desk staring at a screen. Sitting is very quickly becoming the new smoking. With no time to squeeze in some physical activity or exercise away from your workspace, seated qigong at your desk just might be the answer.
Why is movement so important?
The human body was designed to move… Period! It was not designed to sit still for hours on end. We know this is true due to the fact that our lymph system requires movement to function. Movement is necessary because our lymph system doesn’t have a pump like our vascular system has our heart.
To move white blood cells around the body and keep our immune system functioning optimally, it requires the milking (contraction) of muscles, and that means we have to move! We don’t have to run a marathon or deadlift a bulldozer, but the movement is crucial for health.
In the pre-pandemic world gone by, even for those of us with desk jobs, there were many times during the day when there were moments of at least limited, light movement. The walk from the parking lot, the climb up the stairs, the walk to lunch, and maybe even the carrying of boxes for work done at home that evening.
So even if you didn’t get to the gym or a yoga class, at least you got some steps in and moved your muscles, if only in a limited fashion. Unfortunately, things have changed and not for the better. It’s actually quite amazing how damaging sitting for extended periods of time can be to the body.
How does sitting for extended periods of time injure the body?
Extended periods of sitting have a powerful and rather damaging effect on both the shoulder and pelvic girdles of our body. First, let’s look at the pelvic girdle. Our pelvis is designed to maintain a neutral position relative to the curvature of our spinal column.
You can visualize your skeleton as being made up of a gentle “S” curvature. Your head sits atop the S, and your pelvis connects to the bottom. The relative position of the top and bottom are important to ensure the “S” can counteract the effects of gravity pushing down on it.
In a seated position, your pelvis tips forward causing an excessive curvature in the lower part of your “S”. This would be your lower back. With your pelvis tipped forward, your core muscle (abs) are in a constantly stretched position and effectively turned off.
With your abs unable to help out with stabilizing your structure, the brunt of the job is left up to your back muscles. Muscles are designed to contract and relax. Not contract, and contract, and contract, and contract …for hours on end. Try flexing your bicep for 8 hours straight sometimes. You won’t be able to lift a pencil the next day!
To make matters worse, there is a powerful muscle called the psoas that attaches from your lower back, travels through your pelvis, and then connects to the inside of your thigh. The psoas acts as one of the major hip flexors that allow you to lift your leg, and to run, jump and climb.
However, after 8 hours a day of existing in a shortened and contracted position, the psoas is quickly conditioned to stay that way when you get up. Now, not only are your abs turned off, but your hip flexors are perpetually turned on. All of that stimulus exacerbates the curve in the lower part of your “S” and sends you reaching for the Advil to quiet your screaming erector and paraspinal muscles in your lower back.
Why does excessive sitting hurt our neck?
Next, let’s examine the top of the “S”. As mentioned before, your head sits at the top of the “S”. However, your head needs to balance above your pelvis otherwise it can have a damaging effect on the upper curve of the “S”. This would be your upper back and shoulder region, known as your shoulder girdle.
Once again that dreaded seated position throws the two girdles out of balance. As you constantly extend your head and neck forward to look at the screen, your shoulders roll forward, and the muscles between your shoulder blades stretch.
With the rhomboid and mid-fiber trap muscles between your shoulder blades turned off, your upper trapezius and levator scapulae on the side of your neck and upper back perpetually engage. And just like in your pelvic girdle, on the front of your shoulder girdle, there is one guy making the situation even worse.
Your pectorals minor is a small but important muscle that attaches to a small hook structure on your shoulder blade and then travels down the side of your upper chest where it attaches to your first three ribs.
Just like the psoas, when this muscle exists in a contracted position for hours on end. It forgets what it’s like to stretch out. Once again when you finally get up from your desk, the shorted pec minor muscles continue to pull your shoulder blades up and forward, which causes your upper back and neck muscles to never get a rest.
Now the question becomes “What do a rub first, my back or my neck?” Lol
Why can’t we sit without doing damage to our bodies?
The answer is, we can, we just don’t! It once again becomes an issue of the sheer length of time we are asking the body to work and of course the kind of muscle contraction required to do so. There are two basic types of muscle contraction
Isometric - is a muscle contraction without movement (a.k.a. sit all day at our desk)
Isotonic – is a muscle contraction that causes the joint angle which it controls to increase or decrease while the muscles shorten or lengthen (a.k.a. walk, run, or dance the funky chicken)
As I said in the beginning, we and our muscles are built to move!
How can you use seated Qigong at your desk to help?
To be healthy we need to move. But if our work requires up to be stuck in a chair with limited space available for physical exercise, a seated Qigong program can be a lifesaver. There are few exercise programs more adaptable to the confines of modern life than Qigong practice.
You wouldn’t dare attempt to do some weightlifting in your chair or get into a downward dog on our desk. But on the contrary, taking a few moments a day to discretely practice some soft, gentle dynamic Qigong movements from the safety of your home or work cubicle is totally doable.
Maintaining physical health is about stimulating your body to do something that challenges it. Challenging balance, challenging stability, challenging joint range of motion, challenging flexibility, challenging muscular stability, challenging breath control. Seated qigong at your desk checks every box… Give it a try.