Alexander Technique Help for Computer Users – Part 2: Balance
In Part 1 I introduced the concept of awareness while at the computer, in particular that of the space around us. Now I want to expand on that to include awareness of how and where we balance, something we may not typically think about when we sit working at the computer. If, however, we do not use our body in a balanced way, we compensate with extra tension to hold our body up. This is true even if we have collapsed our body into a slump – what you might think of as a more relaxed posture.
But how can we be balanced, if we don’t really know what part of the body we should be balancing on? When sitting, the appropriate balancing points (weight-bearing points) are the sit bones (or sitting bones or sitz bones) – the correct anatomical term is the ischael tuberosity – the two bony protuberances at the base of the pelvis.
Get to Know Your Sit Bones!
It’s important to be able to locate these in your own body. After all, if you can’t do that, how can you hope to balance on them? So let’s find them:
- Sit toward the middle of your chair
- Put your hands under your bottom (buttocks)! The sit bones are big and bony and you can feel them, right through the most “cushy” part!
- Shift your weight around so that you are more or less balanced over them, so the bones are “pointing” down into your seat. Notice that there is some play – that you can rock back and forth a little as you rest on them.
If we balance on the right part of our skeleton for the job, our muscles don’t need to work so hard to keep us upright.
Now, see what happens when you don’t balance on them:
With your hands under your sit bones slowly let yourself curl in a slump. As you do so notice your sit bones slide forward. Instead of resting on them, you are now resting on the part of your spine! You might also notice what’s happened to your entire back and your head. What may feel more relaxed actually contains lots of compression and tension.
- Come back to that more balanced place, still with your hands underneath your sit bones. This time “sit up straight” by arching your back and pulling your chest up (what is often mistakenly thought of as good posture). You’ll notice you’re not really on your sit bones anymore – they’re now pointing back a little, and instead you are using your legs to hold you up, AND a lot of tension! Likely your whole back (including your neck) is rigid and tense, and you’re probably holding your breath, too! No wonder we can’t maintain this for long – nor should we!
Knowing where to balance helps us use our skeletal structure to support us, and in turn means we don’t need extra muscular tension to hold ourselves upright. As I continue with this series we will consider many other things, but having a more accurate understanding and awareness of our sit bones as we work at the computer is a crucial piece of the puzzle.
Did you follow along as you read this blog and locate your sit bones for yourself? Do you balance on your sit bones while you work at the computer? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.
Nice post Imogen! You’re right, it’s simply not possible to be balanced if you don’t know what you’re balancing on.
This is what I taught during my last workshop…had people sit on their bottoms to feel their sits bones as they rocked back n forth. Also notice the breath when your not on the sit bones..
Yes – definitely the breath is compromised if we’re not balanced, so the sit bones come in very handy! I often use this sort of exploration in my group classes, too.
It’s amazing how often I forget about my sitbones while sitting at the computer. I just did this simple exercise, and I appreciate the increased awareness I have now as I’m sitting here. Thank you!
Glad it was helpful, Jennifer!
While I have taken great care of myself while playing guitar with using AT, it all goes out the door in front of the computer. Recently developed tendonitis in my right elbow, and a contributing factor was using lap top in large recliner chair to write and surf the net. At times my elbow was locked and made an audible sound when I went to move it after 30-40 minutes.
David Jernigan my local AT teacher rather sternly suggested I work with better use at the computer both home and at work. Tendonitis is letting go. Thanks for the reminder.
It’s interesting, isn’t it, how we can apply the Technique to one particular area of our life, and completely ignore it in another! Glad the post was helpful.
By the way, later in the series I’ll be looking at special considerations for people using a laptop.
And glad the tendonitis is letting go… 🙂
Nice post, Imogen.
Great reminders, and really useful pictures. In my opinion the Alexander Technique should be more widely known because of all the computer work people do. The Alexander Technique has always been valuable for piano players, and now we’re ALL keyboard ‘players’!
Love that – yes, we are all “keyboard players” these days. Alexander Technique has been an absolute godsend to me in my ability to work at the computer comfortably.
This is a beautifully clear and immediately useful way to address the sometimes elusive concept of sitting in easy balance. Your explorations using the hands to feel the bones in relation to the actual tension that moves us out of balance are very practical (helping us address erroneous preconception and faulty sensory awareness). The more we can tie in all the information about ourselves together (visual, kinesthetic, aural, etc.) to see how it affects us overall steers us toward the best use of ourselves. Thanks for that!
Thanks, Bill. I feel strongly that having a more accurate “body map” (in this case understanding where the sit bones are) is a key component in improving they way we use ourselves – and this is something anyone can learn and explore even on their own.
I had to go back and read part 1. This is a Really good post for me, Imogen! I’ve been dealing w/back issues for the past couple of years (lifetime of hard sports & then a spectacular skiing accident) and have been very conscious of how I sit (correctly or not!). Just last week I made a big investment in a Herman Miller chair, which is wonderful.
Your posts have made me much more aware. I’m actually going to bookmark these & refer to them if (as!) I find myself slumping.
Heidi (& Atticus)
“commentary to give you paws…”
Heidi, I’m sorry to hear about your back. How we sit (and do anything for that matter) can make a huge difference though.
And congrats on your new chair! Having a supportive chair can be really helpful – though I do believe how you use your body in that chair is even more important (more on this to come in a later blog). Having a well set-up chair, and using yourself well in it, is really the best of both worlds 🙂
Imogen, This was great to go through the exercises. I realized I slump for a good part of the time when I’m at home on the computer (unless I’m working on an intense project with a deadline and then I over-arch my back, sitting practically on the edge of my chair). At work, I mainly sit in a tense, upright position. Obviously, I need to practice good sitting! 🙂 Thanks for being so explicit in the instructions — it really helps.
caregiving. family. advocacy.
I don’t think you’re alone, Trish! Most people vacillate between the slump and tense over-arching, rarely finding those moments of actually being in balance. If we can just start to tip the balance gradually toward more moments of poise we are on the right track.
Glad you found the post helpful 🙂
Thanks for this very useful series, Imogen.
I waited till you finished the whole lot so I could post them all together on my page. That way people can see them in one go and also switch back and forth as they please!
I’m glad you’re finding the series useful, Padmini. There will be a few more posts to come before it is finished! Working at the computer (which I do a lot myself, when I’m not teaching AT lessons!) is a huge issue for many, many people. I’m hoping to shed some light, and maybe bring to the surface some aspects of how we work that are mostly not considered.
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Hi Imogen, I did follow along and learned I am arching my back in order to avoid slumping (I suspected I was doing this, your blog confirmed it for me). I will need to practice this new position because I am already going back to leaning forward as I type this comment and I bring my sitz bones with me forward as I lean…yikes!
I have just discovered the AT and your blog – thank you for all the advice you offer to us, relentless computer users!!! I have a question: what do you think about the use of gym balls as a substitution for an office chair? Is it a good idea? Thank you!
Hi Olga, I do think a large gym ball can be useful – they certainly allow movement and do encourage good balance and posture. I’d suggest you have it in a stand though, for two reasons – (1) you’ll probably need a little extra height. Even the large ones I’ve come across are a little low – maybe you’ll do better! (2) I find they’re a little too mobile for my liking when I’m working, though I have’t used one for a while. I’d say go for it! I’d love to hear how you get on! Thanks so much for your comment and question.
I’ve been struggling alot with tension in my shoulders and neck from working at the computer 8 hours a day. I’ve been trying your technique out and while i find it leaves me with no tension in these areas I find it difficult to maintain this position currently as my back feels sore. I’ve been making sure i’m not leaning too far back either.
Is this normal when first trying this position?
First – that’s great news about your shoulders and neck! 🙂
There’s a couple of main reasons that you are getting a sore back in my experience. If you’re not used to working the deeper postural muscles that are designed to keep us upright, they will fatigue rather quickly. The danger is, though, that as those muscles become fatigued, you’ll start using the more external muscles to compensate, and I suspect this could account for the soreness. Therefore you could still “holding yourself up” with tension – just in a different position from before…
So – yes, this is normal, and an Alexander Technique teacher could quickly assess what is going on, and give you some personalized feedback and ideas to help you.
Failing that, I’d suggest using something behind your back (some of the time) to support yourself in the upright position, but allowing you to be at rest too (preventing that “holding yourself up” thing). Another suggestion is to vary your position if possible, stretch and take little mini-breaks to walk away from your computer, if only for a few seconds.
I hope that helps.