Sit Up Straight and Pay Attention

by Tracey Rich

Sitting up straight means sitting in a way that supports the natural curves of your spine.  The lower spine needs to maintain its inward, lordotic curve for proper support of the rest of the body.  Do you cross your legs when you sit?  If so, do you always cross the same leg over the top?  Do you sit with one hip hiked up turning towards the driver when you ride in the passenger’s side of a car, like I am prone to do if I don’t pay attention and adjust myself?  All structures rely on how their foundations are built.  To this end, some of the work of sitting up straight is structural in nature and requires building proper strength and flexibility and executing proper alignment.  And some of the ability to sit straight is awareness oriented, bringing our attention to habitual patterns and developing an understanding of polarity to access the available stability and energy inherent in the spine.  The lumbar spine is comprised of five vertebral bodies and their corresponding discs and rests upon the five fused vertebrae of the sacrum, which is knitted to the pelvis by a web of ligaments.

The thoracic area, or mid-spine with its twelve vertebrae, connects to the ribs which support and protect the vital organs; heart, lungs, etc.  This central column of the spine actually moves outward in its curve creating the counter balanceto the spinal curves below and above.  What appearsstraight to the outer world in a healthy spine is really thiskyphotic or convex curve.  Bending, lifting, and twisting take place along the whole spine but the greatest rotation point belongs to T-12, the vertebrae where the mid and the lower spine meet.  The problem here is that if we don’t strengthen and keep flexible the muscle groups that keep us erect we will curl into that perpetual fetal position from which we came and to which we happily return each night in our sleep.  The development of more core muscles along with passive elongating postures, like lying over the bolster or blanket and stretching the psoas and hip flexers, will go a long distance toward centering your center.  Core building postures, maintaining a proper curve in the lumbar spine, and keeping awareness of the bi-directional movement of energy which keeps us rooted and elongated simultaneously, are all at play in the center of our bodies.

Finally, the cervical spine with its inward, lordotic curve tops off our connection with the world.  Seven small vertebrae with their discs and corresponding ligaments allow our head to sit on our shoulders, and literally give us our point of view. C1 through C7 are the center of the primordial flinch due to our jugular veins, an area we are deeply programmed to protect, and can be the seat of enormous tension.  Our necks hold the weight of our skulls and its treasured contents and can make us feel like the weight of the world is on our shoulders.  This area of the body where the central nerves move from the brain to connect with every part and function of our bodies and beyond would be greatly served by having acute awareness.  Maintaining this precious curve is essential.  Keeping our upper backs open is one way to give our necks their freedom and maintain the natural curve. Thinking of the area from the crown of our head to our shoulders as a triangular shape with the head placed neutrally along the latitudinal and longitudinal planes becomes a good spatial reference. A head that is level is one that can give its full attention!