“The simplest things are the ones that count.”
–Pablo Casals, cellist (Casals and the Art of Interpretation, p. vi)

Have you ever dealt with discomfort caused by sitting?

Most of us sit for hours each day as we practice, study, and use computers.

I’ve observed, though, that few musicians and computer users know how to sit optimally and, as a result, many endure frequent episodes of back pain.

Here are 4 principles that contribute to easeful sitting. All are expanded on in The Musician’s Way (p. 250-269), where you’ll find dozens of high-resolution photos.

1. Balance on Your Sitting Bones
To get a feel for balancing on your sitting bones (i.e., ischial tuberosities), try this:

a. Sit at the front edge of a chair with only your pelvis contacting the seat.
b. Place you feet flat on the floor.
c. Position your knees hip-width to shoulder-width apart.

Next, rock you pelvis forward and back to sense your two sitting bones. Then, cease rocking, and balance on the tips of those bones.

Either remain at the front of the seat or slide back and distribute some of your weight on the backs of your thighs. Employ a seat cushion or lumbar support as desired.

2. Position Your Hips Higher than Your Knees
Placing the hips higher than the knees facilitates breathing and helps release the lower back muscles.

Forward-sloping cushions are ideally suited to achieving this hip alignment (I’m sitting on one as I write this). See the Ergonomics section at MusiciansWay.com for links to sites that sell such cushions.

For taller musicians, chairs can also be modified in a pinch with the likes of phone books, as demonstrated by cellist Kendall Ramseur in the above image.

3. Release Your Shoulders
To enable unbridled use of the arms, for starters, place your hands on your thighs and allow your shoulders to release down and away from each other (the shoulder blades will move closer together). Then, let your shoulders remain free as you make music or do any activity.

Shoulders can be tricky to coordinate as because they’re our most mobile joint. Many instrumentalists, for instance, tend to stiffen one or both shoulders as they bring their hands into playing position.

So, in addition to adopting good shoulder use as you play an instrument or work at a computer, take regular breaks during which you roll your shoulders, circle your arms, and otherwise counteract any buildup of tension.

4. Align and Lengthen Your Spine
“From your tailbone to your head, let your spine lengthen toward a vertical alignment, and allow your head to rise as if it were a helium-filled balloon.” (The Musician’s Way, p. 252).

Avoid either slumping forward or arching your back like a soldier at attention. Also, be available to move gently in a chair as needed instead of holding yourself rigidly.

To evaluate your spinal alignment, it’s worthwhile to ask a knowledgeable colleague for feedback; you could also place a mirror or video camera at your side.

*  *  *

In tandem with applying these principles, most of us can best discover optimal ways to sit by taking lessons in the Alexander technique or Feldenkrais method.

It also helps for us to have adequate strength in the abdominal and back muscles. If you feel that your strength might be lacking, consider seeing an athletic trainer or a physical therapist for advice about exercises.

Preview The Musician’s Way at Amazon.

Related posts
Balanced shoulders, open heart
The centered performer
Heeding the signs of injury
Projecting ease
The total warm-up

All content © 2011 Gerald Klickstein

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