In this blog Hayley Winter explores how poor sitting and slumped posture could be speeding up the aging process.
I first introduced Slumpasana ten years ago to a group of students on a Yoga Teacher Training Course. We were exploring the anatomy and biomechanics of sitting. I made reference to Slumpasana as a teaching point asking students to amplify their slumped seated posture in order to appreciate an extreme compressed feeling. During their experience in the 'pose' we discussed the potential detrimental effects of being in this position for prolonged periods of time.
At the time making reference to the seated slump as Slumpasana caused great humor amongst the students, but little did I know that my description of the slouched seated posture would become a postural epidemic increasingly associated with a decline in health and shortened life span.
In Sanskrit, asana, (posture), means ‘Seat’ but in the 21st Century context Slumpasana means too much sitting and it’s a posture that most definitely doesn’t have any of the yogic benefits of asana. Over the years I have used this as an important postural reminder to help yoga teachers be aware of the potential structural stresses that many students could be bringing to the mat.
The Rise of Slumpasana and the Decline of Postural Health
Technology has changed the way we live, work and interact with others. In the last decade particularly it has contorted our bodies from Homo Erectus to Homo Flextus. With the body enduring hours in forward flexion, collapsed, compressed, seated, and sedentary, growing research into the health implications is proving alarming.
Technology isn’t going away and the use of devices is on the increase. Throughout the Covid pandemic technology enabled us to work from home, helping to reduce lengthy commutes and avoid crowded subways. Sadly, this also means Slumpasana is on the rise meaning postural height is decreasing and postural health is declining.
The Dangers of Too Much Sitting that Link to Aging
In order to better understand why the effects of Slumpasana are harmful and can potentially bring about functional decline linked to aging, I’ve outlined a few key areas highlighting the physiological, biochemical, and neurological implications of this ‘posture’.
The brain requires more oxygen than any other organ. If the brain doesn’t get sufficient oxygen supply it results in a degradation of all vital organs and can speed up the aging process.
Oxygen intake is limited, affecting well-being and productivity.
Consequently focus and concentration diminishes.
The diaphragm is a primary breathing muscle and responsible for 70 to 80% of inhalation effort. In Slumpasana its movement is restricted.
When the primary breathing muscles are restricted (the intercostals and abdominal muscles are also primary muscles), the secondary breathing muscles kick in. These muscles act as auxiliary breathing support and are the global neck muscles, scapula protractors, the trapezius and pectoralis minor. Accessing breathing in this way links to the sympathetic nervous system (SNS), the adrenal gland releases cortisol, the stress hormone. Stress has been linked to speeding up the aging process.
Deep breathing into the lower lobes of the lungs is restricted and therefore limited to effectively engaging the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). The PNS is involved in controlling resting activities, slowing heart rate, speeding digestion and activating the cleansing processes of the body. Its primal function is rest, digestion and recovery. Important factors to counteracting the effects of stress.
Access to memory and ability to recall is compromised with an increase in negative recall bias (remembering the bad things more than the good).
Lower self esteem and less assertive.
Hormone levels are altered in a collapsed position - see more on this in the Performance section below.
Reports indicate that frequent exposure to prolonged exposure to the blue light emitted by computer screens may cause skin damage and accelerated skin aging.
With the position of the head jutting both down and forward compromises the integrity of the cervical spine (neck) and diminishes blood flow to the brain. The weight of the head is between 10 to 12 pounds, (the weight of a medium size bowling ball).
Increased pressure on the vertebra of the spinal column.
Increase strain to the lower back.
Shoulders / Hands
Shoulder position restricts blood flow to the hands. Increase of carpal tunnel issues.
Compression of the lumbar and exaggerated posterior tilt of the pelvis influences the functional orientation of the hip socket, (acetabulum).
Prolonged periods sitting in the sagittal plane may compromise range of movement.
Lack of connection to the feet and the ground due to too much cerebral activity.
Neural pathway connection to feet compromised. Potentially compromises balance and increases the risk of falling.
Prolonged periods of time in a slumped, overly flexed position could be attributed to speeding up the aging process through increased pressure and compression of all vital organs; heart, diaphragm, liver, and digestive system - all working harder than if the spine was in its natural, neutral, lengthened anatomical position.
As we age many factors affect postural changes including the impact of gravity. Spinal vertebrae become less dense and a loss of muscle mass is attributed to getting older. But we don’t have to succumb to the effects of gravity or be resigned to getting older. We can make minor course-corrects everyday by adopting healthier postural habits that counteract the effects of aging. Altering how you sit is where you can start making important postural changes that positively affect how you perform in life.
Source: Getty Images: Formiga, 7-time Olympian, Brazilian women's soccer player
The postural stance of an athlete during their performance is a key factor when teaching our students as they consider the sports-specific demands and movement patterns of a sport.
Understanding how to make micro postural changes not only helps the athlete prepare biomechanically for their sport which can affect their marginal gain, but also affect their biochemistry too. Research indicates that, ‘hormone levels also change in a collapsed posture. For example, 2 minutes of standing in a collapsed position significantly decreased testosterone and increased cortisol as compared to a ‘‘power posture,’’ which significantly increased testosterone and decreased cortisol while standing’. According to social psychologist Amy Cuddy’s TED Talk (2012), ‘By changing posture, you not only present yourself differently to the world around you, you actually change your hormones’.
For those of us spending an average of 5 hours upwards a day working at our computers, we are deskbound athletes undertaking sedentary marathons of postural endurance. If you are an athlete that has been in Slumpasana all day and after work plays sport, or a human athlete that goes from Slumpasana to a yoga class, counterposing your slumped posture before training or yoga practice will be necessary to minimize the risk of injury.
The Clock's Ticking...
Top Tip: to counterpose the harmful effects of Slumpasana, set a timer for every hour working at your computer as a reminder to get up and move for 10 - 15 mins. Step outside, star jump, dance, hydrate. Accumulatively it will be time well spent as in the short-term it could help you engage in the task at hand with greater focus and clarity, and in the long-term it could help keep you fitter and younger.
Hayley Winter, BWY Dip, ERYT 500, YACEP, is the founder of the Institute of Yoga Sports Science® and one of the early pioneers of online yoga education, teaching yoga online for over a decade. She has been a member of the Yoga Alliance Working Group exploring the appropriate role of online education in yoga. She was awarded a lifetime honorary membership with the British Wheel of Yoga for her pioneering work to bring yoga education online.
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