Our expert explains why a sedentary office-bound lifestyle is like a ticking time bomb and how yoga therapy can help counter the effects on our joints. Studies suggest we are all sitting for an average of 5.5 hours a day. We then go home and sit for a further 2.5-4 hours. The development of Osteoarthritic (joint wear & tear) conditions are a direct result of such a lifestyle. The management of such low to medium grade conditions is through medication such as Ibuprofen and Celebrex, which are NSAIDS (non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory) medicines and help to manage chronic and acute pain. But they are also known to increase the prevalence of major cardio vascular incidence by as much as 37 per cent. This could be in the form of a stroke or a heart attack. These stats are largely linked to people that are using the medicines on a long-term basis to manage their pain, which is common because of the gap in treatment between pain killers, physical therapy and having surgery. These epidemiological concerns are only prevalent in industrialised populations where people sit for the best part of their day. Such issues have been described as ticking time bombs waiting to explode. Modern medicine is turning towards a biopsychosocial approach, which embraces the idea that there are biological, behavioural and social factors to people suffering from back pain and that unless all aspects are treated, the results will not be comprehensive. Companies and institutions are now tackling the problem head-on by introducing employee wellbeing plans, which encourage better nutrition and access to care that will have a more holistic approach. Yoga and meditation plays a major role in this strategy. One National Health Service (NHS) trust in the UK found that the health-related work absences across 7,000+ employees were as follows: Anxiety, stress and depression related concerns resulted in 14 per cent of the absences and back pain and musculoskeletal problems were at 12 per cent. These numbers and stats are alarming because of the route orthodox medical treatment would take to treating these conditions. Activity is the key and as I've mentioned in previous articles, you need to 'move it or lose it'. Hitting the gym twice/thrice a week and thrashing it out for 45 minutes doesn't help and can often hinder the situation as you're stressing structures that are already brittle or delicate from lack of use. However, regular practice of yoga provides movements to the body in a way that encourages and promotes function. So rather than exercise a particular muscular group in the body, yoga encourages an entire section of the body to move and stretch in relation to the other structures it interacts with. Eg. Organs in the abdominal cavity being compressed and stretched within their confines, which enables better circulation of nutrient carrying blood and drainage of the organs by-products. Through deep breathing in asana (yogic postures), lung tissue is manipulated altering transpulmonary pressure, enabling gaseous exchange between the lungs and the outside environment to happen more deliberately. Practised on a regular basis, yoga regulates and restores function therefore promotes health and wellbeing. In prescriptive terms, yoga enables the individual to take responsibility for their own health. Facilitating this is easily done by employers, healthcare providers and practitioners. Hopefully the concepts we're talking about here are familiar to you; but are you putting any of it into practice Let's focus on one single factor here. Sitting! Are you sitting in a position and in a manner that will enable you to function physically, mentally and emotionally to the best of your ability Let's see... Sit at your desk or place of work/rest, any place where you do most of your day to day sitting. Rest your feet flat on the floor and relax your toes. Ensure your legs are uncrossed to begin with and later you can adjust them to whatever you're comfortable with. Slouch your shoulders forwards and slouch your upper body including your head and neck to the point where you're almost tipping forwards. Now gripping or supporting yourself with the base of the seat or an armrest if you have one, push yourself upright without lifting your bottom off the seat. This will elongate your spine and stretch your torso up to the level of your shoulders. Feel all 33 of your vertebra stacking one above the other forming a nice deep curve in the lower back and a rounded curve around the shoulders. This is the natural curve of the spine. Now raise your chin up to face in front of you and maintain a level gaze with your eyes. Relax your shoulders and let your arms rest. Relax your stomach and abdominal area. Relax your thighs and your feet. Notice the position and the posture of your body. Check to see where you are in terms of the position of the things you need in front of you like your key pad, computer, TV monitor. Is the key pad too high, too far, too low If so, adjust your seat and re-establish your sitting positon. Is your monitor too low or too far; do you really need to stop working from a laptop or get a wireless keyboard and mouse Adjust your seat and re-establish your positon. Are you sitting square on to your working environment Or are you at an angle and therefore twisting your body Adjust your seat and re-establish your sitting position. If you choose to sit with your legs crossed at the ankles or at the thighs, be aware that will influence the position of your pelvis and may introduce lateral curvature in your spine and offset your shoulders. This isn't a big problem but it can compound over time and lead to scoliosis and joint pain. Sitting upright and in a relaxed positon will help your blood circulation, it will help your breathing and it will improve your function. Remember you're sitting in this position for approximately five hours. You will need to shift and get up, move around every once in a while. Set yourself an alarm that reminds you every 30 minutes or so to adjust your seat and re-establish your sitting position. The more you do it, the less you'll stray from that upright yet relaxed position. Always remember. Adjust and re-establish your position, physically, mentally and socially.
Keerti Mathur is an associate at the Gait and Posture Centre at Harley Street in London and has been practicing Osteopathy for 10 years. He is part of the Art of Living faculty and a keen musician. Under the guidance of Art of Living Founder Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, Keerti worked to set up India's first school of Osteopathic medicine in Sri Sri University Orissa.