Sitting Is The New Smoking

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As far as your QL is concerned, sitting really is the new smoking.

Considering the analogy “Sitting is the new smoking” the quadratus lumborum (QL) can be thought of as the ‘lungs’ of the lower back. Yes, I am suggesting that sitting negatively affects the QL just as smoking negatively affects the lungs and both can create dis-ease/disease in the body. The QL sits deep in the back waist, a flat sheet of muscle, one on each side, attaching to the posterior iliac crest and inserting at the lumbar vertebrae and the 12th rib. When bilaterally contracted the QL extends the lumbar spine and when one side is contracted it acts to laterally flex the spine or if the upper body is stabilized it will elevate one hip. The latter action gives the QL the nickname “hip hiker” this action lifts one side of the pelvis when stepping over a log or simply creating space for one leg to swing ahead of the other when walking. The QL plays an important role in stabilizing the lumbar spine, an area that is highly susceptible to pain and discomfort. The strength and flexibility of these muscles is vital in maintaining a healthy spine.

Just as smoking can harm the lungs, sitting can impede optimal functioning of the QL. If you allow your lower back to round, the QL will be in constant state of flexion, and therefore a persistent state of stretching which decreases tonicity. Being that the QL is a major player in stabilizing the lumbar spine, lacking muscular tone in the QL will create lower back vulnerability. If you are in the habit of watching your posture as you sit, nurturing the natural curves in your spine you still run the risk of stressing out the QL. With the psoas contracting to flex the hip in a seated position the QL would normally lengthen and stretch. Instead it has to step up to support the spine and therefore is in a constant state of contraction. This work is amplified if sitting entails hunching over a computer, rounding the upper spine and shoulders shifts the weight forward placing even more stress on the QL. This overuse leads to muscle fatigue and weakness with decreased blood flood the area.

If “sitting is the new smoking” then sitting crossed legged is like smoking an unfiltered cigarette, creating even greater negative repercussions as the QL continues to over work trying to stabilize the spine and hike one hip, quite possibly resulting in debilitating muscular imbalances. A final point drawing this parallel of sitting/smoking and lungs/QL is considering that the QL assists in respiration by fixing the 12th rib in place when the diaphragm contracts on a forced exhalation. Suppleness and health in the QL can allow for a full, more powerful breath, and Quadratus Lumborum pain and muscle dysfunction inhibit optimal breath. Maybe I should have opened with that point – WOW.

Check in on Friday for a great YTU pose that both strengthens and stretches your achy QL.

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Lisa Sanson

Lisa Sanson is an E-RYT and a certified Yoga Tune Up® teacher. With graduate studies in Counselling Psychology Lisa is able to integrate knowledge of the mind as she guides students through explorations of the body. She believes that awareness of the mind/body connection offers an effective path to wellness. Lisa strives to create an easy-going atmosphere where students are encouraged to experiment with traditional and innovative poses working to strengthen and tone the weak or hyper mobile parts of the body and stretch and open the tight or stuck parts. Ultimately creating balance of steadiness and ease in the body and the mind.

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Sandy Ahlensdorf

I’m chain sitting right now – but I can tell you in reading this article from start to finish I went from hunched over to a heightened awareness of the potential damage I am causing my body, and my posture improved within 200 words. Time to get up and do Boomerang!

lulu yen

For people who need to be in front of computer or desk counter all day, learn to sited twist will ease the back pain and awake the whole body. stretch the QL.

Bruce Peterson

Working in IT i sit quite a bit. Luckily, most of the time I am able to move through the office quite a bit. Occasionally there are periods of several days where I find myself tied to the desk. When that happens there is a pronounced lethargy very much like I felt when I used to smoke.

Angela

This was an interesting and scary article. I sit at a computer for work everyday, and I cross my legs! I had no idea how unhealthy my daily routing has been for me. I have been complaining recently when I stand up of how the pain is on my lower back and it is challenging to stand up quickly. I am so glad I learned how to roll out my QL yesterday at a yoga tune up workshop. I will incorporate that into my daily ritual and look for opportunities to stand more often. Thanks!

Lara

Sitting is the new smoking, and chairs are the body’s greatest enemy I imagine. I expect that sitting on the floor or on a gym ball is less problematic? so many different ways to sit. This blog is adding to what I’ve been learning about the QLs in the anatomy training over the past couple of days – helping to make sense of the different muscle groups and their functions and challenges.

Melissa

Lisa- thanks for this article and for your response to Kim. I had a similar question while reading it. I work in an office, and while I do get up and move quite a bit, I also do a lot of sitting. In fact, my boss stopped by yesterday and saw my direct report and I chatting while standing outside our offices. I told him “sitting is the new smoking”, and he offered to get rid of our office chairs! I love that I can now not only speak more intelligently to what that phrase means, but also root through… Read more »

Chrissy CM

Thanks so much for this great, thought provoking article! So much to think about. I especially like all the responses & ideas for stretches. This is such a great reminder about how a healthy lumbar spine directly relates to a healthy respiratory system. Lastly, this makes me wonder about all those folks who live in countries where they squat all the time… do they have problems like we do??

Jackie Carey

Thanks for the great reminder. Before I go back to my desk job on Tuesday, I am investing in a stability ball to sit on. I used one during 2 pregnancies to alleviate QL discomfort. It will also prevent me from sitting cross-legged. We got new furniture at work, and my new chair is wreaking havoc with my right hip when I sit for extended periods. Come to think of it, my right wrist is tender and painful in the mouse position. And my breathing is more shallow as well. You’ve got me thinking.

Lisa M.

This is the second time recently I’ve read that sitting is the new smoking. I thought that sitting up straight would help, but your comment on crossing your legs (which I do without thinking), and how hard the QL has to work AND how it effects your breath (just got home a few hours ago from a YTU Integrated Embodied Anatomy course where we discussed the ribs/spine/diaphragm/breathing and how the spine and posture affect breath). I am definitely going to get up and walk every 20 minutes or so, NOT cross my legs AND start using my YTU balls to… Read more »

Carlos Savetman

As someone dealing with a stressed out QL right now, I really appreciate this article. Given the amount of time spent in a car, or sitting in front of a computer, it should come as no surprise my lumbar spine is taking a beating. What really surprised me was the connection between the QL and the quality of breath!

Tonia

Hi Lise, I really enjoyed your article. I had heard of your expression ” sitting is the new smoking”! But Now I am glad to read it straight from the author. I must say I am taking Katy Bowman training and since, I have become “paranoid” almost afraid to sit on a chair , in a car , on a stool ! I feel as though I am even more conscious of my body postures if I catch myself not sitting up straight or on my ischiums ! ! More than 5 minutes with 45 degree angle at the hip… Read more »

jackie leduc

Wow… I also need to stop chain sitting! Alright: no crossing my legs, less sitting, no more pillow to sleep on at night and all the yoga tune up moves and ball rolling is part of my life from now on. Looking forward to some relief from this nasty QL stuff I brought on myself

Garrett Plumley

HA! I love this analogy! Sadly I’ve been chain-sitting for a long time, and have suffered the consequences. Tune up balls are starting to release that mess I started building so many years ago!

Victoria Ryder-Burbidge

I love this stuff! It was only recently that I really started to understand what it meant when instructors would remind me to ‘breath into your back”. As a teacher I had been saying it for years but never actually physically felt that. Then the feeling of stretching through those muscles occurred after some work with my osteopath and everything changed. We need to explain this to our students clearly so they can have that ‘aha’ moment too!

Pete Shaw

Great article. However, I do not see how sitting with neutral spine on the floor, with adequate hamstring mobility, can stress out the QL any more than standing? Could you explain further?

Christine Heroux

Great post! I always forget that when contract bi-lateraly, the QL extend the lumbar spine. I always think of the QL unilaterally as hip hikers. As I read this post, I looked up from my laptop to see my husband at his laptop with his forward head carriage so exaggerated that his ear is actually anterior to his chest! WOW he needs to stop “smoking”!

Cailyn Edwards

This article really speaks to me. My mother is a smoker and a sitter. I see her struggle with getting around and doing anything. She has found now when she is trying incorporate movement into her daily life how much sitting has cost her. It blows my mind that people are so unaware of the consequences.

Kaitrin Doll

I’ve been sitting on a ball for the last couple of years, I find that because it’s not as comfortable as a chair I am forced to get up and move around more. Does sitting on the ball have the same impact on the QL or is the damage being done more by crossing the legs?

I just learnt the boomerang wall stretch today and I am going to start incorporating it more into my work day!

Rob

I have been pondering lately on both regularly achy QL’s, and not having as deep and full a breath as I desired. I had no idea they should have been the same subject. Thanks!

Ayla Barker

I’m wondering if sitting cross legged with the ankle over knee, as opposed to knee over knee (as if in reclined pigeon) would still have the same negative effects on the QL? Assuming this was performed as mindfully as possible, with a neutral spine and flexed top foot to protect the knee, I would think that this may be a safer position and you would enjoy some hip opening as well?

May Nesrallah

Thanks for such an important and Informative article. It helped to increase my understanding of the QL, back health, and the impact it has on the entire body and breath. It’s articles like this that help to inform and remind one the value of being aware of how we sit and move our body on a daily basis.

Jen Licursi

“Suppleness and health in the QL can allow for a full, more powerful breath and muscle dysfunction inhibits optimal breath.” No wonder I’m so exhausted after a 9 to 5 spent at a desk and and an hour long commute. Huge thanks from me and my overworked QL for the informative article and especially the thought-provoking title. Is sitting as bad as smoking? Based on how my body feels after a long day at the office, I’d be inclined to say so.

JEM

It wasn’t until I began to really study yoga that I learned about the QL and its functions. I had knowledge that sitting at a desk all day was not ‘healthy’ but I did not realize the biology behind it. I do not know one person who can sit at a desk all day and not have the natural curve or round lower back. More often than not, the biggest complaint of a person who sits all day eventually becomes lower back pain. Understanding the QL is in a constant state of flexion, which in turn, decreases the tonicity and… Read more »

Donna Clark

I hadn’t thought much about fatiguing the QLs while sitting but more of the musculature weakening from no challenge. However, what you said about the QLs working to support the lumbar spine against the flexion of the psoas makes so much sense and is probably why when I drive I want to stick my legs up on the dashboard ( no worries , I don’t ) but it’s probably my body just screaming to stretch those poor tired puppies. Thanks for the clear description.

Marla Brackman

The place I find it most difficult to sit with good posture is in the car. Those bucket seats must be like “chewing tobacco” to my QL. Thanks for sharing Lisa! 🙂

Raisa

This is eye opening to me. Sitting in front of a computer takes most part of my days. I knew you could experience some pain and discomfort in the lower back. I already do some days. But I had no idea that this could affect to quality of my respiration, or debilitate the muscles that protect my spine. I will certainly take this into consideration and change my mental habits and create the consciousness to adopt a healthier, straight back, sitting posture outside the mat beyond meditation and yoga classes.

Christine Colonna

Good point about crossing your legs…try not to but can’t stop myself. I realized a few years ago I could only cross one leg easily, since then I at least try to alternate my legs when I do cross them yo prevent one side from getting overly stretched. It’s so hard not to cross your legs!,

Maya Gil-Cantu

Hey Lisa, thank you for a great article! I am definitely an “unfiltered cigarette” smoker because I ALWAYS have to have my legs crossed somehow. I am at this point where I am not sure if I can ever break the habit completely, but I did switch my normal desk chair to a bosu ball and that has helped a lot. I also have tried to be more conscious of at least switching the crossing of my legs regularly. So maybe that is the equivalent of switching to smoke filtered cigarettes?

R.E.

I have recently (10 months) removed my chair from my office life, best decision ever. However, I find myself mimmicking the crossed legs movement while standing: one leg laying on the desk in external rotation and flexion, and the other leg in internal rotation and extension. Am I hurting the QL’s performance with that?

Astrid Cameron Kent

Love this Being the SITTING is so vitally important for MEDITATION, let alone for working and or traveling, this shows us, that basically, we simply must never live in an unawakened state One must live awakened, there simply is no other choice and or no other path, that will bring you to your rightness Being seated in your meditation, is critical, to be awakened with all our musculature and engaged with all our systems, to be sitting in our meditation rightly I think it is fair to say and appropriate to say, that if and when we are not sitting… Read more »

Julie Ann

Quadratus lombor….what! Your last point really drove this post home for me. I nearly thought the twelfth rib had no purpose for humans, but aha! The QL, diaphragm, and 12th rib all play a role in the breath we have eh opportunity to take!

Lisa

Ilene! I will taking the Integrated Anatomy Training next month and I’m so excited. YES!! The Yoga Tune Up® Therapy Balls are amazing tools to release muscle tension and create healthy circulation. I LOVE THEM!!

Lisa

Hi Jarett, thanks for your inquiry! I was suggesting that holding one position for long periods of time is not good for the body; muscles remain in a contracted or a stretched state eventually becoming overly tense or weak, respectively. May I suggest the option that this expansion of the lower back to accommodate a fuller breath does not require the lower back to “round”. The abdominal cavity as well as the thoracic cavity (chest/ribcage) expand three-dimensionally creating space for the lungs to increase volume. Yes the QL will feel more spacious and mildly stretched with a full, expansive3-D inhale… Read more »

Ilene

This article caught my attention and it was very informative. I have a chronic low back condition and because I can’t do spinal extension my QL muscle gets tight. In fact, in the anatomy module training I am doing with YTU, one of the instructors today mentioned that they could see that my QL was tight. Reading this reinforces how important the QL muscle is in stabilizing the lumbar spine. I am grateful for the YTU therapy balls as this may make a difference in my ability to safely stretch/massage my QL given that certain movements that might do this… Read more »

Courtney K

This particular article resonated strongly with me because all of these topics as they relate to posture, back health and constantly sitting are parts and actions of my body that I think about on a daily basis. Sitting at a desk everyday has really taken a toll on my body and it is something I have begun to notice more and more. This article speaks volumes when it relays the message that the health of your back and your QL has implications for overall health. Sitting all day has negative impacts beyond muscles and posture. I have noticed the affects… Read more »

Jarett G

Thanks Lisa, this was a great post. I definitely agree with the bulk of your message, but wanted to ask about something that I hear in classes that may be counter to this. Often in Yoga classes instructors will tell students to expand (round) the lower back and incorporate it into breathing to get a fuller breath. This type of motion would lead you to round out the lower back and strech the QL. Are you implying that this isn’t proper or just that it’s not proper as a permanent state?

Lisa

Carley, thank-you for your insightful reply! This analogy might not resonate with everyone. However I do encourage careful consideration and exploration of the detrimental effects sitting has on the body – every cell.

Ela Garcia

This article was very eye opening. I always knew that you had to keep a good posture and not to slouch. I didn’t really understand the mechanics of things until I started my yoga teacher training. Sitting never used to matter but the older I get.. Maybe around 25/26 was when I started feeling lower back pain. Also at 26 I had my first full time corporate job so I had to sit there for over 8 hours doing paperwork and pouring over the computer. After reading the article I realized that probably most of my lower back pain was… Read more »

Carley Beck

I was reading this article and immediately thought about how often I find myself, and others, rounded over our devices or meals with exaggerated round backs. I am also in the midst of yoga teacher training and spend a lot of my training in half lotus or cross-legged. It wasnt until this was a daily occurrence, with long hours, that I realized how much stability and strength was required of my body to release my back and hips. It also made me think of how often we must sit without realizing it, and without the effort to have correct posture… Read more »

Lisa

BRETT! I would love you to blog this on twitter!! Thank-you for asking.

Lisa

Hi again Kim!! Thank-you for your great questions. For someone who is forced to sit due to health issues I would suggest the deep breathing as mentioned in my earlier email. As far as postural suggestions – we have these two bones that are often referred to as our ‘sit bones’, the correct term is actually ischial tuberosity but sit bone is easier. Anyway, you have a sit bone buried under each buttock muscle and if you can root down (press down) both sit bones while seated this can help balance your pelvis which in turn will bring the natural… Read more »

Lisa

Hi Stephanie! Yes I was speaking more about sitting in a chair with one leg crossed over the other. I should have specified this 🙂 There a lot of information suggesting the benefits of floor sitting versus chair sitting. Some of these benefits include releasing the hips and the groin and strengthening the core postural muscles. Slumping into the back of a chair, sinking into the couch or leaning forward onto a desk allows our abdominal muscles go slack and the belly to pooch while the lower spine rounds putting more stress on the lower lumbar vertebrae and lower back… Read more »

Lisa

OOPS! That first response was meant to answer a question attached to the following post.

Lisa

Hi Kim! Thank-you for your reply. That must be so difficult for your brother. His limited mobility could certainly add to lower back pain. As I mention, it is important to encourage blood flow to keep the area supple and heathy. Deep breathing is a good start. Perhaps you can suggest that he takes time to consciously breath. I like Jill Miller’s ‘Complete Yogic Breath’ – sip the air in slowly (no gulping) encouraging the abdominal cavity inflate, feel the expansion at the side waist and lower back. This is the first 2/3 of the inhale, then move the same… Read more »

Lara

Ugh, so true! My QL was screaming at me as soon as i sat in front of the computer; it hates to sit and makes me squirmy. Seated pelvic circles feels good for a few minutes, and Tuburalizing my core helps a lot, but I can only hold that for so long before I forget, release, and start squirming again. Can’t wait for the stretches – thanks for posting!

Kim

It seems like no part of your body sucks up more pain and stress than the lower back. Thanks so much for addressing the fact that sitting, which one would assume to be a resting position for your entire body, is in fact quite a bit of work for your low back and hips. Do you have any postural tips for someone that is forced to remain seated most of the time due to other health issues?

Ann Marie allen

OMG
I am just coming off a round of Prednisone for a rare Asthma flare up following a long bout with a respiratory virus.
Added to that the weather in St. Louis has kept us all inside with many days in the single digits.
I am RIGHT NOW SITTING ON ROUND SHOULDERED WITH IPAD IN LAP!!!
I spent much of my sick time just like this!
Gotta get up NOW
Great Post as always.
Thank you as always, Ann marie

brett rossi

Can I have your consent to blog this on twitter?

katie in montana

Well written blog….I sat cross legged through high school and as a young adult all the time, paying for it now. Hope younger folks are reading your blog and taking advantage of the great information you share.

Stephanie

When you say sitting cross-legged is even worse, I imagine you mean sitting with one leg crossed over the other in a chair. How does sitting with both legs crossed (e.g. on the floor) measure up? Thanks!