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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Nathalie Soucy

Thanks to your article, I have a better understanding of the harmful effects of sitting on my body and especially QL. We should write in our offices: Warning! The sitting position could hurt you!


First off, I appreciate the analogy of sitting cross legged and an unfiltered cigarette. I constantly catch myself sitting cross-legged, or in a similar compromised position for my pelvis and QL while in front of the computer at work. I have a muscular imbalance in my hips (right side is always slightly elevated, also have injured my hamstring at the point of origin due to instability) and never made the connection that crossing my legs could be contributing to this…something to definitely work on being more aware of!


I am constantly reminding my senior students not to posteriorly tilt when they tilt. Your article arms me with even more information to explain to them ways of living pain free lives.

Tessa W.

Thank you for the concise description of how sitting leads to low back pain and dis/ ease. ( I looked down and realized I am sitting with crossed legs). Knowing that there is a problem is the first step to resolving it. I can see why this is such a need for stretch and strengthening of the QL along with other supporting side and back muscles as well a proper sitting and movement as often as possible.


Thank you for the clear explanation of how sitting is detrimental to the muscular system. I have read mostly reports that discuss what sitting does to our nervous system. This is very helpful in understanding how sitting contributes so significantly to lower back pain.


I’ve heard this reference, sitting is the new smoking, but didn’t fully understand what it meant. Thanks for clearing it up for me.

Camille Corrivault-Gascon

Ce n’est pas la première fois que je lis ou j’entends que la chaise est un ennemi pour la santé mais je pense que plus j’en apprends sur ce sujet plus cela me permettra de faire un changement à ce niveau et de trouver des alternatives à la chaise. J’ai récemment écouter un documentaire sur ce sujet et dans certain milieu de travail les chaises sont remplacées par des tapis roulants. Brillante idée 🙂
Étant quelqu’un qui fait très attention à ma santé et n’ayant jamais fumé pour ne pas y nuire, ça fait beaucoup réfléchir comme article. Merci!

Jennifer Whalen

I love your analogy, sitting does to the QL what smoking does to the lungs! I recently realized that sitting with my legs crossed is even worse for my body than sitting without legs crossed, but I couldn’t picture why that was happening in anatomical terms. It makes sense that the QL is suffering while trying to stabilize the spine in this position as well as contributing to or, or better yet, being affected by the uneven position of the pelvis.

megan mcdonald

Its so nice to have the clear picture of what is going on when you sit. Removing the support from the legs, what you have left is QL, psoas and erector spinae. These three to do the work of the massive amount of muscles surrounding the hip and legs. Geez! It’s also nice to have the clarification that a constant state of flextion and stretching reduces tonicity. I of course think of flop and fold yoga and see that as well. All the bendy yogis! AND THEN, I forget that QL has such a strong impact on the diaphragm. I… Read more »

Mary Aranas

Brilliant; and how troubling, yes, that school kids, yes from kindergarten right into college, poring over books or screens, or facing a prof at the font of the room, we are asked to sit for so many hours a day! On another note though: it kinda tickles me that at least New York City commuters, crammed into standing subway cars, don’t have the chronic car sitting that commuters in cities like L.A. deal with!


Sitting is the new smoking – you are so right…this is a great article!

Catherine Jervis

As someone with a 60 hour a week desk job, I’ve heard the “sitting is the new smoking” saying numerous times and wondered if it related to me. I mean, I’m active outside of work, so does this apply? This article really opened up my eyes to the fact that my rounded back is going to eventually cause a lock-long QL and pain in my lower back and is already limiting my breathing. What is even more fascinating to me is that this may still happen even with focus on good posture.


This is a major problem and will be turning point for humans if not addressed properly. Video games and texting have turned people into crank necked, glute-less zombies. With the therapy balls we can turn on one lower back and pelvis and get this race back.


That part about crossed legs I found very interesting and probably explains a number of the things I’ve observed in my own body. Are there any healthy alternatives you’d recommend?


Great point about keeping the QL supple to breath more powerfully. I can tell when I have been in a car for awhile or just sitting on the couch for to long that my QL has been negatively stressed due to this band of tightness across my lower back. This is probably why I feel like my breathing is different in the sitting position vs standing.

Julie Thomas


Great blog well explain easy to visualize why we should strengthen it and restore blood flow. What about a little side-winder to go with that. Also, I can comprehend all of the QL ‘s actions thanks to your great examples. On that same line, how sad that we make elementary kids smoke for so long at such an early age?

looking forward to read more.


I have never thought of sitting in this regard because I have two jobs that keep me standing all day and then I’m usually running and taking yoga classes. However, when I realized that the average person coming to yoga class is coming from an office job where they are sitting all day long, it seems like a much greater issue. To stretch or put stress on any other muscle for that long would be completely insane but, somehow, we don’t look at sitting in that same respect.

Stacy Jackson

I am big leg crosser! Your article makes me now more aware of the reprecussions of not only siiting, but crossing my legs while sitting!
Going to try to break that habit.

Jen F.

Great article and analogy! Since most of our work is done at home in front of the computers, this is one of many reasons why we have standing desks. However, I do have to work on not crossing my legs when sitting!!


What if I even out the imbalance caused by leg-crossing by sometimes crossing my left leg over my right, and other times crossing my right leg over my left? Will that work? It’ll be such a loss to lose that comfy sitting position; especially when I’m sitting on the subway in my small summer skirt…

Allison Cerilli

This is a fantastic analogy! When I was working at a computer for a large chunk of the day for my job I always felt tension and a dull pain in my lower back (especially when I stood up). In yoga, we learn to breathe deeply into our lower abdominals so it makes sense that lower back issues would negatively affect our breath.

Michelle Clemens

WOW! (as I sit crossed legged hunched over my computer) Sitting is the new smoking! great analogy! It really makes me think about how unhealthy sitting is for my body and I really need to focus on reversing the effects it has on my body, just as a smoker for 20 years quits. We can never stop sitting, but we can so exercises and stretches to reverse and save our QL’s!!


This article makes sense why a lot of people have back pain and they don’t even know why. We all know that smoking is bad for you but with your analogy now people can relate and realize that sitting is bad for you too. Thank you for the info. I am going to pass it along to those in my life who have a lot of back pain from sitting.