Book Review: Sit With Less Pain

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Author: Jean Erlbaum
Publisher: Wisdom Publications
Book Publication: 2014

Recent research on extended sitting has suggested that “sitting is the new smoking” in terms of its detrimental effect on our health. And while greatly reducing the amount of time we sit is preferable; there are strategies we can use to make sitting less of a strain on our bodies. In Sit With Less Pain – Gentle Yoga for Meditators and Everyone Else, yoga and meditation teacher Jean Erlbaum provides us with a perfect resource for relieving, and preventing many of the common problems that come with sitting for long periods of time. Whether sitting on a meditation cushion, the office chair, a couch, or in a wheelchair, the resulting sore necks and shoulders, tight hips, knee pain, and weak and achy backs will negatively impact the body.

Sit With Less Pain offers a variety of simple yoga poses (standing, sitting or lying on a mat, and variations of many of these to be done in a chair) to both stretch and strengthen the muscles, joints, ligaments, and tendons so that we can sit in comfort and ease.

Erlbaum begins with basic instructions on proper sitting, breathing and stretching technique, the use of props to support various stretches, and the helpful suggestion to record instructions in order to avoid having to repeatedly consult the book and disrupt the flow of your practice.

The book is organized anatomically, allowing the reader to focus on the part of their body that might be adversely affected when they sit: neck and shoulders, back and hips, knees, ankles, and feet. In each of these sections, Erlbaum explains what problems can arise from prolonged sitting regarding that particular body part, and she follows this up with three or four examples of specific exercises designed to address those issues.

In the section devoted to the mid-body, Erlbaum says that one of the biggest complaints she hears about is tight and achy hips. She goes on to explain that “for people who sit in any nonsymmetrical pose (e.g., half lotus with the same foot always on the opposite thigh), there is often a chronic imbalance, not only in the hip joint, but in a radiation of discomfort through the corresponding gluteal muscles and leg. Any strain in either of the hips can lead to short – or long-term – ill effects throughout related parts of the body (lower back to upper back and shoulders, knees to ankles and feet).”

To ease this, she reiterates the importance of paying attention to how we sit, and offers a variety of stretches to use before, and after, any prolonged sitting. As this area has been my own personal nemesis over the years, I will add here that the stretches she includes (e.g. leg over, knee to side, and reclined pigeon) have been of great help to me.

As an added bonus, at the end of the book there are suggestions for a flowing series of movements. These combine several exercises into smooth sequences for energizing, relaxing, or to focus on a particular body part.

Sit With Less Pain is a well-informed book with wonderfully detailed illustrations of real people of various ages, and both sexes – and most appealing – with normal body types. The book is easy to read and understand; the exercise instructions provide enough detail so you do not have to be an experienced yogi or meditator, and the convenient lay-flat binding allows the book to stay open at whatever page is required.

Most of us spend many hours sitting, but have yet to discover ways to do all this sitting without it taking a toll on our bodies. With care and compassion, Jean Erlbaum has provided the optimal exercises to address those specific physical challenges that arise during sitting. Her hope in writing  the book was to help us “sit deeply and live with grace and flexibility in all circumstances.”

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