Sit smarter with yoga

Story highlights

  • Dana Santas offers yoga-based tips to give your sitting a healthy overhaul
  • How you breathe affects how you sit, Santas says
  • Alternate standing and sitting, she says

(CNN)You've probably heard that "sitting is the new smoking." Not only does it lead to aches and pains, edema, varicose veins, sciatica and more -- according to a new study, too much sitting can actually kill you.

Unlike smoking, however, we can't just quit sitting.
    It's a lifestyle reality that even the most athletic among us can't avoid.
    My professional athlete clientele are plagued by prolonged sitting as they travel from game to game. They also end up sitting a lot during downtime at hotels and in the off-season.
    So, how can we limit our death-by-sitting risk? Sit smarter with yoga.
    Just as yoga is a practice based on mindfulness, so is sitting smarter. That's why I coach my clients to become more mindful of their sitting habits.
    Notice your posture. Be aware of your breath. And know when it's time to move.
    Of course, awareness is only the first step. Here are some quick, easy yoga-based tips to give your sitting a healthy overhaul:

    Practice a five-point posture check

    1. Feet and knees: Place your feet hip-distance apart, with your knees at hip level. Keeping an even pressure through the inside arches and outside heels of your feet helps maintain neutral knee and hip position. Avoid crossing your legs or ankles, which can stifle blood flow and cause swelling.
    2. Hips and pelvis: Evenly distribute your weight through your "sitting bones," the bony parts of your pelvis you can feel making contacting with your seat. Our feet and knees indicate and affect our hip position, so avoid letting a foot or knee drift forward, taking the hips out of balance.
    3. Back and spine: Maintain the natural curves of your spine -- don't try to straighten it. Your mid-back curve is naturally kyphotic, which means "hump" in Greek. Your low back is lordotic, so it curves into some extension. Keep spinal curves soft, not exaggerated.
    4. Shoulders and chest: Your chest should be open with your shoulders sitting evenly. Concentrate on pulling the bottom points of your shoulder blades downward rather than inward. It's a common mistake to squeeze your shoulder blades together and puff your chest out, which lifts your rib cage, arches your mid-back and decreases your ability to breathe deeply.
    5. Head and neck: Align your head and neck between your shoulders rather than lurching into "text neck." The action of engaging muscles to draw the shoulder blades down in point No. 4, helps position your head properly by initiating a muscular action called "reciprocal inhibition," which turns off (inhibits) the overactive neck, upper back and chest muscles that tend to pull your neck forward.

    Breathe better

    How you breathe affects how you sit.
    Breathing quality dictates rib cage position, which affects your shoulder and chest position. If your breathing is shallow, it feeds poor posture.
    The diaphragm is not just a breathing muscle; it's also a core postural muscle that attaches to your lumbar spine (low back) and runs through your hip flexors. Because it has a longer, thicker attachment to your spine on the right, when it's dysfunctional it can pull you into sitting more on your right side, leading to and/or aggravating sciatica. Ouch!

    Act powerful, be powerful

    For the postural reasons above -- as well as increased oxygenation and stress relief -- practice deep, diaphragmatic breathing whenever you're seated.
    Focus on inhaling through your nose into the bottom and back of your lungs. Exhale slowly and fully, internally rotating the bottom ribs and releasing the rib cage downward by engaging core muscles (internal obliques and transverse abdominus).
    Exhaling like this feels fantastic and also promotes low-back stability.

    Alternate standing and sitting

    It's not a matter of standing