Translation error

Tuesday, November 10th, 2009 | Sitting, teaching posture

A student of mine, Ann, recently learned how to sit elevated as opposed to sitting oppressed. After a couple of weeks though, she came back to tell me that something had gone wrong. Instead of sitting elevated she was now sitting leaning forwards – so much so that she had developed a stiff neck from having to hold her head up when working at her PC!

This is a classic example of translation error – something that happens when we inadvertently ‘translate’ an instruction to do one thing into an instruction to do something completely different.

When I first taught Ann to sit elevated I explained that the weight of the upper body should fall on the legs, ever so slightly in front of the sitting bones. Most people can find this and if you can test then you find too that people sit like a rock when truly elevated.

Having said this though, most people also feel that they end up sitting leaning slightly forwards (as when standing elevated) – even when objective observation (from other people) confirms that this is not so. Inside our heads we notice that ‘sitting elevated is more forward compared to sitting oppressed’. And so when we attempt to re-create elevation on our own, it is easy to think, “OK, now I need to move forwards a bit”.

But this is where we go wrong, because sitting elevated is not about moving forwards (or leaning forwards). It is about understanding which part of the body to sit on – the sitting bones or the legs (slightly in front of the sitting bones). Normal ergonomics training makes no distinction between elevated and oppressed use which is why no one distinguishes between the different parts of the backside that lead to postural elevation or oppression. For most people both are perceived as ‘sitting on your butt’.

One simple way to learn to find the right part of the backside to sit on is to begin by sitting on the wrong part and then move slowly forwards until you feel your body weight has shifted past the sitting bones to a point just slightly in front of them.

The point of the exercise is to understand this point of rest as opposed to others, such as the sitting bones themselves or just behind them. If you understand the differences it is easy to choose which one to land on when sitting down. You just ‘aim’ to land on the right part of your backside and then sit down and land on it.

If you do this, then automatically you land in an elevated position. It is not a matter of sitting down in any old manner and then correcting this by ‘moving forwards’. If we do this then inevitably we end up where Ann ended up – leaning forwards with a stiff neck!

This is because we will never really know when to stop. Each attempt to correct by moving forwards will be added to the result of the previous attempt. Why? Because each time we move forwards and get slightly used to it, it starts to feel less slightly forwards. Then the next time, we have to move more forwards in order to feel the same difference we felt the first time. We only stop when we end up leaning so far that we realise that something is obviously wrong.

Translation error like this occurs all the time. It is a major challenge for anyone teaching Power Ergonomics. I hear every day how people ‘hear’ things I have never said, so that sitting elevated becomes ‘sitting leaning forwards’, and standing elevated becomes ‘standing on your toes’ or ‘standing leaning forwards’.

The remedy is very simple – just listen or read carefully, and try to understand the point of each exercise so as to avoid going off at a tangent.

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