Too much sitting? Get comfy in the New Year!

January, 2017


People with desk jobs are often challenged by too many hours of sitting (or standing) and not enough movement. Lack of movement can cause all kinds of body discomforts; Although back and neck pain are the most common, close seconds include shoulder, elbow and/or wrist pain from constant computer work. So what’s a poor desk-jockey to do?


First of all, make movement a priority. If you can alternate between sitting and standing, this is a great start. However, if that is not an option for you, find some way to change positions frequently. Sitting for long hours at a desk is a relatively new demand we place on our bodies, and not one that we evolved to do well. Our distant ancestors were hunting, gathering and taking care of their camp and the people in it. When they did engage in focused activities such as cooking, cleaning the hunt of the day or week, or sewing, they were probably squatting – NOT sitting in a chair and staring at a screen. Of course, movement includes regular exercise. The kind that YOU enjoy!


Take any chance you can to stand and do one or two simple stretches. Whether it’s reaching for the sky, the floor or the side, or making circles with your arms, your legs, your trunk, movement is always good! If you work from home, you can take 3 minute dance breaks: have some favorite songs set up on your computer, hit play, dance for 3 minutes to get your blood circulating to your body and your brain, then you’re ready to re-focus and be more productive. Movement opportunities can also come from your chair. Slouching, stretching backwards, touching your toes, moving your head and neck or any number of “wiggles” you can come up with will all give your stationary body a much appreciated break.


Of course, posture is important. However, too many people want to depend on the perfect chair to support them, which often leads to leaning backward into the back rest which will eventually cause ones head and shoulders to lean forward towards the screen, and thus the “slouch” ensues. I encourage my clients to learn to sit through their sits-bones. These are the bony bumps at the base of your pelvis that when positioned well provide optimal support for your spine. Roll your sits bones backwards and discover your slouch. Roll them too far forward and you’ll have an excessive arch in your low back. Although these movements are great off and on while working, finding support in the middle will have you feeling like goldilocks in no time. This is not to say that using a good chair is not important, but when letting your back be supported by the back rest, you can simultaneously maintain the support through your sits-bones and spine.


The other key to “good” posture is to not try so hard. Many in our culture try to maintain a rigid “military” posture and as soon as our focus is elsewhere, like on our work, this level of effort is much too intense to maintain – thus succumbing to the slouch. Once again, finding your sits-bones is key. Once you know where your support is (down there), you can begin to attend to how your pelvis supports and helps align the bones of your spine which in turn, supports your muscles. Not the other way around. Let the structure of your skeleton support you and your muscles will be grateful.


Of course, good ergonomics is important. Although this could be the focus of a new article, I encourage you to look for ideas on the internet. In general, I find people tend to have both their keyboards and their computer screens too high. This can cause unnecessary elevation and tension in the shoulders and neck. Depending on your height, the other common error is chairs that are too low (or too high). It’s helpful to have a very slight downward slope of your thighs from hips to knees, so your feet are solid on the floor. Having your knees higher than your hips can push your pelvis backwards and once again, contribute to slouching. 


Healthy breathing is also an important part of any work and particularly the kind of work that creates long stretches of focused attention which can lead to shallow breathing and even unconsciously holding ones breathe and tightening muscles. I encourage my clients to consider their work tasks, and build in natural breath-breaks. When I have assisted with data entry at my business, I came up with a routine that for every new series of entries, I would take one full breath with an emphasis on the exhale and relaxing my shoulders. This initially takes a conscious effort but eventually becomes a new healthy habit.


Letting yourself stop and lie down can also be helpful and rejuvenating. Since our bodies were not made to sit and focus for 6-8 hours, a genuine lying-down break can give all of your muscles and your brain a refreshing pause. You can even create a mini-meditation while lying down or just sitting back in your chair. Count 5 exhales, then repeat. Your mind WILL wander, it’s just the nature of the mind, but returning to a few sets of breaths will help you return to work with more clarity and possibly more productivity.


The most important part about desk comfort can also be the most difficult. Learning to listen and respond to the needs of your body. Most of us learned in grade-school to sit still and BE QUIET! Thus, learning at an early age to ignore our natural tendencies to want to wiggle! If you work for an employer, you may want to ask if you can break your morning and afternoon breaks into two or three 5-minute breaks. If you work for yourself then you already know something about self-discipline. However, the kind of discipline it takes to stay focused on a project can also cause someone to ignore the early, “its time to move” signals from their body. There are multiple ways to use timers to remember to move, you just have to decide if it’s important enough to you to use them.


Although there are many general improvements that most sitters can make to feel better, there can be details unique to each individual that could make their sitting life more comfortable. My Feldenkrais perspective tends to be less rigid and prescriptive, encouraging you to relax, explore and play with a variety of positions and discover what feels good to you. Most importantly, know that staying in one position for a long time is not a normal or natural thing to expect. So give yourself permission to wiggle more and have fun!


In Health!

Posted in: Allisons' Blog, Calm Your Pain, PNE-Pain Neuroscience Education

Comments are closed.