I got my first full-time computer/desk job in 2004, after I finished library school. I became a librarian because I loved hanging out in libraries, not knowing that working as a librarian meant doing a lot of sitting at computers. I soon found myself working in library systems, happy mentally but not physically. Within a few months of work, I started getting tendonitis and pain up the right side of my neck. I tried different ergonomic chairs, wrist rests, trackballs, wrist braces...the only thing that really helped was extended time away from the computer. I quit working full-time in 2008 and set up a standing desk contraption at home. I’d rather stand 8 hours than sit 8 hours. But an 8-hour day at a computer still wipes me out. My current relief is walking during lunch and getting outside every two hours if possible. I recently negotiated down to part-time and that helps.
Some studies indicate that prolonged sitting increases risk of diseases like cancer, heart disease, diabetes and depression. There are other factors, such as the type of sitting and the context (working, watching TV) that come into play. An investigation published in the British J of Sports Medicine in Jan of this year determined that sitting was not linked with type 2 diabetes in people who are physically active. Physical inactivity, however, has been shown, in other studies, to be linked with developing diabetes. Standing desks are not a panacea, because we don’t necessarily expend energy or exert ourselves while we are standing. 60-75 minutes of physical activity has been shown to eliminate harms of sitting when measuring death by cv disease.
As you know, humans are amazingly adaptable creatures. Muscles adapt to repetitive positioning - that is, staying in one place for a long time - by changing their cellular makeup. This results in reduced range of motion -- that stiffness in muscles and joints that can actually result in the blood vessels in the arterial wall of your muscles getting stiff. The shape of your body - your posture - affects the shape of your actual cells. The way you hold yourself changes the tiny parts that create your structure, so things like the shape and density of your bones, the length of your muscles and tendons, and the resting tension of your fascia or connecting tissue. The problem is not just sitting, but sitting in the same position, or repetitive geometry, that cause metabolic changes that happen when we’re sedentary. Thus, proposing standing as a solution to sitting is too simplistic -- there is no way to safely “consume” vast amounts of stillness.
Ergonomics is about the best way to position the body -- it is about fitting a human body to stationary equipment. This is not to say that ergonomic considerations are not useful or bad in themselves, but it’s not what I want to focus on in this time. I really want to talk about becoming aware of your body and making consideration for adding movement to your regular work and life schedule.
The pectorals (major and minor) connect the breastbone and collarbones to the upper arm bones. Their job is to internally rotate the arms, extend the arms, and pull the shoulder blades away from each other. In an unattended desk posture, where are arms are in a constant state of reaching forward, the pecs become short and tight. This causes the upper back to round and the head to jut forward, putting a lot of tension in the muscles that flex the neck. Our muscles have partners called antagonists. When a muscle is tight, its antagonist becomes weak. In this case, we’re looking at the muscles of the upper back and spine becoming slack and weakened.
The psoas is the deepest of the core, or abdominal muscles. It connects the upper and lower body, attaching the mid spine to the upper femur. Its main function is to flex the hip -- lift the leg. When we sit, the psoas shortens, as though it were engaged and working - but it isn’t. It becomes chronically tight. A tight psoas, which pretty much everyone has, will pull the hips out of alignment, pull on the lower back, and create tension around the hips.
The diaphragm, located between the ribs, is the muscle that moves air in and out of our lungs. It’s a large, dome-shape, and it causes the lungs to expand so that we can take in oxygen. When the diaphragm isn’t able to move optimally, upper back and neck muscles step in to help regulate the intake of air. It takes a measure of consciousness to fully engage the diaphragm and take complete breaths. Slumping or slouching reduces lung capacity by restricting access to the lungs and inhibiting movement of the diaphragm.
So, the neck is not technically a muscle - it’s a group of muscles -- but I wanted to mention it. A rounded upper back results in your head jutting forward. This causes stress and exhaustion to the paraspinal and upper back muscles, a condition commonly referred to as “text neck”.
Increasing the degree of tilt of the skull puts pounds of pressure on the neck that causes upper back pain - anything from a chronic nag to severe spasms. Same with shoulders. You can also pinch a cervical nerve, causing neurological symptoms that can refer to your arm in and hand. Pay attention to the tilt of your head.
Consider your spine. Your backbone. The top of the spine is level with the temperomandibular joint. The position of the jaw and chin alter the shape of the neck and upper spine. Bad posture and gravity cause the structure of the spine to deteriorate over time. The base of the spine shows the remnants of a tail, conveniently called the “tailbone”. Ideal alignment allows for the natural curves of the spine -- the inward crest of the cervical spine in your neck, the outward bow of the thoracic spine, which supports the ribs, the inward curve of the low back, or lumbar spine, and a neutral position in the pelvis, which holds the sacrum and tail. Let’s look at what happens to the alignment of the spine in some various everyday work postures.
This is not to say that the spine is inflexible and should be held at attention 24/7 -- again, movement is key! But holding -or not holding, but slacking- and keeping the spine consistently in a state of slumped malalignment results in a chain reaction. Without the bones of the spine in place to hold the body upright, other muscles are recruited to do jobs that aren’t theirs, causing them to tighten, while others become weak. With persistent misalignment, the overused muscles will tug at the bones, eventually pulling them away from their natural placements. Here’s a quick list of conditions that may arise from unmoving, unaligned posture: brain fog: muscle movement causes fresh blood and oxygen flow. No movement, less flow. Disk damage: tight psoas pulls the lumbar spine forward and the weight of the body is no longer distributed along the arch of the spine. Overactive pancreas: idle muscle don’t respond as quickly to insulin, so the pancreas produces more than you need. Weak abs: slumping allows the abdominal muscles to slack off, creating that tight-back/weak front posture called lordosis (swayback).
Consider the joints. There are about 360 joints in the human body (prior to 1995, there were 340, so that just goes to show how our bodies are still uncharted landscapes). The joints make movement possible. The most common type of joint is called the synovial joint -- this is what we have in our wrists, elbows, shoulders, hips...basically everything that moves. Each synovial joint is bordered by cartilage and joined with a fluid-filled space, which is surrounded by a capsule of connective tissue that is lined with synovial fluid. Moving the joint causes the secretion of synovial fluid, which feeds and lubricates the joint, reducing friction and wear. Thus, joint movement = good. Synovial joints move in different ways: the carpals of the wrist glide past one another, the elbow and knee hinge, the shoulder and hip consist of a ball rolling around a socket. What we want to do is become aware of how the different joints of the body move and gently explore their range of motion. The key here is to be soft, not forceful. It’s not necessary to push or tense or muscle up through joint freeing -- just move the joint around.
Finally, consider the planes of movement. There are three: The frontal (or coronal, or vertical), the transverse (or horizontal) and the sagittal. Think about where we spend most of our time. [DEMO] So one thing we’ll think about as we practice movement is exploring the areas of each plane that we don’t commonly visit.
Mindfulness is a very trendy concept and buzzword -- but it plays a very important role in taking care of your body. What I’m really talking about here is attentiveness and awareness. The word yoga comes from the Sanskrit word for “yoke” or “unite”. One way we might look at this is as the union of mind, body, and breath. So the first step is to attend your mind to your body. Think about your body position and take stock of your situation before you move it. Take time to align first, plan your movement, and then execute it - slowly. MindLESS movement is more likely to result in spasms, pain or injury.
Metta is a Pali word that originates from the Theravada school of Buddhism, and it refers to benevolence, good will and ...loving kindness, toward all beings. As you move your body, please apply this concept to yourself. Too often we move with a sort of grudge against our pain or discomfort, or a very industrious desire to “go deep” or “push through”. Muscle tension is a conversation between the brain, nervous system and the muscles. Exerting unnecessary strain in the name of movement sends a message to the brain that it needs to contract or protect that part of the body. Pushing and pulling already-tense muscles can cause spasms, which are worse than tight muscles. Move carefully, gently, and with respect for the physical body that’s allowing you to be here mentally.
Finally, movement is a practice. That means it has to happen again and again, preferably at regular intervals. It’s like brushing your teeth or sleeping -- it doesn’t work if you move around for five hours on Sunday and then not again for the rest of the week. It’s also a progressive experience -- the more you do it, the more you’ll be able to do, and the deeper the effects it will have on your well-being.
Pomodoro is a time-management technique that breaks work into intervals, usually 25 minutes, separated by short breaks. Usually the implementation of this technique focuses on the work done during the 25-minute periods -- I like to use it to remind me to take movement breaks at regular intervals. I really believe that short movement periods with more frequency are more beneficial than longer but more infrequent movement breaks.
Being upright all day long compresses the discs of the spine - you may actually be shorter in the afternoon than you were when you woke up. Next time you get in your car at the end of the work day, notice whether you have to adjust your rearview mirror. Releasing the effects of gravity on the spine lets the muscles around it relax, lets the discs between the vertebrae expand, and helps create a renewed feeling of space in the back.
Again, joint movement causes the formation of synovial fluid, which feeds and lubricates the joints. It also allows for gentle tension release of the surrounding muscles.
Spending the bulk of our day in a very specific location in space neglects the full function of the various moving parts of the body. Moving into unfamiliar territory helps wake them up, releases the tension of holding a specific pose, and allows the breath to travel and massage different parts of the body.
Softly reaching limbs, keeping muscles as relaxed as possible. Aim for gentle stretch. Breathe into movement, breathe into stretch
Softly reaching limbs, keeping muscles as relaxed as possible. Aim for gentle stretch. Breathe into movement, breathe into stretch
While not a movement, constructive or active rest is an amazing restorative position. Lying on a firm surface with your knees bent at a 45 degree angle, this pose allows the spine to rest while maintaining its natural curves - unlike, say, on a bed or couch. By yielding the fight against gravity that we must maintain to stay upright, we allow the muscles and joints to relax and release tension. The relief of spinal pressure lets spinal fluid be reabsorbed, reducing compression of the discs and letting the spine return to its full height. This shape also allows gravity to promote relaxation of the psoas. Practicing diaphragmatic breathing in this pose invokes the parasympathetic nervous system - the “rest and digest” function of the body. I usually start and end my days in this pose, often coming to it in the afternoon when my back is feeling stiff or twingey.
FOR DESK WORKERS
WORDCAMP KENT 2017
Who I am and why I care about this
So...is sitting really the new smoking?
“The notion that standing in one place
is the solution to sitting so much
reminds me of the joke about all
accidents happening 15 miles from
your home…”I read that all accidents
happen within 15 miles of one’s house,
so I moved.”
The stats I’m mentioning are from Emmanuel Stamatakis, Associate Professor, Physical Activity, Lifestyle, and Health
Behaviours, University of Sydney and this article: http://theconversation.com/why-sitting-is-not-the-new-smoking-72568
What happens when we don’t move?
...our muscles adapt