,There is an article from The Atlantic written by Amanda Mull making the rounds on social media.
It's titled "Yes, the pandemic is ruining your body: Quarantine is turning you into a stiff, hunched-over, itchy, sore, headachy husk".
It is quite the title.
I have hesitated to post it to Freedom In Motion's social media (I finally did this Tuesday with the caveat that I was writing a response) despite the fact that it makes a number of relevant points in line with many of the embodiment issues I see as prescient right now. The sedentary, contained lifestyle of the pandemic is causing increased muscular-skeletal issues and side effects on a massive scale. The article is a blues riff that serves the admirable goal of acknowledging that it is not just you who is suffering and bringing attention to a consequence of the pandemic that has gone largely unacknowledged.
What made me hesitant to post the article is two things:
1. Mull writes from a place of separation and in antagonistic relationship with the body. The article largely fails to look at the body as more than a piece of machinery that is breaking down and making you miserable rather than acknowledging that it is, in fact you. Perhaps one of the unseen consequences of the pandemic is not just how our body's health has broken down--it is how our relationship with it has changed.
2. Mull has a fatalistic view of the situation. Besides the insight that younger people can perhaps buy a Peloton bike as long as they don't over exercise (which is problematic for a number of reasons--my wife and I got a $115 exercise bike from Target that works just fine), she is pretty resigned to the idea that we are inevitably bound to decline into broken shells of our former selves. She seems distressed that the single yoga pose she used to try to deal with discomfort no longer works like magic. She argues the focus of our action should be on holding our government and society responsible for its failure to properly contain the pandemic (which I generally agree with).
While I appreciate the value of an article which makes you feel seen without the expectation of "fixing" the problem (sometimes airing pain without purpose is worthwhile) I also think it is disempowering. The descent, in many cases, is not inevitable. If you care about the future of your embodied self, there are myriad ways that can help and plenty of reasons to not give up hope.
Here are just six strategies (there are hundreds) you might find helpful to revitalize you for the remainder of the pandemic and beyond. They might not be able to save you 100% from the consequences of the current circumstances, but they can help you find the middle ground between optimal and ruined.
1. Don't Get Too Comfortable
Mull rightly argues that we run into difficulties because all of the small movements we are used to performing in the flow of our normal day no longer exist, leading to stiffness and strain. This is essentially correct. F.M. Alexander argued that no amount of acute exercise could compensate for a lack of attention to the movement of the everyday. The solution for this is counterintuitive for most of us, who seek the most comfy possible home office setup. The problem with a comfy set-up is that it encourages us to move less, and we tend to sink into it and become numb to our body until we eventually move--and feel how much it aches. This is especially true if we set up on the couch or bed. I am not advocating for you to be uncomfortable, but consider having several imperfect set-ups of medium comfort to switch between throughout your day to give yourself variety. When you start to feel uncomfortable, simply switch your setup to somewhere else. Discomfort is usually just a sign that our body is craving movement. Don't ignore it and wait for that discomfort to become pain.
The other thing I would advocate for is to not make your setup too convenient. Scattering what you need around your space (even if it is a one bedroom apartment) will force you to get up and move. Whether it is a pen, a water glass, lotion, headphones, your phone, or a notebook not keeping everything within easy reach will force you to get up for practical reasons. Return them to their home base when you are done so you will have to get up to retrieve them again. I once spoke to a CEO of a consulting firm that moved the water cooler further away from a company's employees and turned up the heat a bit to encourage them to have to get up in order to get a drink--it was a bit manipulative, but they managed to reduce employee time out for lower back injuries significantly.
2. Be Preventative, Not Restorative
Don't wait for things to start hurting to try to deal with aches and pains--get ahead of them before they begin. Create a morning or midday ritual which features a method to declutter tension in your body and set you up for success--it could be 20 minutes of yoga, simple stretching, or Alexander Technique procedures such as Active Rest (which is excellent for this particular problem). Once you are in pain, it is already too late to work on the issue. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
3. Breaktime Is Serious Work
Schedule breaks at the end of every half-hour (for 3-5 minutes) or hour (5-10 minutes). During that time, get up and move. Use a calendar app or other reminder with a checklist to help you observe these breaks. Treat it like its your job. This isn't just for your body--it's for your productivity. When your body goes to sleep, it takes your brain with it. You become less focused and productive. Start observing these breaks and see how your productivity soars--your employer is unlikely to complain. Also, these breaks are opportunities for other productive bits, which brings us to.....
4. The Value of "Choring"
There are probably things that need to get done around your house. Dishes, folding laundry, picking up a room, sweeping, watering plants etc. Use your mini-breaks to get this stuff done. Not only will this leave you more time to rest and recoup in the evening, but these tasks are fabulous opportunities for a simple variety of movement that can get common problem areas such as your hip sockets, knees, and arm joints gently moving. Make it into a little game and give yourself a time limit for each task. Plus, your space will be a much nicer environment to live in.
5. Stop Standardizing Sitting
A good question to ask yourself is: "Do I really need to be sitting for this?" If you have a meeting that is based in discussion and doesn't require a lot of writing, rather than having it be zoom could it be over the phone and you go out for a walk-and talk? If you are watching a presentation, can you stand up and move around the room with a pair of wireless headphones? If you have a laptop, can you do a bit of work on your feet? You don't necessarily need an expensive standing desk--a high table, a counter, or in our case a very sturdy music stand can serve as a short term solution to give you some variety. Switching between standing and sitting can do wonders for you.
6. No Means No: Boundaries to Preserve Your Future Self
You most likely are not less productive just because you are working from home. Think of all the time wasting things that come up in the office that no longer happen. Firm boundaries on when you will and won't extend your work time beyond your normal hours are crucial. If you make rules for yourself and make them understood to everyone on your team, you are much more likely to keep to them than if they are nonexistent or wishy washy. It doesn't mean that you will never work past 5pm, but what you do shouldn't go beyond your normal in person working commitments. As long as your productivity is within the right limits, you have every right to not feel pressured to overwork. I find a ritual helps with this--I will get "dressed up" for work (nicer sweatpants) and then change clothes to mark the beginning and end of the workday. Or you can get yourself a miniature open/closed sign to remind yourself that you are no longer at work, or move into a different room if you have one. There are a number of ways to mark the change from work to rest, but they are all worthwhile.
For more exercises and tips, consider taking an introductory online lesson with me or check out our other blogs and resources. You can sign up for our monthly Uplift email for free resources to help you keep thinking up in your body, even when you are feeling down.
Thoughts on what is going on in the work and the world right now. Many posts to come.