By Jeremy Cohn
All of my clients report one activity as being consistently challenging--an activity I am participating right now: working at a computer.
Whether at an office job, working at home, or just messing around online, using a computer is an Olympic level activity in terms of avoiding back, neck, and shoulder pain, repetitive strain injury, and general discomfort. Much of working well at a computer has to do with sitting well, which is a deceptively difficult activity. This topic is a subject I could give hundreds of tips on, but we are gonna stick with some basics for this blog-- here are a couple of things to consider that might add some 'up' to your workday:
1. The Body is Not Meant to Be Static
One of the things that makes sitting at a computer for extended periods of time is that it is sedentary. The body is not meant to be still--it is meant to be in an ever-changing dance with gravity(i.e. movement) any time we are upright. Having to face a computer in a seated position for hours on end works against this, and most office chairs have outdated ergonomics that encourage a collapse into the back of the chair, locking the body into a deadened, slumped position from which it is very hard to move. To avoid the doldrums and aches, introduce a little movement into your everyday typing routine--take periodic breaks to get up and walk around, turn your head from side to side mindfully to break up the linear over-focused set of your muscles and introduce some pleasurable spirals into your torso, and allow a subtle forward and back rock in your hip sockets balanced on the sits bones to help you make sure you aren't holding yourself too tightly upright. Most of these movements will be impossible, however, unless you.......
2. Ditch the Back of Your Chair and Get Optimal Support
Your chair back is wonderful as an occasional support, but leaning back into it forces your spine either into a slumped curve or puts your head behind your shoulders(or both); ironing out the natural curves of the spine and putting an enormous amount of pressure on your system, leading to back and neck problems. In addition to putting your head out of alignment, it tends to curve the bottom of the spine, placing pressure on your sacrum(really your fused lower vertebrae) which is not meant to be load bearing in this way. Instead, sit towards the edge of your chair and balance on your 'sits bones', the two rocker shaped protrusions on the bottom of your pelvis meant to bear your weight. You can locate these by sitting on your hands for a moment and rocking back and forth-- you will feel the bones sticking out from underneath your tush. Sitting on these not only allows you to keep your alignment and gather support to keep you upright more easily, but will allow you to introduce the movements described in number 1 into your sitting. Another source of support is your legs--we tend to forget about them while sitting in chairs, bringing them up to be cross-legged or kicking them under the chair, but they can be a great secondary source of support in sitting. If you let both the heel and ball of the foot have contact with the floor, they will serve as a 'flying buttress' to the cathedral wall of your pelvis, helping to stabilize you. This will also help to keep your hip sockets from tightening while seated or your pelvis from being pulled out of alignment from below. Allowing movement will make this position much more sustainable, but this poised position might seem daunting for a long workday. Which is why it is important to know that......
3. Its Okay To Slump
While its good to avoid being trapped in a constant C-curve against the back of your chair, it can be just as harmful to over arch(what most people think of as 'good' posture). Its best to let your spine be easy and natural in sitting. When working at a computer, a little bit of flexion is to be expected, and will naturally happen whenever your arms are in front of your body. However, there is a world of difference between allowing the spine to have easy flexibility to respond to the body's movement and complete collapse. A certified Alexander Technique teacher can help you to think 'up' along the spine and have healthy length within any position. In lieu of that, try alternating the position of your spine to keep it from getting too fixed or pulled down--if you feel you have been in a long slump, give your spine a moment of easy arch; if you have been over-arching, give your self a 'suspended slump', or give yourself a brief hang-down from the edge of your chair.
4. Focusing on your Screen Draws your Head and Shoulders out of Alignment
The mechanics of using your keyboard well are complicated beyond the scope of this blog, but there are a couple of tips that can help you when it comes to relating to your screen. There is a natural draw of the head towards whatever we are looking at--the smaller and more focused the point of attention, the more the head tends to travel towards it. When the head is pulled forward off the top of the spine(approx between your ears), it puts a lot of pressure on your body and moves you into that unhealthy C-curve. A little mindfulness to resisting this pull by having a sense of your back can do a lot to counter this unhealthy tendency. A similar process can happen when you type--it is easy for your shoulder blades to be pulled forward off your back when you type. You can counter this shoulder pull by mindfulness and making sure your chair is not too far from the keyboard, causing you to over-reach.
I hope these have been helpful--further info on working well will be a subject of future blog posts! If you have questions feel free to comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Thoughts on what is going on in the work and the world right now. Many posts to come.