Back in March when the pandemic swept through the country and the quarantines began, many of us fortunate enough to, suddenly found ourselves working from home and were forced to get creative carving out a suitable workspace from our already limited city square footage. This led to some questionable workspace setups as we grabbed our laptops and settled into our couches hoping we’d be back to normal in a few weeks. Six months later, what was once novel and chill is no longer, as our bodies bear the stress of our decreased activity and unsupportive chairs.
Although we humans are unbelievably resilient and adaptive creatures, what we adapt to isn’t always helpful. Just because our bodies can survive on nothing but peanut butter M&Ms doesn’t mean that this diet allows us to function optimally in the short-term or thrive in the long-term. The same is true with our posture. Yes we can adapt to survive six-months of slouching on the couch or the kitchen table, but it is less than optimal for our joint health and can easily lead to lower back, shoulder, and neck pain and increased stress.
But it’s not just about pain. According to research in the Medical Journal SPINE, breathing, heart rate and many other health markers also deteriorate as posture worsens. Even a dentist recently implored readers in a recent NY Times article to reconsider their ergonomic work set-ups, as poor work-from-home posture and pandemic stress, has led to a recent uptick in cracked teeth.
So what can you do about it?
Let’s start with the basics…
- Find a chair that is firm and flat. The bottom of your pelvis has two boney sitz bones that act like feet for your spine while sitting. A firm chair gives you a nice base of support on which they can rest and be supported. While couches and plush chairs may feel comfortable, they encourage slouching, arching in your lower back, and dropping your head and shoulders forward which stresses your spine.
- Allow your feet rest on the ground in front of you. We all have unique habits of holding and twisting our feet while sitting that feels good, but actually this makes sitting harder on us. Keeping your feet flat on the ground adds two more points of contact, so that you have your two sitz bones and your two feet supporting your weight, decreasing the strain on any one area.
- Make sure that your hips are higher than your knees. In this position it’s easier to allow your feet to support you and to let go of extra tension in your thighs and hip flexors.
- Prop your screen up so that it is at eye level. If you are constantly looking down, it will be much more challenging to keep your head and neck from drooping forward which can put up to 60lbs of excess weight on your neck and spine.
- Take breaks! A little bit of movement every 30-45 minutes, like standing, walking around and sitting again is enough to take pressure off your spine and reset whatever patterns of tension might have slipped in while focusing. The movement also helps your brain and stress levels, as it pulls you out of your screen, back into the three dimensional space around you and brings some novelty to your visual field.
You may have heard some of these tips before and for many people, here’s where the story ends. But for me, this is where my work begins.
While your setup is definitely important, it won’t suddenly give you amazing posture, remind you to breathe, or change any of your personal habits of tension. To combat this, you might have heard some of the following pieces of posture advice: “sit up straight,” “keep your shoulders back,” “hold your stomach in!” While this is all well-intentioned advice, rightly aimed at preventing slouching forward, curved shoulders and pouched bellies, there are a few structural issues with the directions.
Our spines are not straight. They have curves that act as shock absorbers and are important for our mobility. Holding your shoulders back restricts your breathing. Our bodies are designed for mobility and flexibility. Using effort to hold your shoulders back prevents your ribcage from moving freely which prevents your lungs from taking a full breath. Holding your stomach in restricts the natural flow of breath. Keeping your core engaged while sitting prevents your diaphragm from dropping fully and causes your breathing to become shallow. This prevents you from getting enough oxygen and can increase stress and fatigue.
What’s more important to understand is that these ideas are based upon a common misconception that posture is a static position to be held instead of a dynamic, living, breathing, moving coordination. When we hold ourselves up with our muscles, we actually become more susceptible to stiffness and pain. Much like a skyscraper that is designed to move and shift in the wind, our spines are healthiest when they are allowed to adjust and move slightly throughout the day.
So what is good posture?
I wish there was a quick and easy answer I could give you, but unfortunately you won’t be able to change the posture habits of a lifetime by reading an article. Any truly meaningful change takes time, awareness and education. Good posture is what happens when we stop gripping, tightening, squeezing, and tensing–it’s an undoing that reveals your inner poise. It’s a process that requires your active participation. It’s a coordination that shows up when you open your awareness and learn how your body is designed to function efficiently. And it’s something that can be fun, freeing, and empowering. That’s what I teach. I help you learn to release excess tension and give you the tools to take control over how you move and feel. Together we can re-coordinate your neuromuscular system to help you discover dynamic, easeful support in any activity–working, washing dishes, or running a marathon.
If you’re interested in learning more about the work, and uncovering your inner potential, contact Kevin here.
Kevin is the founder of Habit Disruption and an AmSAT Certified Alexander Technique Teacher who completed his three-year training with second generation teachers Nanette Walsh and Lori Schiff at the Riverside Initiative for the Alexander Technique. Additionally, he is an actor and dancer seen on Broadway in Tootsie, Anastasia, Allegiance, and Anything Goes among many other TV and stage projects in New York City and across the country. He has a BFA in Musical Theatre from The University of Michigan.