May is national Employee Health and Wellness Month, and talking about overall employee wellness means rethinking and improving our relationship with where many office-bound employees spend most of their time — their desk and chair.
It’s 2017 and I’m assuming you’ve had somebody in your life tell you, “sitting is the new smoking.” And as much as “____ is the new____” phrases generally make me roll my eyes, this one is true. Increased time seated and sedentary behavior can lead to increased risk of developing certain types of cancer, heart disease, and type II diabetes. And in less shock and awe or WebMD fashion, increased time sitting can lead to muscular imbalances, and energy utilization inefficiency in the body.
Due to the way our society has cultivated our relationship with technology, many of us spend a large amount of time with our heads straining forward and chin tucking down towards a screen, be it computer or smartphone, while our shoulders shlump down and forward while our thoracic spine or upper back rounds and hunches. This posture is so ubiquitous that it’s been lovingly coined as “Tech Neck,” which may sound like the next cool nerdy app, but really, it does a number on the body.
The positioning of the head so far forward causes the weight of the head — that in optimal alignment is around 10 pounds — to rapidly multiply and feel like up to 60 pounds. No biggie, just your average 8-9 year old dangling from your neck. This action strains and weakens the neck muscles (cervical flexors) and mid-back shoulder girdle stabilizers (rhomboids, lower traps) and shortens and tenses the upper chest (pectorals) and upper back and neck (upper traps/levator scapula and suboccipitals). Or rather, a major pain in the neck…and back…and shoulders…
And those issues are just from the waist up! Increased booty in seat time does your core stabilizer muscles no favors, tightens and weakens the glutes as well as the quadriceps, and actively shortens and exhausts your hip flexors, particularly the psoas. Your psoas is a primary hip flexor and that wraps from the backside of the lumbar spine and connects to the femur at the lesser trochanter. Quite literally it’s the muscle that connects our top and bottom halves. So sitting destabilizes this connection between our foundation and roots and brilliance of our hearts and minds. Psoas dysfunction can be the root of numerous, various forms of discomfort and disease throughout the body from shallow breathing to joint injuries in the lower body. And to add injury to injury, this connector, the psoas, is deeply intertwined with our negative emotions and holds trauma, fear, and anxiety.
Ok….great….so what can we do about it?
- Stack the deck in your favor. Consciously set your workspace with alignment in mind. Sit in your chair and see that you’re tailbone isn’t tucking underneath you. Adjust your desk chair so that your feet can reach the floor comfortably and your hips are higher than your knees. Make the top of your monitor eye-level; if your monitor is too low, the act of constantly looking down at your screen will send you into Tech Neck City — not cute. Lift your monitor up nice and tall, get a laptop stand, or place some old books under your monitor for Free.99. And (bonus points!) studies show that sitting with good posture can have positive effects on the mind: feeling more alert and enthusiastic, more confident in your thoughts, more persistent at a difficult task, less fearful and may even ease symptoms in mild to moderate depression.
- Check in with yourself. Like most things that are good for you, it’s so easy to start off with the best intentions — sitting up tall and with good posture — and then slowly revert back to your natural tendencies — rounding, slouching, and Tech Necking. Set yourself a reminder, at a 15-20 minute interval, to check in with your posture and breath.
- Get up when you can! Though some days it may feel like you’re literally chained to your desk, you’re not. I promise. So get on up. Use one of those check in reminders an hour to get up and move. Fill up your water bottle, maybe at the cooler farthest away from your desk for a two-fer: movement and hydration. There are apps and even a desktop extension for the Chrome users called Posture Minder that you may use.
- Take a two-minute wellness retreat at your seat. Every so often, close your eyes and just breathe. Notice the quality of your breath, the length of your inhalations and exhalations, and where the breath moves freely or not so much. If thoughts enter your mind, acknowledge them and come back to your breath. Mini-meditations throughout the day can help you offset the annoying asks from your boss and give your eyes a much needed rest from hours of straight screen time. Give yourself a couple minutes, heck even just 5 breaths, and answer that next email centered and mentally refreshed.
- Check back in with UrbanWellnessMag.com. I’ll be posting mini-sequences this month to really boost your day.
Words by @adrianaadele
Photo by: Kit Out My Office
Shortly after earrning her BA in neuroscience at Oberlin College in Ohio, Adriana began practicing and studying yoga in 2011 after taking her first Bhakti Flow class in Oakland, CA. An athlete growing up, she was first drawn to the physical challenge of the practice but quickly delighted in the equanimity it brought to her mind and spirit. Adriana believes life is a conversation and is constantly surprised and inspired by the answers found on her mat– and the questions which come from those answers.
After moving to Philadelphia, Adriana completed the 200 hour teacher training at DIG Yoga in alignment-based hatha yoga, with her teachers Sue Elkind, Naime Jezzeny, Nikki Robinson, and, mentor, Mariel Freeman. Adriana’s relaxed, conversational teaching style invites students to honor and relish the present moment in whatever form it takes, be it effort or ease. Through clear alignment cues and thoughtful sequencing, she encourages, supports, and empowers students to cultivate a deeper connection with their breath and body, creating a sustainable yoga practice to carry throughout life.