Ergonomics in Action: How are my Friends and I Sitting at our Desks?

Oakland's Impact Hub Shared workspace in downtown Oakland is the site of a lot of young, hip (don't tell them I said that) social entrepreneurs who work long hours on laptops. It's generally not a pretty site for the ergonomically minded. I'm a little bit of an odd duck out there considering I use a laptop tray and separate keyboard, try to stand up, stretch and reset my spine every 15-20 minutes and periodically hold books on my heads as I type to align my spines and lengthen my vertebrae. Sometimes attract quite a lot of attention doing these "strange" things, which is really the least I can do to mediate the damaging effects of sitting long hours in chairs and staring at screens. I've been told I'm the only person to ever use the tall tray in the center of the work tables to elevate my computer to eye level. In fact, I was struggling to get work done the other day due to the excitement of my fellow co-workers. I love when my laptop tray and my spine- loving work habits start awesome conversations with new friends about the cultural foundations of back pain, spine health, laptops, ergonomics, head carrying and laptop trays.

This picture was not staged! I love it b/c I'm working away on my newsletter with my laptop tray and my dear friend, Leah, is in the background with surprisingly great posture for someone on a laptop. However, you can still see that her upper back is hunched and her gaze is downward but at least she isn't leaning into her chair back.

My knees are at 90*, my feet are planted and my chest is wide. I've got my elbows draped at my sides and close to 90*, although I could have lifted the chair a bit higher and placed something underneath my feet to decrease the angle a bit so it was at a true 90*. At home, I sit on a thick book to lift my elbows and knees to 90*. My screen could be a little bit higher so that my eyes reached it two thirds of the way up, but I do the best I can without carrying heavy books as laptop tray props around with me. MY TAILBONE IS NOT TUCKED, therefore, my low back is long and maintains it's natural curve (this is the number one posture myth I'd like to debunk on every possible opportunity) and I'm sitting right on top of my sits bones, although I could lengthen the low back slightly, but I'd give it an 8/10.

My dear friend Dori has ongoing tension in his upper neck that occasionally leads to vertigo so he's very conscious of the importance of practicing healthy spine alignment and spinal lengthening as he sits at his desk. Here he is with a nearly optimal computer set-up. He's on the floor, close to the earth in a meditation posture, which keeps the hips and knees open, the cushion he's on allows him to ground in the weight of his pelvis and serves as a foundation for the lengthening of his spine upward.

The book he's carrying on his head (Reinventing Organizations- he loves it and won't stop talking about it) also helps his vertebrae to stack on top of themselves straight up so that gravity can translate directly downward as opposed to the usual foreword head posture we take when we gaze at screens (read about healing your spine with head carrying). For every inch the head moves foreword out of alignment with the rest of the spine, that's 10 extra pounds of weight on the neck! His computer could be a bit higher so that the top third of the screen is at the level of his glasses and he can keep his gaze level. He could also be seated just a bit higher so that his elbows are at 90* but I'd give him an 8/10.

Let's move our desks to the floor like Dori- it does not solve the problem of the human body not being designed to sit for long periods, but, married with a laptop tray, intention, head carrying and frequent spinal reset breaks is our best best.

Three cheers for laptop trays! I'll keep posting pics of my friends and I exploring a healthier relationship with gravity as we manage and heal our back pain. Please post your own pictures on Exploring Body-Mind Freedom's facebook page. I'm happy to analyze them if you'd like or, I could just give you a huge high five as a fellow explorer on the path of body-mind freedom.

Resources:

Culture of Posture Blog Series: How can head carrying heal your relationship with your computer? How can we retrain ourselves out of cultural postural boobytraps?

Take two minutes to hear ancestral postural badass, Brooke Thomas, speak on how to sit for spine health

If you have 7 minutes, watch Ester Gokhale lay it down in this TED Talk

Brooke discusses the relationship between short hamstrings and sitting in this super readable article: Help for Shortie Hamstrings

Leaders in the field, Jules Mitchell, Dawn McCrory, Jillian Nichol, Brooke Thomas and Rachael Bernson discuss the health dangers of short hamstrings that result from excessive sitting and how to lengthen our hip muscles.

Ester Gokhale, "the posture guru of Silicon Valley" in The NY Times:

A must for every mom: Brooke Thomas on how to teach your kids to sit properly. Good for all of us!

Ruthie Fraser on Accessing Your Pelvis to sit well in a chair