You’ve read the titles – sitting is the new smoking, sitting kills, sitting makes a pancake out of your sexy bootie and your prostate…and of course it’s the reason you will have a heart attack or worse yet, die from all cause mortality. Roland often warns me that if I don’t stop doing X I will be killed by all cause mortality. Studies say. Macabre.
Yet, sitting is a serious business, as you spend so very many hours in the seated position – hips and knees flexed, spine flexed, and a pelvis which tends to slide back onto the more or less comfy cushion formed by your back-there muscles. You hear sitting is the new smoking, so you look for a solution. You switch to a stand up workstation (good!), you buy a treadmill desk (maybe good; at least for winning weekly FitBit challenges), you join a gym (good for you).
If you look no deeper, you have checked another box in your health to-do-list. Did I sit less? Check. Did I stand? Check. Did I lift today? Check. I am good. While I am at it, did I eat my kale and drink my buttered coffee? Check.
But is sitting the new smoking?
Speaking in alarming absolutes is helpful to bring attention to a problem, yet rarely offers a solution that helps. Hearing that sitting is the new smoking is a bit of a shock – really, really? Maybe you should look into this?!! And when you do, you look for an alternative. Unfortunately, in our culture, most of the alternatives offered include absolute solutions. A stand up desk. A treadmill desk. High intensity training in the lunch break. So you do those things, you subscribe to those tools. You do something, versus doing nothing. And that is fabulous, yet, an absolute solution that comes from the outside is just one more option. It’s not necessarily a solution. If the problem is that you are not moving, how is not moving in another position a solution? It’s not. It gives you a false sense of security and worse, it gives you another THING to stand between YOU and HOW YOU FEEL while you are doing your work. It gives you another THING to solve the problem of not moving for you. In 2016 you probably are starting to come to a realization that you can’t outsource your own health to a desk, a chair, a supplement, or a guru, at least not without paying some serious health tax.
I work with many people who come to me with low back, heel, ankle and knee pain after switching to a standing workstation. The stories I hear are similar – “yeah our company switched us all to stand up stations”, “I started standing for 8 hours on day one and I felt great, so I just kept doing it…”. We are solution seeking problem solving creatures – especially those of us who like to act on “new challenges”, so that’s what we do – we jump in, head first, and then we deal with the consequences.
I constantly look for solutions, both for myself and for my students, yet, we all, as a society need to raise the bar on our solutions. Your health and comfort at work don’t depend on an external tool like a desk, a desk bike, a wobble board, a cobblestone mat, a vibrating platform, or a human hamster wheel (yes, these are around, too). Your physical state and long term health of your tissues is dependent on your ability to detect when you have been in one position for too long, and your physical skill and culture to have a varied repertoire of positions to be in, which are comfortable enough to let you relax and focus on your work.
How the heck do you develop “physical skill and culture to have a varied repertoire of positions to be in” (somehow this question comes with a British accent in my head)? By raising the bar on curiosity. Become increasingly curious about your physical states, your posture habits, your ability to change positions. Most of us have 2-3 positions that we work in – and that’s it, that’s it, that’s it. For your blood vessels, organs, and all the small pipes and tubes inside of you body, that means 2-3 different shapes. For your lungs and diaphragm – that means 2-3 ways to deform and supply you with the oxygen you need…bummer.
Your work space is your canvas
Become an artist and start changing the landscape. When preparing for your work day, give yourself many options, then become curious about exploring them. Remember to have fun, and not get stuck in any one position for too long.
This week, instead of fearing that sitting will kill you in slow and painful ways, try one of these many options to be in your body. When you start to lose focus on your work, or if you notice you are becoming stiff, achy, stagnant, slow, irritated, change your position.
Sit in your regular chair, supporting the upper back with a cushion
Sit in your regular chair with a cushion under your pelvis
Sit with your legs stretched out
Sit using a Back Joy (pictured above, keeps the pelvis neutral)
Sit in any way from this video
Sit on a ball
Stand with feet at hip width
Stand with feet wide
Vary the way you position your feet
Stand on one leg
Lift your arms over your head while you are reading
Pace around while talking on the phone
Dance in place
Take short walking breaks
Stretch your calves
Roll your feet with a ball
Lay on the floor with your computer or book
Lean against a wall
Sit with your legs stretched out on another chair
Sit on the floor
In addition to becoming increasingly curious about your behaviors at work and how they make you feel, it may be great for you to develop a movement practice that is slower and more mindful than traditional fitness. Most of us love to go for a run or lift some weights after work to take the pressure off, but that doesn’t necessarily develop good listening skills. To know how your body is doing you need to be mindful, aware, observant and a master of slower and more precise movements.
Find a practice which you love
…whether it’s Feldenkrais, Alexander, Nutritious Movement / Restorative Exercise, Yoga, Tai Chi, Continuum, or one of the many other modalities which teaches you how to observe, feel, and adjust your movement from the inside out.
Don’t let media tell you what is best for you, don’t replace one cast (sitting) with another (standing). Uncast your life and your mind. The solution to your sitting isn’t standing, it’s having variability, it’s being dynamic. And that starts with you, not with a desk, not with a ball, and not with a pill.
Snack on movement
Want to try a short 30 minute video to start moving mindfully today? Katy Bowman has created the most helpful short videos to start exploring your body now. I have chosen three that will target that smoking, sitting bootie of yours.
This whole blog post was written standing at the top of the stairs. Because everyone else was sleeping on Sunday morning. I varied my foot position about 10-15 times in an hour. I walked up and down the stairs a few times. And I made coffee.