Yoga For the Desk Jockey ™: Standing, Sitting and Awareness at Work

by Susi Hately, B.Sc. Kinesiologyydjlotusecard

“So Susi, what should I do at work? Should I sit, should I stand? What about an exercise ball?” These are all common questions I receive from clients who are contemplating the how-to’s of woking well, of putting in their 8,9,10 plus hour days, of treating their bodies and minds well, of supporting themselves in recovery and healing, and of, quite simply, feeling better, thinking more clearly, doing good work and returning home feeling more fulfilled than fatigued.

I usually offer up some ideas by starting with some context. I say to them, despite all the news that is out there about how bad sitting is for your health, in truth, sitting – in and of itself – is not bad. It is a position and an activity that we have been doing forever and ever. So don’t be scared of sitting. If you think of it as a “tool”, consider:

  • how you are using it,
  • the length of time you are engaged with it and
  • if it is serving you in the process of getting your day done, completing tasks comfortably, with focused, clear thinking, not achey, not fidgety, and not in pain or strain.

Think about:

  • what you want to accomplish at work,
  • how you want to feel at work and after work,

because your body position is going to impact that. So…this is where you get to choose – sitting, standing, walking, sitting on a ball, sitting on a kneeling chair, sitting on an “active disc” or a combination of any of these. Really the choices are endless (which is a good thing). There are pros and cons to each, and you need to choose based on what you want to accomplish and also how you want to feel, how less tired you want to be, how to access your greatest thinking strengths, and what is best for your energy flow.

You may find that for one type of work or type of thinking sitting is better; for another type of thinking or work that standing is better; and for another still, that walking is better. The key is to feel what works for you, recognizing the dynamic nature of work, thinking and getting things done.

This is where awareness really plays a part. I completely appreciate the surreptitious nature of the slight (or not so slight) tension or strain that can settle in after a “too long” period of time in front of a computer. Some of my clients talk about how their “back talks”, or the sciatica “lets them know” they have been sitting too long. Some feel their body can slump a little or a lot, or the ache in between their shoulder blades, their neck or the tiredness in their eyes. I train my clients to see these as “yellow lights” or “whispers” giving them an indication that if they continue to do what they are doing they will likely move into the realm of “red lights” or the “screams” of pain, less clear thinking, and/or feeling exhausted as they return home, which can then lead to poor sleep and less rejuvenation. And so the cycle continues.

I spend a good chunk of time gently encouraging my clients to feel. First the gross aspects of feeling and noticing, and then the subtler aspects of what their body and mind are doing. It is powerful. Healing and recovery exist in the subtle, and as we can perceive the subtle, those quiet forces within ourselves, the more we can become aware of, and the more impact we can have in our work and the people around us.

Consider the Following.

Simple Tools: When starting out, a timer is a good tool. It is so easy to get so engrossed in what you are doing that 2 or 3 hours can fly by and you haven’t changed position. The timer acts as a little nudge to remind you to bring you back to your body, and for some, to give their mind a mini-break. You can use it as a signal to change position, get up and go to the bathroom, drink a glass of water, move your body through some Yoga, Qi Gong, Tai Chi or any other basic movements. (see below for short yoga, breathing and meditation video)

The Pay Off of Getting Quieter: If you already know that the sciatica, back pain or ache between the shoulders is a signal for you to move, consider looking for more subtle signals. What are the signs before that ache or strain show up? You might say none, and I will encourage you to consider another view – that there are quieter signals poking at you to let you know to change or shift position. These are quieter yes, and you’ll need to become quieter to notice them more clearly. The pay off is huge since as you operate at this level of awareness, you will feel yourself more invigorated throughout the day.

Your Whispers Are Yours and Yours Only: Recognize that the signals that guide you are individual to you. I can’t tell you what yours will be, you simply get to learn for yourself. The good news is that they are there. I have had clients who notice a temperature change in their hands, others that their eyes get fatigued, they hold their breath or they get a very slight slump through their spine. Others notice their level of distraction going up, a tendency to go to social media, or surfing about a personal hobby when it really isn’t the highest and most useful activity in the moment. What makes this latter one more interesting is how it is a behaviour and not a specific body sensation that is guiding you.

Keeping It Simple: Clients will tell me that they don’t often notice these whispers or yellow lights right off the bat. Something may niggle at them, like body position, breath holding, the desire to surf, or the quiet fatigue in their eyes that feels so normal. It is later that they notice something louder – the ache, the pain, the strain – and they are able to tie it back. So, be patient. There is also no need to get narcissistic. It is simply about paying attention and noticing.

Considerations for Standing: Be aware of your posture shifting when in standing. Do you take your weight to one leg, do your hips come forward and your rib cage collapse? Do you counter those movements by forcibly standing tall, as if to prevent a collapse? Notice what it is that you are doing in your movement. These could be signs that you are getting fatigued and need walk or a seat.

Desk-Top Sit To Stand Units: Some sit-to-stand work stations have the full desk raise, others are adjustable units that are placed on top of the desk. The desk itself doesn’t move, the unit does. Pay attention to your head position when you raise up to stand with the desk top unit. Sometimes the positioning causes a poke head forward. As well, if you are in the process of buying a desk-top unit, choose one that raises all of your work. Problems can arise if your papers have to stay on the desk top, while your key board and mouse rise higher.

To bring this article to a close, I have included some yoga movements that you can do when you are at work, and not have to change out of your workwear. Enjoy the video and I wish you well at work.

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