How’s that Office Chair? Thinking about office work from a Feldenkrais® perspective

In News by Ira Feinstein

by MaryBeth Smith, GCFP

SO — how IS your office chair? Individuals and companies spend countless hours researching the best ergonomic chairs and desks to enhance “worker productivity.” It is possible to spend hundreds of dollars on a highly rated set-up and still find that you are uncomfortable. Why? I’ll tell you what I tell my clients.

I did a bit of digging to find out exactly what is meant by “worker productivity.” This phrase is often code for “able to sit in one position all day and work relentlessly with no price to pay.” Yet, more and more we’ve been hearing that sitting is the new smoking. How do we balance the need to get stuff done, with the need to maintain one’s health? Clearly, we need to think outside the chair.

Standing desks are trendy and cool, and can be a great solution. However, standing can be as problematic as sitting if you have a temperamental low back, or sore feet, knees, or legs. So, let’s question the basic assumption that people are supposed to be able to sustain ANY position — be it sitting, standing, or lying down — for up to eight hours at a time, and be OK. Humans are meant to MOVE. Expecting anyone to behave like a machine is obviously dehumanizing. It also disconnects the human from their ability to be effective. We are meant to adapt, continuously, to our environment. This adaptability keeps us moving, thinking, feeling, and sensing. Perhaps that can be a new definition of productivity?

The problem is in getting stuck in one position. This is true physically, as well as mentally. Get up and move. Change your position as frequently as you need to, at least once an hour. This can mean to stand up, walk to the restroom, stand while you are on the phone– you get the idea. When people are physically stuck in one position for long periods of time, they lose the ability to imagine how they might do something different. You can revive this specific use of your imagination in  Feldenkrais®Awareness Through Movement® classes. Even if it feels silly, just change something, anything, for a few minutes, before returning to your original position. (You can also try this 5-minute lesson!)

Thinking about ergonomics from a Feldenkrais perspective means that “feeling better” doesn’t have to involve a bunch of new furniture, gadgets, or doodads. Rather, relief can be found in altering how we move through our daily tasks. There are always ways to increase the efficiency of action as well as comfort and sustainability. You can learn how to move, to vary your positions, and to create health for yourself. If only this could be a trend! Thankfully, more and more employers recognize that true productivity is not simply a matter of getting work done, but also of living well and feeling well to work another day.

MaryBeth Smith is a nationally recognized authority on the improvement of human potential and performance, helping people to navigate the world of intention, action, and achievement. She holds degrees in music from the University of Illinois and the University of Texas, San Antonio; and has been a Guild Certified Feldenkrais Practitionercm since 2004. She is the Director of the Feldenkrais® Center of Houston.