Sitting Disorder, part 2

Here I was, all prepared to put together a post on how to use chairs more effectively when I discovered, to my delight (and chagrin), that I had ALREADY done a series of vids on chairs.

Not wanting to repeat myself, I’m going to link to the relevant one HERE and move on to other questions from you all.

I’ve heard one that is in this ball park from a few clients recently, so here we go:

Am I “too far gone”?

In other words, I’ve heard people say they’re too old, too beat up, had too many car accidents, etc.

Here are a couple of preliminary thoughts.

1.  There are certain limitations that are difficult to overcome. Examples are surgeries to repair things (ligament repairs, pins, plates, joint replacements, other metallic objects and other issues) and broken bones, if they’ve healed poorly or been broken badly enough that they lost their original structure.

The thing to remember in this situation is that it’s not over, just that this new limitation will need to be what you balance the rest of the structure around.  Now, back up and read the last sentence again, ’cause it’s really important.  Expanding on that idea, you can get a lot of freedom in the body if you balance it to it’s “new” limitations.  But if you try to make it how it was before, you will end up frustrated and/or causing other problems.

2. You’re never too old, beat up, etc. to make at least some improvement. You have to decide if it’s what you want to do or not.  Nothing will trump your decision.  I’ve worked with clients from newborn to 88 years old.  The clients insistence that they can do it and change things is the single most important ingredient in the recipe.

3. Any rehab project will require four things:

a.  a super-skilled bodyworker (such as yours truly)

b.  being committed to the goal

c.  a consistent program of good diet and exercise

d.  time

Let’s unpack those one at a time:

a. a super-skilled bodyworker. You’ll need someone who understands the idea that the body is a fluid system and that its alignment and mechanics can be changed with the right touch and exercises.  While there are systems that work better than others, it’s better to focus on the quality of the practitioner.  Listen for unusual words that their clients use to describe them like “genius”, “magician” and “i’m not sure what they did, but look at me!”

b. nothing, and I mean nothing, will help if you’re not committed to getting where you want to be.  Despite all the marketing hoo-haa out there, the number one ingredient in any self-improvement project looks at you in the mirror every morning. As the man said, nothing succeeds like persistence.

c.  You must have good nutrition and a conditioning program that you can do FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE. You cannot out-train a bad diet (I know because I tried for years) and you MUST have good base strength and flexibility to keep the momentum going.  The bottom line is this: the body is a use-it-or-loose-it system.  If you stop using it, it stops working how you want it to.

This is not to say that you have to look like a swimsuit model or the dudes on the cover of men’s fitness mags.  A good routine will give you strength, endurance and flexibility that will last your whole life, not take hours and hours every week (or like some routines I’ve seen and tried, hours every day).  I’m a huge fan of functional strength and flexibility, and bodyweight exercises.  They don’t take long, pay huge benefits and keep your workout times to a minimum.

d.  Time. Sorry to be the bearer of potentially bad news, but despite the overload of marketing BS promising you everything tomorrow (jeez, don’t get me started…), things took a period of time to get how they are now, so they will take consistent applied effort over time to change them.  There are no substitutes for this rule that I’ve found in over 20 years.  There are no hard and fast charts for how long a particular problem with take, but don’t expect to sort out the back pain you’ve had for 5 years in a week or two; it’s happened, but it’s a VERY rare occurrence.

Lest you despair, let me finish with a little inspiration. When I was first getting started as a bodyworker (back when dinosaurs still roamed the earth, as far as my children are concerned), I had the extreme good fortune to have a client referred to me that helped me really understand these ideas.

This person came to me after being in a severe car accident, one which resulted in her car being totaled and her being in the hospital for quite some time with a closed-head brain injury.  Her injuries were compounded by the fact that she had Polio as a child – in the days when the surgeons went wild, resulting in her having lost track of how many surgeries she had had.  The surgeons had moved muscle attachments in multiple places in the quest for having my client be better able to use what muscle she had left at her command.  Most bizarrely, they had fused her ankles, but at different angles – one was fused at 90 degrees, the other at about 45 degrees of plantar flexion (toes toward being pointed).

Needless to say, the accumulation of stresses from the surgeries were a problem, but compound those over time and then add a near-catastrophic car accident.  When I saw her for the first time, I heard her say that one of her main goals was to be able to walk more than 50 feet without pain.  Yes, you read that right – she couldn’t walk across a parking lot without being in agony.

So we worked, using all of the above ideas.  I saw her twice a week for about 8 months.  She started noticing improvements in how she felt and moved within a month or so.  By the 6 month mark, she was hiking with a pack on.  By 8 months, she could bicycle, cross-country ski and hike for miles.

Keep in mind that the doctors and PTs had given up.  They gave her the best pain killers and muscle relaxants around and said, “Get used to it.”  She hobbled in to her first session with me.  She refused to give up and worked consistently at healing.  I was deeply honored to be part of that process.

If she recovered from that, you can do it, too.

You’re never a lost cause.

Does Good Ergonomics Equal Good Posture? pt. 2

Over the last twenty years, I’ve seen all manner of things come on the market for improving ergonomics and correcting posture.  All of them suffer from the same problems as I outlined in my last post.

Let’s review the formula for having a happy, low stress (work) life:

Individually adjusted ergonomics + good biomechanics + neutralizing accumulated tension = low stress levels and a happy body.

I put my formula together in this sequence for a reason; if you follow it in the way it was designed, it works best.  Sequence determines result.

Let’s take the first part of this equation today: your ergonomics.  Then we’ll tackle the biomechanics issue and the neutralizing of tension in the next two (or three) posts.

Here’s the thing to keep in mind – the equipment is a far smaller part of the package than manufacturers would have you believe; adjust just about anything properly and it’ll be far better than spending more money on something that’s “better”.

Individually adjusted ergonomics.

Why is this important?  Like I mentioned in the last post, you are not a statistic; things need to be adjusted to you specifically.

What this means is that you’ll have to pay some attention to how your body is and how it sets up with relation to “the norm”.  How will this pay off? If your ergonomics fit you, the amount of effort you have to use for positioning your body in space (all of your office tasks) goes way down.  Low effort = low stress.

For most of my clients, the payoff is that they cease to have pain altogether.  For the rest, the relief is so dramatic that they wouldn’t have it any other way.  And, let’s keep in mind, that although it takes me some time to explain it here, it is actually quite easy once you get the idea – and you can apply it.

Coming back to the office to get more specific: chairs, tables and computer gear.


If you’ve had a chance to see my post on chairs, you’ll see that there is a fundamental flaw with most chairs in relation to how we use them.  How we address that flaw is rather simple, but requires that we pay attention to the particular dimensions of our own body.

Take me, for example.  My wife describes me as having a physique like a tree trunk.  Big wide shoulders and then from the ribs to the floor, I’m about the same width.  My friends in France used to refer to me as the armoire.  I am, however, not that tall, coming in at just under 6 feet and, in addition, I have a torso that is proportionally longer than my legs.  This means that most chairs are about the right height and that, for the most part, I just need to pay attention to the neutralizing the negative space on the chair (and really, if you haven’t seen my post on chairs at this point, you need to CLICK HERE).

Most ergonomic recommendations talk about having your feet flat on the floor and putting something in your low back to “support” it.  That’s too general for me and doesn’t deal with the fundamental chair problem (that the back of the seat of the chair is lower than the front) – just tries to shore up the symptom.

I recommend that you make sure that the chair is a height that allows you to have your pelvis just slightly higher than your knees AND, more importantly, make the back of the seat of the chair slightly higher than the front.

If you can’t adjust the height of the chair for you, it’s not the end of the world – it’s more important to have the chair seats rearward tilt filled in by a towel or pillow or wedge of some sort.  This allows for free movement of the pelvis with the spine, which is crucial in supporting the back, shoulders, arms, etc.

Tables or Desks

Desks are, frankly, the least of my concerns, for a couple of reasons.
1)    I want something that’s going to hold all my stuff that I need to work with and
2)    the computer gear that I work with allows for a lot more leeway in the other features that others may find necessary.

The real key here is to adjust your chair to you and THEN to integrate and adjust the height of your desk to that specific orientation.  Your chair is what you’re using to support your body, not your desk.

DO NOT make the mistake of adjusting yourself and your chair to the height of your desk.

Think about what you’re going to be using your desk for – writing by hand or merely as a stand for your gear, or a combination of the two.

If the table is to be used for doing paperwork, how much and how often?  If ‘yes’ and ‘often’ are the answers, you’ll need to have your table height dialed in pretty well.  The sticky part is that, for the most part, the makers of chairs and tables never talk to each other and the height of tables and desks is rarely adjustable.

Contrary to popular opinion, if you’re doing any lengthy amount of paperwork, you’ll want a desk that you can:

1)    snug yourself under without having your thighs touching AND
2)    be able to rest your elbows on without bending your spine forward (flexion) AND
3)    be able to maintain a good base in your chair with your feet at the same time (don’t worry, this isn’t as bad as it sounds).

If your desk is basically a platform for your gear and some miscellaneous paperwork, then you might even want to think about getting a lap desk to hold your keyboard and mouse.  More on this idea when we start talking about your biomechanics.

You will likely have to adjust the height of your desk. Depending on what you need, there are LOTS of height adjustable desks, in all price ranges.  Most of us have a desk that we’re stuck with already, though.  Fortunately, if you do a little research on the net, you can find all manner of goodies for blocking up the height of the desk (because, let’s face it, most desks are made for Lilliputians).  Search for bed or desk risers.

A final note about desks: just say no to keyboard trays. They anchor you to the height of the desk, and are so rarely at the right height, keep your arms at funny angles and/or get in the way so much that I usually bring a screwdriver and just take them off the desk altogether.  Even more importantly: the farther away your arms are from your body, the greater the strain on your arms, shoulders and wrists.


Here are a few thoughts about what will make your body happy.  Keep in mind that the option to vary your positioning is far more important than pretty much any other consideration.

If you have a keyboard that’s mobile (wireless or wired), you can adjust your position much more easily and make your body far more happy.  If you have wide shoulders (like myself) you may want to think about a wider keyboard or a split- or v-shaped keyboard.  If you find your shoulders up around your ears during the day, this is likely a large part of the problem – your shoulders are trying to narrow to accommodate your keyboard and the only place to do to do that is up.

On to the ubiquitous mouse.  The shape and size of your mouse is less important, I’ve found, than how you use it.  We’ll get to this more in the explanations on mechanics.  Wired or wireless doesn’t really matter – mostly as I have an extender on my wired keyboard and mouse which allows me to be practically any distance from my computer that I like AND, most importantly, I can keep my upper arms in close alignment to my torso and my hands close to my lap (hint, hint).

Same goes for your computer.  I’m a big fan of two things: laptops and big monitors.  There is a lot out there about putting the monitor at the right eye level, etc.  This somewhat misses the point, as what is really the issue is your head and neck being in alignment with your torso and your shoulders being able to rest on your ribs.   When you have a laptop and a separate keyboard and mouse that’s not really an issue, as you can move it wherever you need – in other words, you can adjust it to YOU, not the other way around.

In addition, with a big(ger) monitor, you actually solve two problems at the same time:

1)    text and graphics are big (you can see them clearly), so your head has less tendency to come forward off the mid-line and hang out in space while you squint at the 8 point type that someone has put on their site (gads…) AND

2)    the size of it allows you far more leeway in your positioning relative to the monitor.

As a quick review then, start with your chair and adjust it to you.  Then deal with the height of your desk.  Finally, get a few pieces of gear that allow for maximum flexibility in your positioning, because variation is one of the things that make life nice and keeps your body happy.

In the next post, I’ll talk about (and show you!) how you use your body with this positioning (and even without it) to get the maximum work done with the least stress possible.

Does Good Ergonomics equal Good Posture?


Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but it’s not that simple.

I’ve had a number of people come in for sessions lately with arm and wrist issues, mostly related to their work (computers, offices, food service, bodyworkers).  They all have questions about the tons of stuff out on the ‘net about how to do the best ergonomic set-up, what the best/newest/coolest gadget is that you simply must have and how it will transform your life.

As I’ve said to them, all of these things miss a fundamental point: if you don’t use your body well, you’re stuffed right from the beginning. You will simply trade one inefficient use pattern for another.  To put it another way: you’ll be moving the stress around your body, instead of dispensing with it altogether.

This is the reason that you start using a new gizmo, feel better…and then some number of days, weeks or months later you have a new problem.

I know that this doesn’t seem fair, and those of you who know me will understand that I find the “buy this and your life is all smiles and happiness” idea somewhat disingenuous.

I’m going to give you some bad news now  (don’t worry, I’ll give you some good news at the end):

You can’t buy some neat-o widget and expect it to fix you by itself. It doesn’t work that way, for three reasons:

  1. People are individuals. We all have our special quirks and habit patterns, accumulated over a lifetime.  Given that, a one-size-fits-all approach hasn’t worked, doesn’t work and won’t ever work, full stop.
  2. People are lazy. I’m a prime example.  We like to try and get the maximum benefit from the minimal amount of effort – and there’s nothing wrong with that. Unfortunately, what most people do is take that idea too far and sort of mentally (and physically) slump or lean on whatever they’re using to help their posture and expect the thing to do it for them.
  3. Shifting the unaltered movement pattern that’s causing your current difficulties with a cool widget won’t eliminate the tension you’re experiencing, although it will reduce it somewhat, to be sure.  But, the rest of the tension from the pattern will shift to another area of your body – and the cycle will start again.

In order to address the whole picture in a way that will actually solve the underlying issues instead of just pushing them from one spot to the other, I’m going to do a multi-part series on using yourself in combination with good ergonomics.  I’ll focus in on the office, since it seems to be on a lot of people’s minds (and wrists) – but I’ll make sure to draw examples from other areas so that you can see how the ideas apply globally.

But first, let’s take a minute to examine the formula I’ll be referring to during these posts.  Like my fitness formula, theLow Stress Body Formula is a tripod – a very stable and interdependent structure.   You must have all three pieces, or it falls apart.

Here’s the formula:

Individually adjusted ergonomics + good biomechanics + neutralizing accumulated tension = low stress levels and a happy body.

To borrow a phrase from one of my favorite satirists: there’s a lot to unpack in that statement.  Let’s take it step by step.

Individually adjusted ergonomics.

This means that you take the widget out of the box and then you make it fit YOU.  98% of the folks that I’ve worked with have this part of the formula on backward.  Here’s why: widgets – ALL widgets – are made to a statistical model of a human.  Here’s what you have to ask yourself: are you a statistic?  Of course, the answer is no, so why would you use it without making it fit you?  Just like adjusting the height of a bicycle seat, you’ve got to make it fit you before you use it.

We’ll talk more about how to fit things to you as we go along, but for now just remember that you are the center of your universe, as it were.  Stuff needs to fit you, not the other way around.

Good Biomechanics.

At its base, this means that:

  • you’re doing your best to maintain an alignment in your body so that it is exposed to the least amount of gravity’s pull;
  • that you’ve set up a base that is shaped to your movements;
  • that you’re letting the big muscles do the majority of the moving;
  • that your breathing is easy and natural (also a big statement);
  • and that the majority of the force traveling through your body travels along the bone lines (instead of bouncing around in your body like a pinball, causing varying amounts of havoc).

Neutralizing accumulated tension.

Stress happens.  It’s inescapable.  Doesn’t matter how well you use your body, what kind of goodies you have in your work/life/sports.  What does matter is what you do AFTER you do these activities.  NOT before.  You can do plenty to keep stress from accumulating or stay flexible – but unless you do something to decompress after you do your thing, you will experience the inevitable encroachment of tension, stress and pain (far faster than it normally happens, anyway).

OK, now, here’s the good news: none of these things are difficult.

Consistent application of the ideas I’m going to be presenting will give you GREAT results – and quickly.

And, most importantly, I’ll do my best to reduce it down to the simple and practical while we’re doing it, so that you can use it right away.

Finally, if you haven’t already, go read my post about chairs so that we can all start off on the same footing for the next post.