Everything responds to training. Every body responds to the messages that we are sending it. Even our daily habits are 'training' us to move in a certain way and results are not always a preferable outcome.
It’s a common complaint that people arrive in the centre with strains and sprains that are exacerbated, if not caused by poor posture at work and poor postural behaviour that is reinforced by work place actions and behaviours. We all have to sit at desks for some period (well ok not all of us) and multiple screens and transposing information from data sheets or documents can and does affect how we sit and stand for most of our working day.
I do have the theory that in the wide landscape of corporate life and workplace stresses, we develop ‘work personalities’. We are all different people at work. We have roles to fulfil, targets to meet, focus to be maintained and people to manage. All these create a persona that is not necessarily our normal ‘personality’ to the outside world.
It can be said that some people take these personas into their physical being. That we create a physical response to the personality that we are inhabiting at the time. I noted when I first started in this industry that I was getting a lot of middle aged, middle management females with the same neck and shoulder issues. I noted to myself that this all stemmed from a real ‘squaring of the shoulders’ that these women all had in common. My conclusion, these women were ‘squaring themselves up’ to deal with the environment in which they were placed. Now I could be inventing theories here but as a person who was obsessed with posture and movement, it was really obvious. These ladies were squaring up for battle. It was even evident in their late nineties/early noughties fashion sense. Ok so we aren’t talking shoulder pads to rival Alexis Carrington in Dynasty, but still I felt that this was an issue.
More logically I note it when dealing with traders in the CBD. Working across multiple screens and sat at a desk for hours on end often means that without even realising it, you are getting stuck in a certain position and working on a single screen for 30mins that is actually sat at an odd angle to your seated posture. Transcribers have the same issue, constantly with the head down reading information that needs to be typed up, resulting in a downward and rotated position of the neck. You may not think that this small factor would have such a detrimental effect on your neck or back – but you’d be surprised. Upon addressing this fact with clients, we have actually gained good results in reducing issues with pain just simply be addressing the workplace posture.
In my years of dance training, you become obsessed with movement. Obsessed with ‘concepts of movement’. It is after all the thing that you do actually ‘study’. (yes I did a Degree in ‘moving’) One of the concepts that we worked with in movement was the ‘movement within stillness’. The concept that even in a precarious extended and balanced position on your toe, with your leg up behind your head, you arm stretched out in front and all balanced on a surface point that makes a Milano Blahnik stiletto look like a platform, when you can’t possibly extend your tendons or anything any further – within all this perfectly poised stillness and balance is movement. The image used a lot was similar to a corkscrew. The pinpoint driving downward and rotating into the ground (as in going into the wine bottle cork) whilst the arms and body are forever floating upward and outwards and away in an ever expanding arc of movement. Two opposing forces pulling you apart. Along with this is an upward line of movement in the front of the abdomen whilst there is a consequent downward rotation along the spine – much like the chain on a bike, with a big cog in your pelvis and the small cog in your head. This idea of movement within stillness was the way to achieve that balance and seemingly hold it in limbo infinitely whilst you waited for the music to hit the cue to move on!
So what does this have to do with me being seated at the desk? I’ve worked with some people that are so concerned and obsessed with posture that they become too locked and too rigid in their posture. Sitting at the desk there should be movement constantly going on in the bodyEven the most erect person who sits at the desk high and refined, has a constant circle of movement and motion going on inside. It’s like the flow of rips under the surface of the ocean. Small tiny motions and adjustments and flows and ebbs that constantly move and keep the muscles fluid and moving.
A recent Facebook post on “13 Things Former Dancers Do” (for those who know me – I only click one or two boxes honestly) talks about the obsessions with posture and the constant moving patterns that are habitual. Yes its true, because we are taught to MOVE. The body is not meant to be still. To hold in constant tension and ‘position’ is detrimental to the flow of the entire physical being. This is why dances appear nuts and do weird things like talk to you with their foot on the fireplace mantlepiece. It's opening and extending our bodies in a way that has become normal - it's what our bodies need to do. Range of motion is normal and extension of the limbs, albeit in rather extreme positions and at somewhat inappropriate moments is a response to the way we have been trained and told our bodies what it should be doing.
So being aware of posture is important. Avoiding seated positions that are incorrect is one thing but then also being able to understand and appreciate that you shouldn't be too 'rigid' within that is also true. Gentle postures are ideal. Relaxed positions that are correct but not 'held' in position so rigidly that your muscles are exhausted by the end of the day. The other ideal is true, that we shouldn't be seated too long. Set the alarm - every 57min, take a walk in the office - read a memo but do it standing. All these factors encourage movement and extension and actually allow you to open up your body and keep it free and healthy.
The onset of the ‘standing desk’ is a marvellous step in the right direction. Although let’s not be fooled – standing for 8-10 hours a day is no replacement for sitting 8-10 hours a day. The industrial revolution and industrial assembly lines taught us this in the 1930’s. Adjustable standing desks are the ideal way to get your workplace posture sorted, because we MOVE from seated to standing. Movement is key.
A lot of workplaces invest in ergonomic assessments and expensively designed work stations that are designed with the human in mind. Oddly, (and I may be lambasted here) I don’t believe in ergonomic desks and chairs. We should be able to hold ourselves in a posture that enables our body to deal with standing/sitting and still be able to maintain our posture. It’s like blaming your crook neck on your smart phone – it’s an external blame. Movement and exercise are important to keep your body trim, taut and terrific so that when you are stuck at the desk all day, you have the muscular capacity to deal with it. Let’s not blame Matt Blatt for our postural woes!
What of the 'personality' effect? Are you a different person at the workplace than you are in your social time? I know I am. Especially when placed under pressure and with deadlines, or when you have to go into a negotiation meeting or stand your ground on an issue or assessment. All these actions create that 'work personality' that have associated emotional responses. Heart rates increase, dilation of pupils, even frowning. If we go further into this physicality, you can notice other traits, like feet flexing up and down, arms resting behind the head when you are thinking hard on a point, standing forward when delivering a rebuttal. All these actions are physical representations of our personality and over time they can have an influence on our body.
Some life coaches and behavioural specialists talk about how to 'change your perspective' or adopt a different position to a situation when you are trying to change an habitual emotional response to a situation. Instead of 'losing your head' and wind up screaming at some poor person in a call centre when you are dealing with Telstra (come on we've all been there), changing your physical state can often change your emotional response and help you to keep it all together a bit more before succumbing to an enraged beast by 12pm. Shaking it out, shifting your weight, even a deep breath - changes your physical state which can give you that extra 'beat' to compose, prepare and deliver information that is required with a quiet calm and air of serene dignity. Much nicer than a red faced balding man with bloodshot eyes and hoarse voice. If this awareness can be brought to your physicality, you can tap into how to change your posture and indeed the messages that you are sending your body to maintain a much more appealing demeanour as well as a more palpable blood pressure measurement.
Again, here movement is present. a step forwards or backwards, relaxing the shoulders, you may even roll your head from side to side aka a boxer before a match. One does this to calm oneself before an event - there's a reason - it brings about clear focus and an awareness of the body as a whole. Sharp focus and a still point from which to spring, punch, leap, launch, speak and negotiate! All these things are important to understand and be aware of so that you don't become a restrained and rigid person who needs to come in for a massage every week because your head is going to explode. Instead you can come in and have one of those 'buddhas and candles' treatments everyone seems to request of me.
Find your movement and workplace posture and there will be a candle waiting for you in my office.