Adjusting to a Standing Desk
About four months ago I started my first office job after years of chasing after little Korean babies and singing ABC’s with them while sitting cross-legged on the floor. I led a fairly active life in my previous role as an ESL teacher and yoga teacher. I cycled around 6 km (4 miles) each day to and from work, plus an additional 6 km (4 miles, again) if I went to Kaizen, my yoga studio, which I did 2-3 times a week, totaling about a 12 km (8 miles, I’m sure you got that by now) cycle commute a few times a week and always a 6 km ride five times per week. On top of that I was chasing the children and practicing yoga, acro-yoga, and teaching yoga. I was active.
Then I moved back to the US. Land of the car. I drive everywhere here. To work, to the grocery store, to see friends, to teach yoga. No more daily cycling. Even if I lived near enough to work to cycle, the winters here are brutal and wouldn’t warrant a cycle ride. That is a huge decrease of activity each day. Add to that the fact that I have been working an office job in which traditionally people sit sedentarily in an office chair for roughly eight hours per day. It has been a depressing transition and I mean that literally as maintaining high daily activity levels boost endorphins, is a way to shed anxiety, and give time to meditate and think through day-to-day problems; I have been in a slump without my cycle commute to work or extremely active yoga community.
Coincidentally, just as I was interviewing and preparing for my office job, I took out a book from the library called Deskbound: Standing Up to a Sitting World By Dr. Kelly Starrett, a physical therapist, movement specialist, and author. I could not have picked this book up at a better point in my life. In fact, I brought it into work during my initial weeks of work as I was working through the pages and read it at my new desk.
I should back up and explain that there is a new common believe that sitting and living a sedentary life through adulthood is deemed bad for us, and you don’t have to have a doctorate in physical therapy to reach that conclusion. Simplified, sitting takes the weight-bearing responsibility from our feet and legs to our hamstrings and glues, which are not engaged when we sit. Also, tightness in the front of the body increases because muscles such as the psoas (that runs from the mid abdominal area to mid-thigh) engages to pull our legs up into a sitting position. Most people find positions such as a low lunge difficult to perform due to this tightness. A primary reason why sitting is so detrimental to health is how difficult it is to sit with good posture in the spine, especially while working on a computer. I can’t tell you how many students I have that complain of low back pain, which may in part be due to aging, but I think we also have to consider the way that most of us age – sitting poorly in a chair most of the waking day and not moving well when we are not in an office chair (and then we sit in the car to go home, and sit at the table to eat dinner, and sit on the couch to veg out… lots and lots of sitting!)
Because of all of this, within my first few days of work at my new job, I decided that I needed to modify my desk situation in order to be able to have a standing desk. I got lucky because my office area has a desktop area for the monitor and keyboard and a counter top at about chest level that is perfect for placing my monitor on. Instant standing desk! Then all I had to do was adjust the keyboard and mouse to be at a correct height for typing. I modified that by using two plastic paper sorters stacked on top of each other, it’s not the most stable thing in the world, but it works with caution.
As Kelly explains in his book, it takes time to adjust to a standing desk. For the first few weeks and months I used my modified desk from 1-2 hours per day. The rest of the day I relocated the monitor and keyboard back into their initial spots and sat in my office chair cross-legged, a position that is more comfortable on my back – I’m able to align my spine and ground through my sit bones in the chair (you can find detailed instructions on how to sit and stand safely in the Deskbound book.) Without even noticing it, only three months into the big adjustment, I was standing up the entire 7 hour day, spare a 30 minute break to eat lunch seated and 30 minutes of my lunch break that I use to take a walk outside. I’ll point out again that it took about three months for me to get to the point of standing at my desk for the full day without discomfort, so do not despair if you try a standing desk and find it difficult, give your body time to adjust.
If you’ve heard about the trend of standing desk and would like to learn more, sign out Kelly Starrett’s book from your local library, or buy yourself a copy, and get to reading. You can buy yourself a standing desk or spin the creative side of your brain and DIY a desk from things you have around the office already. Before you set up your desk, know that there are rules outlined to follow on how a standing desk should be set up for the most effective way to stand in order to benefit your anatomy and to not cause any unwanted harm to the joints.
Stand strong, everyone!