A change to save my neck

From time to time, some of you contact me to find out more about an eccentricity of mine that involves sitting on the floor (ie, on a tatami mat that amounts to my “office”), usually with intention of adopting the same habit.

I first explained why I started doing that in the Yoga Journal seven years ago, and then showed you two (of the many possible) poses in which I sit — ie, Lotus and Virasana.

The original reason I started sitting on the floor was to make and then keep my hip and knee joints supple, and to have better posture.

But I have been noticing an unpleasant side effect: Even as I was keeping my hips open, I was ruining my neck and shoulder muscles.

I should have thought of that: While we did evolve to sit on the ground, not on chairs, we did not evolve to sit on the ground in front of … laptops!

Fortunately, Matthew Gertner has come to my aid, and now deserves a big Thank You. Matthew is one of the many among you whom I only “know” through the blog (ie, we have never met offline). But he has also been trying to get himself down onto the floor (are you down now?).

Matthew advised me to save my neck by investing in three new things (whereas I usually try to avoid accumulating clutter):

  • a laptop stand, to raise my screen to just below eye level,
  • a Bluetooth mouse, and
  • a Bluetooth keyboard.

This week, I followed Matthew’s advice, and already my neck feels a lot better. Once again, Thank You, Matthew, and here is another close-up of what it looks like:


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28 thoughts on “A change to save my neck

  1. That’s awesome, Andreas. I’m glad to hear that you are already reaping the benefits of a raised laptop. I’m still recovering from moving house, but once the dust settles (quite literally since we’re renovating the new place) I plan to get a Japanese table built as soon as possible. Unfortunately this is going to take another couple of months, but I’m very keen to give it a try.

    • I’ve been planning to measure my position when sitting and make sure I get the appropriate height, then have it built bespoke. (One of the advantages of living in the Czech Republic is that this is quite affordable.) The comments here are definitely very helpful in that regard. I hope this ergonomics thread becomes a regular feature!

  2. Your posture is admirable (as is the clean uncluttered feel of the space), but against the wall, I see picture to be hung. When did you move?
    :)

    The other shoulder tip is to notice where your shoulders are when you drive. Are they raised in anticipation or stress? How close to your ears are they?

    Why sometimes, I look to the right while driving, and I see my shoulder.

    • I just turned my head and … slammed into my shoulder. OK, Patanjali, where were you when that one went up?

      Pictures: I am shocked that I haven’t hung them up yet. It’s been 8 months since I moved.

    • Looking at your clean space, your posture, your keyboard, and your intention, I say that you are a most remarkable person.

      If only the world were filled with such men as you.

  3. The height of keyboard and screen still looks a bit dodgy too me. There are lots of diagrams on the web (just search for “computer ergonomics”). The angle of your elbow should be 90 degrees, with he wrist and hands horizontal, which suggest the table you are using is a little too high. The the top of the screen should be level with your eyes, so you look slightly down to see the complete screen. Obviously, if you use a lower table, you will have to raise the laptop stand, so the screen is at a compfortable height, or even buy a large flat screen to attach to the laptop, on a stand at the righ height, which will ease eye strain when working at home.

    The keyboard height and angle of your wrists is the one that is most worrying and the fact you are resting the hands on the hard edge of the table. The lower photo looks better than the upper photo in this regard. If you get any feelings of strain in the hands or wrist, then you should follow my advice and try to make the keyboard such that your lower arms and wrist are horizontal and the elbows at 90 degrees. You also should use pads to rest your hands on, rather than hard edges of the table. Basically bent wrists are bad. Here is a quote from one of the many articles on the web “Over time, health problems may occur as a result of high repetition of hand movements, forceful typing, or having bent wrists whilst using the key board. Carpal tunnel syndrome is a painful condition that affects the wrists and hands following pressure to the median nerve. Numbness may also be experienced in one or both hands and even the simplest of tasks involving the hands becomes a painful and sometimes impossible activity.”

    Where I worked, we did a lot of studies on this and ordered special desks with pull out trays for the keyboard (to get the height of the keyboard lower than the desk, so your hands are resting lightly on the keybard), and stands for the screens, to get them up to eye height. There were a lot of problems initially using old style desks, but eventally we found the right design to stop our staff getting problems. We even issued padded rests to be placed in front of the keyboard and padded mousepads, for anyone that wanted them. From they way your are using the keyboard, I think the padded rest for your bottom of your hands would be a good idea. Google for “keyboard wrist rest pad”, they are only $12 or so and will save you from this injury.

    • Thanks for that, John! Are you an ergonomist?

      This is all quite worrying, for it means that I’ve been doing real damage over the years.

      I have an even tinier Japanese tea table (also with a tatami top) that I could put underneath the bigger table as a keyboard rest. I will try that, to get my arms into the 90 degree angle.

    • I am a believer in ergonomics (and no expert, mind you, so take these words with a grain of sodium) but with a caveat… we are all not quite physically alike. That extends to the “optimum” positioning of arms, back, head, and so on. I see the recommendations as just that, as suggestions. I urge that you “listen” to your body, not just while doing a task but also later at rest, find your own comfort. You may need days, even weeks, to find your optimal positioning.

  4. Andreas – standing up for the evidence…. you might want to not sit down for this:

    http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/02/23/stand-up-while-you-read-this/
    NYT’s Olivia Judson

    “irrespective of whether you exercise vigorously, sitting for long periods is bad for you”
    “Sitting for too long switches your body into a “physiology of inactivity”

    By the end of the two weeks, all of them had became worse at metabolizing sugars and fats. Their distribution of body fat had also altered — they had become fatter around the middle.

    • The last sentence is “Beware your chair”. That fits my old tile in the Yoga Journal, “Ditch your Chair”. perhaps chairs (passive sitting) are the problem, not active (floor) sitting.

      Incidentally, I don’t recall Olivia standing at her desk at The Economist, when we were both on the same floor in London. And her waist never exhibited the slightest problem.

    • Before I retired, my work required that I sit, stand, lie on the floor, teeter on ladders, crawl in overhead cable racks, and all other kinds of contortions to get something investigated or repaired. I preferred, when doing desk work, to use an elevated desk with a tall stool. It allowed me to extend my arm for a mouse, more freedom to move about to reach reference books or documentation, and that intangible feeling of being “on top of a problem.”

      Repetitious arm/hand movements were not a big issue in my work. Avoiding straining one’s back or falling out of a cable rack (or off a ladder) were.

  5. Hi Andreas,

    Really outstanding that you can hold this position so long! Is your inner Buddha present to you? Do you find what pours forth to be more sagacious?

    I take a yoga class every Friday to pull away from the world’s noise so I can listen to the noise in my head instead, then act surprised when I hear it.

    Back in 1993 I didn’t own an easel; therefore, I painted my first solo oil on my knees. It yielded an entirely different experience and outcome then now when I stand.

    • I wish I could say that, yes, my inner Buddha is present to me, and yes, what pours forth is more sagacious.

      Alas, I cannot say that. What pours forth is the same old mixture of drivel and occasional insight — at a ratio of about 99 parts to 1 — that poured forth when my butt was on an ergonomic chair in a cubicle.

      Sadly but interestingly, I have discovered, after years of “research”, that a position (Padmasana, Virasana, making googoogaga faces…) cannot replace mental intention. There’s no shortcut to Patanjali. That won’t stop me from looking for one. ;)

  6. Hello Andrea, Interesting to note that I am not the only one who often sit in padmasana when working in front of the computer. I was searching for the keywords ergonomics, sitting position and work. I found that having an elevated keyboard at 45 deg (in fact, a raised laptop stand on an angle from Ikea would do!) helps too. Hats off to you too for adopting the lotus! It’s the most comfortable sitting position after much practice with awareness heh?

    • Hi Matthew. Glad I’m not alone.

      As it happens I recently injured my knee while doing yoga, so I’ve had to settle temporarily for the HALF lotus position. But it works just as well: still keeps my back straight. :)

      (Incidentally, the term “yoga injury” must be the ultimate oxymoron if you’re an actual Yogi.)

    • ‘Comfortable sitting position in the lotus’ would probably sound like a contradictory statement too for most people. :) Oh dear, hope your knee injury sorts itself out soon. I found that strained ligaments etc would usually profit from professional sports massage. Try 66Fit Foam Rollers if you have not already.

  7. sorry to her about your injury.

    you have been very honest about reducing the frequency of your posts.
    have you decided to abandon the blog?

    it would be a shame as you have been the catalyst for so many online friendships.

    if you have not seen the “the best exotic marigold hotel”, the Kipling quote which was your muse for the book is used in a most amusing way :)

    • Oh no, I’m not abandoning anything. I’ve just been unusually and excessively busy, which will become clear in a post I’ve written and will publish later this week.

      Do tell: What is this “best exotic marigold hotel” about?

    • it’s a film abut “out-sourcing” the business of old age. a group of british pensioners find themselves without enough funds to retire in england so they discover a brochure for a the best exotic marigold hotel for the “elderly and beautiful” in india.

      the cinematography is beautiful, all star cast, a tad predictable but definitely worth the entrance fee.

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