I started working with a colleague recently. (We’ll call him David. Names changed for obvious privacy purposes)
One of his concerns was shoulder and neck pain after working at the computer. He’d had problems with a frozen shoulder before, and wanted some help with his set up at the computer. After looking at how David sat at, and used the computer, I was able to make some suggestions of things he could try to make life easier. After two weeks he is now pain free!!
Some things we talked about and changed: The angle of your thighs into your pelvis joint is important:
Ideally your thighs should be at right angles to your pelvis or sloping down towards the floor. Your knees shouldn’t be higher than the seat you’re sitting on. You want to be sat on your sitting bones for support, rather than slumped backwards. If you are taller than average, you need a higher chair than average, and ideally one that is flat (i.e. does not slope backwards- hard to find these days! If necessary try a stool instead)
When you lean forwards your weight can then travel into your feet, so your feet are helping and sharing the work.
Having your pelvis lower than your legs creates a situation where your pelvis tends to tilt back making your lower back rounded. This makes the spine unable to support the head and shoulders higher up- making it more likely excess work is happening, and more likely to have back/shoulder/neck ache.
For your fingers to be supported in their actions the wrists need to stay in line: bent wrists mean that the fingers start having to do the work of the arms- which isn’t great. A general principal is that strength comes from moving along the bones. When you use your fingers, you want the weight of the arms to provide downwards “force” or weight, and the fingers to move as lightly and lazily as possible. That means your elbows should not be lower than your arms, the same idea as your knees not being higher than your pelvis in sitting. If they are, sit on a cushion! (ideally a hardish one, like a yoga block- they’re more supportive.) Then the weight can find an easier pathway to the keys.
Screen Height. The normal advice is that eye level should be at the top of the screen. As there is so much extra stuff at the top of the screen these days, that could be altered to the top of the written material- when your head is tilted down your neck and back muscles have to do more work than if your head is upright (Try it! Lower and raise your head to where you would see the horizon and back down a few times, noticing what happens at the back and base of the neck. Feel how having the eyes and head low encourages the back to round, and if the eyes and head are higher the back (between the shoulders) can be quieter. Then also experiment with leaving the head in one place and moving the eyes up and down.
Glasses. My client wore varifocals to work at the computer, which had a very narrow band in which he could focus on the screen. He had to keep his eyes and head still, and lower his head downwards in order to see what he was doing. Which allowed very little movement at all, was compressing his neck, and appeared that it might well be contributing to the neck pain and headaches. I suggested David might want to try a second pair of glasses which had a good focal length for the screen so that he could freely move his eyes and head (we’re all different, so measure this distance at home before you go to an optician, they may have a different idea of screen distance- this happened to my client too- he’s taller than some, so likes the computer a little further away than his optician.)
Few of us are one sized, but these days most furniture and tools are. We need to make minor adjustments to make them fit- a little like those of us who are on the shorter side usually have to take trousers up when we’ve just bought them.
I’ve come to the conclusion we are simply not, as humans, designed to stay monotonously still, and especially fixing both head and eyes. Regular screen breaks, changing the focal points of looking, are important for both eye and general health.
I saw a talk from Russell Delman (a Feldenkrais teacher and zen master) on attention and how we use it. One interesting question asked was how do you pay attention? Do you go out and meet the words of another person right by their face, do you meet them half way, or do you allow the information to come to you? When we go out rather than allow information to come to us, there is a tendency that the eyes, and head also come forward too. When we come off our axis the head is no longer well held by the spine. (Try it yourself- slowly move your head forward (as if you’re jutting your chin out) and back, and notice what moves underneath your head. Notice which position as you slowly move from one to another feels stronger or weaker, which feels more grounded. Notice when your head is forward how it pulls a little on the muscles around the adam’s apple. How far down your back can you feel the neck muscles in your head? Is this different in sitting than standing?)
Another question he asked was do you feel yourself when you concentrate on things/people? Actually he phrased it as “Can you feel your bottom” (Add a southern drawl, and you’re there) If we can learn to stay with ourselves whilst with others we have more of a chance of feeling what we’re doing physically as we do it. Not always possible in the case of extreme emotions, in which case withdrawal to a space where we can is a first step; but if we start practising on the bus asking ourselves how we feel, what each of our parts are doing right now, we’ll surely get there, one piece of mindfulness at a time.
Likewise if we’re on the computer working, (and its easy to get drawn into the screen) and keep a little piece of our attention on what our bodies are doing and how, we are more likely to stay in better shape.