Hey you, yeah, you, sit up straight.
Do an audit of your body and posture right now. Is your back straight? What about your legs and arms? How much physical space are you taking up at this moment?
Notice how the simple act of being aware of your posture makes you automatically correct it. You don’t usually think about it, it’s automatic. You sit in a particular way, you stand and walk in a particular way. You’ve been doing it ever since you were a toddler so your posture in different situations has become a subconscious habit through years and years of repetition.
But that does not make it correct.
Just because you’ve been doing it for such a long time does not automatically mean you are doing it right. With the average person spending more than 1700 hours per year at work and spending up to 5.11 hours per day watching TV, researchers have estimated that we spend as much as 15.5 hours per day sitting down. In other words, if you are not sleeping, or you are most likely sitting down.
Your posture and how you use your body has a deep effect on your mood, energy, self-image (more on that later) and can lead to, or prevent, many physical injuries. With so much time spent sitting and with correct posture and body language being so vital to your daily productivity, you need to know how to set yourself and your workstation for optimal results.
How your posture and body language affect your mood and energy
Up to 75% of communication is non-verbal. Your body language will dictate how other people perceive you. It also affects your own self-image, how you see yourself. Your thoughts, moods, actions and even your level of energy, are directly related to how you use your body.
Your posture is typically a reflection of how you feel inside.
If I tell you there is a happy, successful, person who just got a promotion behind number door number one and a frustrated, overwhelmed office worker who just got the news that he needs to work during the weekend behind number door number two, can you imagine them? How are they using their bodies? The happy person is probably standing up, smiling from side to side, hands up in the air, breathing deeply and enjoying the moment. The office worker is probably slouched over his desk, hands are rolled up in tight first, clenching their jaw and tensing their entire body.
Your thoughts and your feelings affect your body. But is the opposite also possible? Can you make yourself feel in a certain way just by changing how you use your body.
Let’s do a little experiment. Stand up right now, step away from the desk (or leave the smartphone to the side). Stand tall. Spread your legs a little bit. Now spread your arms and form a V with them. Imagine how an Olympic runner looks like when they have just crossed the finished line and won a gold medal. Take that position and hold if for 10 seconds. Your mood will improve, you will feel a little more confident and powerful. This is called “power posing” (more on it later) and it can be a powerful tool in shaping your own moods.
When you sit or stand straight you increase the blood flow and circulation within your body. Just like when you bend your limbs in some awkward position you can experience numbness due to a decreased blood flow, when you keep them in the right position, you facilitate the blood reaching all parts of your body.
A good posture also increases your oxygen levels. When you sit with your back and head straight, you are allowing yourself to take deeper breaths and pump more air into your system.
Maximizing your blood and oxygen circulation will maximize your energy level as well.
You may not even be aware of how unfriendly and injury-inviting your workspace is. A lot of the pains and discomfort you experience are linked to how you sit at your desk or workstation. Here are the most common pain areas:
Improper posture can lead to repetitive strain injuries (SRI), carpal tunnel and even pinched nerves in the shoulders, neck and back from slouching and keeping your upper body tensed for extended periods of time.
It’s time for an ergonomic makeover!
How to sit properly for maximum productivity
Sit all the way back in your chair. Your lower back should make full contact with the back rest behind you at all times.
The angle between your upper body and your lower body should be between 90° and 100°.
Both feet should be touching the ground.
The angle at your knees should be the around 100°.
Pull your shoulders and your neck and head back. Take a deep breath, expand your chest as much as you can. This will automatically correct your posture.
It should feel natural and relaxed. If you feel pain or major discomfort in any area of your body, something is not right, consult your doctor. Some discomfort is natural as this might be an unusual position for your body at first. You might be used to slouching all the time so it will take some time for the body to adjust to the new change.
Consider getting a lumbar support. It will greatly improve your posture and in some cases, the comfort of your chair.
How to set up your desk ergonomically
Now that you have optimized your sitting posture, it is time to do the same for your entire workstation.
Adjust your chair height relative to your desk. When you lay your hands on the desk, elbows pinching your body, they should form an angle of 90° to 120°.
Place your keyboard and mouse in such a way that you allow enough space to place your hands and forearms on the desk. Lift your keyboard up at a 7° angle. Standard keyboards have 3 levels – flat, half raised and fully raised. Half-raised provides that 7° angle in most cases.
Adjust the height of your monitor so the top of it is at your eye level. Tilt it at 10° to 20°. This will allow to look and keep your head straight, which should feel natural.
Place the monitor at least 20 inches away from your face to reduce eyestrain.
To get the optimal height measurements for your workstation, adjusted specifically to your height, use this workstation planner.
For when you are not working
We’ve covered the best ergonomic set-up for when you write, or when you do some other work on the computer. However, you use the computer for more than just work. For the times when you want to watch something, the optimal ergonomic set up is a little different. The team at LUMOback have found out after extensive research that the best angle for watching while sitting down on your desk is at 135°.
“When you maintain a neutral pelvic position with a straight and upright back, the vertebrae in your back are nicely aligned. This takes a lot of pressure off of your spine and back muscles, which can reduce back pain.”
The easy version
If you don’t feel like taking out the measuring tape and the protractor, but still want to optimize your desk and posture in just a few minutes check out this video.
How to optimize your posture
Setting up your desk and chair will help you increase your productivity, but here is how to take the concept even further:
Take breaks – every 40 – 50 minutes take a 5 minute break. Stand up, walk around, stretch and relax your joints and muscles (this is also a great energy booster). Set up a timer so you don’t forget to take your break.
Stretch – while sitting down and during your breaks. Here are some “deskercises” that you can do even in a crowded office.
The Alexander technique – a technique developed in 1980 that teaches you how to step unnecessary muscle and mental tension during your day-to-day activities. This video will help get you started with this technique which is recently gaining popularity.
Yoga and regular exercise – physical movement and more specifically, yoga, can greatly help, not only with your posture, but with your overall health and productivity. I’ve been doing yoga for the last 1 month (consider me an ultra beginner who cannot do half of the basic poses) and I’ve already experienced an improvement in my posture and agility.
Presence and awareness – nothing beats being aware of your posture at all times. Not the most ergonomic chair with lumbar support, not the optimal desk setting. They will certainty make your day better and more comfortable, but at the end of the day it is all on you. Be present, be aware of your body and how it is positioned. The simple act of asking yourself every couple of minutes “am I sitting properly, can I improve my posture?” can lead to great improvements so don’t underestimate it. Sometimes the most simple tactics are the most effective ones.
How to “Power-pose” like a champion
Amy Cuddy, a Harvard professor performed a very interesting experiment with her students. She divided them into two groups and made one group stay in positions of power for 2 minutes. Open arms, spread legs, open body, trying to occupy as much physical space as possible. The other group were told to stand in powerless positions for 2 minutes. Slouched, arms and legs close to the body, taking as little space as possible.
Immediately after the 2 minutes, each student was sent to a mock job interview where they were grilled by a professional interviewer, trained to provoke and really test their patience. The interviews were recorded and the tapes were watched (with no audio) by people who were completely unaware of the experiment. They were simply told to choose which people they would hire and which they wont. The majority chose to hire the students who had previously “power-posed” for 2 minutes.
“Power-posing” is the simple act of standing in a position of power for a couple of minutes. This improves your own perception of yourself and makes you feel more powerful. Powerful people were found by Professor Cuddy to be more confident, optimistic, passionate, authentic and present. “Power-posing” even affects your hormone level. In her research Cuddy discovered that the students who “power-posed” for 2 minutes had a 20% increase in testosterone (the hormone of dominance) and a 10% decrease of cortisol (the hormone of stress).
The conclusion of the experiment was that standing in positions of power for just a couple of minutes will, not only affect your mind and your self-image, but will also actually produce physiological changes in your body.
The next time you want to raise your power level and decrease your stress, try doing one of these for a few minutes:
To hear about the full experiment and all the findings, watch Amy Cuddy’s fascinating TED talk.
Over to you now
You spend so much time in a chair that it is worth spending a little bit of it to optimize your experience. Your feelings and moods dictate how you use your body, but the reverse is also true. Use that to your advantage. Make yourself feel better, increase your energy, “power-pose” even and you will boost your overall productivity and performance while simultaneously reducing the risk for injuries.
In what other ways can you optimize your sitting experience? Share in the comment section below: