If You're Going to Use a Standing Desk...

To Sit or Not to Sit?

In recent years, research has highlighted the health risks associated with sitting for long hours. Now evidence of the health risks of long hours spent standing is beginning to appear in the media.

So if you do work that requires you to be stationary for much of the day, what should you do? It seems that the best way to minimize the strain on your body is to alternate between sitting and standing, and to take breaks to walk and move around as frequently as you can.

The Role of Posture

However, another important consideration here is posture. While it’s likely that either standing or sitting all day will take some toll on your body, learning and applying healthy posture principles can reduce the strain on your system.

When I was considering using a standing desk, I asked a fellow qigong practitioner about his experience using one. He said, “I always tell people, if you are going to use a standing desk, you need to learn how to stand.”

I knew exactly what he meant. For years I have been practicing a form of qigong that involves standing relatively still for long periods of time.

This qigong practice - which is called zhan zhuang or “stand strong” - is believed to be thousands of years old. Variations of it have been used for meditation, healing illness and injury, cultivating extraordinary health, and developing power for martial arts.

One of the major reasons people have turned to standing desks is musculoskeletal issues such as back pain or neck pain. While standing may shift the pressures in your body and relieve the pain that is caused by sitting, unless you are standing with healthy posture, you are likely to develop pain and disfunction in the some areas of your body.

Learning healthy standing posture is an essential aspect of qigong and tai chi, and the same principles are applied to the sitting positions of Taoist (Daoist) meditation. It’s quite possible that learning these techniques could counteract many of the health concerns about sitting and standing for extended periods.

We’ve given some basic instruction on a few of the most fundamental alignment principles in tai chi and qigong here on our blog. Here is a video on standing alignment. We also recently posted a series of videos on sitting posture.

Those videos provide most of what you need to know about sitting or standing at a desk. In this post, I’ll just cover a couple of points about applying those posture principles to standing (or sitting) at a desk - so I recommend that you watch those videos to learn the basic alignments.

How to Set Up Your Standing Desk

If you are working on a computer, an important consideration is the height of your keyboard and your screen. There are many resources online that provide information about these two aspects of creating an ergonomic workspace. From our perspective, the main concern is positioning them in a way that allows you to maintain good postural alignment.

Screen Position

The main concern with the height of your screen is to allow you to maintain a good head and neck position. The key alignment here is that you are gently lifting the base of your skull just below your ears while allowing your chin to sink, so that the back of your neck is lengthened. Maintaining this alignment, position the screen so that if you are gazing straight ahead, you are looking at the top of it. You should be able to comfortably look to the top and bottom of the screen by moving your eyes up and down, rather than moving your head.

Keyboard Position

Position your keyboard so that the angle between your forearm and your upper arm is a little more than 90 degrees - maybe 100 to 120 degrees. Experiment and feel what is comfortable for you. The purpose here is to position the keyboard low enough that your shoulders can relax and sink - without making it so low that your wrists are bend back to the point where they lock up or feel strained. Make sure that you broaden your shoulders and have a little space in your armpits, so that your arms are not collapsed against your body.

Regular practice of tai chi or qigong is a way to train your body to maintain these postural alignments, so that you don’t need to think about them so much. Additionally, these movement practices are excellent for counteracting the effects of standing and sitting for long periods.

Even with the best posture in the world, however, a balance of movement and stillness is key to maintaining health. So remember to take breaks to move around when you can, and change positions whenever you notice that you can’t seem to be comfortable.

Have you used a standing desk? Do you apply qigong or tai chi principles to how you stand or sit at work? Let us know how it’s going in the comments section below.