July 29, 2012

Thoracic Park. ~ Rocco Marinelli

Why you need to take a plastic tub in to work and rig up your own stand-up work station.

Chickens get all the breaks.

Californian law now mandates that battery hens must be able to stand and turn, ruffle their feathers and support their own weight whilst they live out their miserably short lives in cages. Of course the end game remains the same, but meat eaters can tuck in to a juicy breast knowing their bird was slaughtered standing on its own two legs, dignity intact.

In human offices, however, as long as we are sitting down in chairs, the eggs and flesh of our intellectual productivity continue to be harvested with the same sort of disregard for our ultimate health.

Given what we now know about the hazards of sitting down for extended times, any occupational health program that doesn’t move towards minimizing chair time is political window dressing.

The idea that sitting all day is detrimental to your health is taking root in mainstream fields.

Carried not on the prevailing winds of sensibility, but hand sown by entrepreneurial endeavor, crossing over from the alternative with the sexy insignia, “activity based working.”

Brent Binder’s piece on the harmful effects of sitting down tells the whole health story. The modern office is a thoracic park—stooped shoulders and curved upper backs repeated on every row, on every floor in every building in every city of the world.

We should all be standing up for a good part of the day, but realize that we’re going to meet considerable organizational resistance if we do.

The cultural and social norms of most organizations and the narrow-minded acceptance of the chair as the easiest way to do business can be a stronger force than our will to create a better working environment for ourselves.

When I first began standing at work, the singular question asked by every passing colleague was, “What’s wrong with your back?”

Their perplexed frowns suggested that the only improvement on sitting at work might be lying down. The idea that the solution was a preventative measure was unfathomable. Of course, stand-up workstations in an open-plan office of low-walled pods and cubicles stick out like dog’s balls.

In an office of sitters, standing up is standing out.

The greatest resistance, however, didn’t come from colleagues but from the very group in the organization there to assist. I returned from holiday to find my desk that had been returned to the uniform state of those around it. My make-shift workstation had been thrown out by, of all people, the Occupational Health and Safety Manager.

An audit was being carried out for work-place safety and my standing workstation was deemed a blemish. Note that it hadn’t been just dismantled but thrown out straight in to a dumpster, a finality in decision making that closed the matter, never to be discussed again.

It may have been jerry-built, it mightn’t have been pretty but it wasn’t a safety issue. The issue was with homogeneity, with regularity, with being able to walk an auditor down a hallway to show off symmetry and unblemished uniformity.

The trend is changing, and in less than a few years standing up will not only be accepted, it will be the cool thing to do.

Groups of workers will rotate between sitting down, standing up and moving around because it will be sold to the health departments of corporates by clever people who will make a lot of money. A number of studies already support the idea and the imperative is now being felt by employers to be seen to be doing something.

Within a generation we’ll reflect the same way we look back at smoking in the office. But don’t wait for a study to corroborate what good sense tells you is already true: we are active creatures by design and to switch off your core for eight hours a day is inviting injury and atrophy.

Who cares if you’re the only one? Others will follow and wouldn’t you rather feel energized and healthy?

In the interests of your own health, you need to stand up with your own two feet. Buy a large, cheap plastic container—the kind of large tub you use to stow gear in the garage—turn it upside down and plonk it on your desk. Place your screen and your keyboard on it and start standing for short periods.  Build up to longer and longer periods and trust me, in a few months you will feel a lot better for it.

If Freud’s nephew Edward Bernays was able to create a generation of female smokers with the evil “torches of freedom” campaign, can’t we instil a good habit for office workers everywhere by standing up together en masse?

Don’t recline back in your chair and wait for your employer to do something. After all, the battery hen didn’t receive better working conditions because of concerns for its health, but because producers wanted us to feel better about consuming the eggs and meat.

Rocco Marinelli is a former Corporate from Melbourne, Australia. When his jerry built stand-up workstation was dismantled by Occupational Health & Safety for the sake of aesthetics over ergonomics he got the sense that the office was no longer for him. Quitting his job at the end of 2011, he travelled to India to study Ashtanga Vinyasa. He now lives in Istanbul where he teaches Ashtanga Vinyasa and is subbing the Mysore program at YogaŞala. Connect with Rocco on YogaŞala.


Editor: Lara C.

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