Standing vs Sitting

Ira Feinstein: There has been a movement over the last decade to encourage people to stop sitting at work and start standing. From a Feldenkrais® perspective, is standing really the silver bullet we’ve been told it is?

Stacy Barrows: We have a tendency in our culture to fear monger. A researcher will discover the horrible effects of “X,” and then we’re told to avoid it. Sitting is a great example of this, an activity that’s now referred to as “the new smoking.” We’ve been told not to sit, so we’ve started to stand. But what happens when people who have been sitting at a computer for 8 hours a day start to stand at their computer for 8 hours a day? Often the answer is pain.

I’ve heard from numerous clients that their attempts to make the shift left them feeling horrible. If we take a step back and look at the bigger picture, this shouldn’t come as a surprise. Why would standing solve the problem of sitting without having its own unique set of challenges? It’s being still—which happens seated and standing— that people have a hard time doing without experiencing resistance.

 Challenges of Standing

IF: What is it about standing that can be so challenging?

SB: Standing, to some degree, is an unnatural state to do for an extended period of time. It’s actually farther along on the developmental chain, believe it or not. As toddlers, we quickly go from being upright on two feet to walking. With walking, the action of shifting one’s weight and going from one leg to the other provides us an opportunity for us to relieve one leg and reduce the load of being still.

Standing, by itself, is a very high level of skill, just like walking on heels, or walking on stilts, and activities like that. I think we tend to oversimplify what it is to stand. It is more than being in one position like you’re in a rested state. You’re in an unrested state because you’re not able to reduce your stress by using what’s called your proprioceptive system, the system that allows the body to vary muscle contraction in immediate response to incoming information regarding external forces, very easily.

IF: Are there other potential challenges, beyond pain, that people may face when they try to make the transition from sitting to standing?

SB: My husband is a writer, and he has a standing desk. When the standing desk came out, it really was fascinating to watch its effect on his writing. Sometimes a mindset that was working well when he was sitting would be lost when he started standing. How people think is tied to their body!

Standing with Ease

IF: As you’ve been exploring how to help people stand with more ease and comfort, has it changed the way you stand?

SB: Here’s something I found interesting in my own experience. I have not really settled into doing meditation very easily. I was an active kid, and my mode of thinking comes through movement; being still has never come easy. As I deepened my study on what it is to stand comfortably, I naturally started to meditate standing! It blew my mind when it first happened. Upon reflection, I realized that since I’m more comfortable standing than either sitting or lying down, it makes sense that meditating this way would be more accessible to me.

IF: From standing comfortably to meditating standing: that’s quite a development.

SB: True. The key to self-improvement is becoming aware of the micro-movements missing from our movement.

Stacy Barrows, is a Guild Certified Feldenkrais PractitionerCM, Doctor of Physical Therapy, and PMA Pilates Instructor. She is the creator of the Smartroller® tools and author of Smartroller Guide to Optimal Movement, 2nd ed. Stacy co-owns Century City Physical Therapy, Inc., and specializes in movement re-education to all ages.