Let’s face it—most of the time the office is the last place we would like to be. We associate the office with things like: ‘stifling’, ‘stuffy’, ‘confining’, ‘cramped’, ‘stuck’. Most suicides happen on Monday morning. We like to ‘escape’ from the office. Just like the frustration of sitting in traffic causes ‘road rage’, sitting in the office actually causes ‘office rage’. Much of the anxiety and job dissatisfaction in America could be directly traced to the environment. Studies consistently link optimal learning with comfort, relaxation, happiness. Epidemiological survey data shows that only twenty percent of Americans adults are flourishing. More than half of us feel like we are just going through the motions in our life.[citation needed The Science of Positivity ]
I have discovered that the office can be turned into an incredibly fun place to be. It may not become what we think of as our ‘happy place’—like a field of wildflowers, a sandy beach, or a waterfall—but it has vast untapped potential for bringing us more joy and balance into our lives. When set up with movement and comfort (I mean cozy comfort) built into the design, the office can turn ‘work’ into ‘play’.
My loose set of ideas came together when the laptop computer came into vogue. The changes happening in the work force and the office setting have been phenomenal in the past 10 years. More people are working from home, the laptop is becoming the standard norm even for everyday use.
Stuck at a desk job? So was I. After all those years of compulsory education, then college, I had had my fill of sitting. After college I soon found out there was practically no job that didn’t require hours and hours of sitting at a desk. I kept thinking—is this what life is all about?
After many years of study in anthropology, body mechanics and design, I started tinkering with alternative ideas. I broke objects down into functions. Instead of trying to make a better desk or chair, I asked the question ‘what is a desk/chair and what is it’s function?’
The standard desk is considered a surface upon which to set things like papers, books, and computer. The chair is then necessary as a way to put your body where you can do something with the things you set on the desk. When you break down the function like that, you can then ask the question: is there another way to achieve the same goal? While ergonomics experts myopically focus on the sit down workstation, spending millions of dollars per year to make microscopic improvements in chairs, keyboards, and the angle of the screen–I have abandoned that altogether. Instead of the office as a desk and a chair, I have designed an office that is a set of interactive furniture that allows the body to shift from one position to another without interrupting the work flow. It’s almost like being at a spa. Each different position and the movement in-between simultaneously stretches and tones the body, burns calories, massages, restores energy, and provides a sense of relaxation and well being that leads to maximum motivation and productivity.
Wa La! No more sitting still for me. My office is now a series of props and gadgets that allow freedom of movement all day even while I work.
Sitting down doing paper or computer work is a great way to get stuck in your head. We are a society living outside our bodies. According to Reichien Therapy–energy, vitality, chi, orgon energy, circulation, inspiration—whatever you call it—is the result of being present in the whole body, being in the flow. This can be measured with EEG. How many times were we told, ‘Sit still!’ In other words, sit still, inhibit your innate desire to move, do not express yourself through body language like wiggling and stretching, dampen your enthusiasm, learn how to stuff your feelings and get on with the serious work of becoming a boring adult.
Moving the body activates thought processes in the brain which stimulate the flow of creativity. Why do you always have that great breakthrough when you are either in the shower or riding your bike? It has to do with the breathing and movement and brin waves resulting. Just imagine combining the gym or playground, the spa, and the office into one setting. Relaxing, stimulating, exhilarating, calming, nurturing, empowering, freeing yet promoting the most intense ability to focus.
The Dynamic Office or Health Spa Office is not my creation. I simply observed the way people really behave when they are working at home, the beach, hotel, or in the park, and couldn’t help but see the desk was not where it was at. People like to lay in bed and surf the net, just the way they like to watch TV. They lay flat on their stomachs on the floor. They stand at the counter. My contribution is 1) to design furniture which puts the body in a more aligned position than anything else out there and 2) to put this furniture which allows these relaxing and natural positions into the standard office. Just build them right in and treat it as normal. No guilt for looking lazy or being different. It’s sort of like the time someone suggested the Earth wasn’t flat. Well, neither is the office.
Stress is so prevalent in today’s world it is almost considered a given. If you go around with a smile on your face relaxed and at ease, you will probably stand out in a crowd. Stress and breathing are intimately linked. When we feel stress, we hold our breath or breathe shallowly. It is a vicious cycle. The shallow breath creates fear and panic. And panic and fear create shallow breathing. Stress can be consciously controlled through the breathing process. Breathing can be used to change the body’s response to stress. Today’s modern lifestyle of sitting in an office, sitting in a car, and sitting in meetings contributes to the problem. Chair sitting hampers the breathing process by collapsing the chest and lungs and immobilizing the body for long periods of time.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Movement is freeing and relaxing, exhilarating and releasing, therapeutic and calming at the same time. These are the types of things we normally think of getting at the yoga studio, the spa or at the psychotherapists office. In this way, the office can actually become a powerful tool for breaking out of the vicious cycle of stress and confined movement built into our society.
In this new paradigm, the whole room is the desk. Various props support you and your materials so you engage in a dynamic interactive process. You are encouraged to move into different positions. Instead of placing things in a way that causes the least movement, they are placed to encourage movement. Not the kind that is wasted and repetitive, but the kind that feels good and provides relief from one static position.
Of course the Dynamic Office is not going to solve all your problems. And you may be skeptical about the claims made here. Until you’ve tried it, you won’t appreciate just what this design concept can do for your comfort, productivity and well being. And most people squirm when I mention standing up at their desk. The reason this system is so rejuvenating is that while standing up takes physical effort, especially when one feels weak or tired, it plays off of the other positions. When too tired to stand, any of the three other positions can restore energy. When one feels rested, one is naturally inclined to use one of the more active positions such as standing. I have found that if I remain in the more passive positions (such as reclining or lying face down) past the point I am feeling restored, it becomes uncomfortable. So transferring from active to passive and back again, as needed is the essence of the Dynamic Office. This is what provides body and mind with what it needs at any particular time. It also creates a sense of relaxation just knowing that you have options, and you can control your environment at a whim. You aren’t ‘stuck’ at a desk, which creates stress on the body. On the other hand, using the lounge position actually provides many of the benefits of taking a nap. It puts the body in such a state of relaxation that you can actually work and restore energy at the same time.
Depending on your mood, state of energy, and current project at hand, each position offers an optimal opportunity to bring out your best at that time. For unknown reasons, I find that I am drawn to one of the four positions which allows either the stimulation or relaxation I need at that time. Personally, I tend to use the stand up position by default, as it provides a workout and the most ability to move around while working. If I am feeling not quite up to that, I use the Active Sitting position (in my case the Zen Office™. I can be practically comatose from either a late night or having just got back from a long bike ride–I use the lounge position. It looks like I’m being lazy (and feels that way), but the funny thing is I’m still working. The lying face down position is also great when feeling extremely tired, especially for things like reading in bed. I NEVER sit at a table to read (unless it’s a short period or time.) For me, serious reading is a reclining activity. I use every means I know of to restore my energy so I feel better and so I can get more things done.
Here are some guidelines for turning your office into a health spa:
1) Set up your space so you can utilize the four basic positions:
standing, dynamic sitting, lounging, lying down.
2) Engage the process of body awareness and mindfulness. Take some training in the somatic arts such as yoga, The Alexander Technique, Feldenkrais, dance or whatever. There are many online resources and videos such as on U-tube to help you get started and find practitioners in your area. The idea is to wake up parts of our bodies and psyches that have become dormant or asleep.
3) Make the floor a nice place to hang out. This is best done by providing a clean surface. Something inviting—not a synthetic carpet or cold tiles. Tatami mats are real nice for this. Use the floor for things like spreading out papers where you need more room than the minimalistic eco-shelf allows. Of course if you have limited flexibility or other issues the floor may not be an option. Then create an adaptive setting. For instance, a flat platform (like a platform bed) at the height of a couch would provide a floor like surface that is raised.
4) Take off your shoes. Part of this office is putting the body in natural alignment. Shoes are confining and don’t allow the floor sitting and other movements. Use a Footsie Roller to improve the alignment of your feet. If the feet and legs get tired or achey, simply switch positions. Gradual toning and fitness will result. “Flat Feet” do not get in the way of making this concept work. In fact, this can alleviate the “flat feet’ issue altogether. A very therapeutic ‘mat’ for problem feet is to build a small sandbox to stand in while using the Eco-shelf™ stand-up-computer-desk.
5) As much as possible, move and stretch in-between other activities. Pacing is very good for reducing tension. Use floor activities as times to get some stretching in.
6) Equip your office with toys such as yoga props, mini trampoline, dumb bells, stationary bike, Om Gym, etc. When you are in between thoughts, talking on your speaker phone or waiting for a website to download, go to one of your favorite activities instead of just sitting motionless waiting. When you are trying to get just the right phrase for your story, do one of these activities until you have that ‘Wa la’ moment.
7) Personalize your office. Consider a calming environment that invokes a feeling of peace and serenity. Wall hangings, fountains, objects from nature, mirrors. Play calming music and sounds of nature. Of course, this is a suggestion only. Whatever fits your tastes works.
8) Set aside some time each day or each week to maintain the orderliness and improve the functionality and aesthetics of your space.
9) Use natural lighting whenever possible and otherwise incandescent lighting. Fluorescent light disrupts the body’s circadian rhythms. There is ongoing debate about which is best for the environment. But as far as health, fluorescent lights zap energy and rob us of needed nutrients which natural daylight provides.
10) Whenever possible, take meetings or conversations while walking (outside the office).
11) If privacy allows, use a speaker phone. It allows maximum movement while talking and holding the handset to the ear is hard on arm and shoulders.