Taking a Stand: Standing might be natural, but you can still do it wrong

If you’re on your feet for hours, posture matters. A cushy mat doesn’t hurt, either.
A low-tech but effective method for adjusting my monitor's height.

Twenty-five years ago I met my future father-in-law for the first time over dinner at the sorely missed (by me, anyway) Indigo Coastal Grill in Morningside. It was a pleasant evening that involved fish cooked in parchment paper and glasses of zinfandel (it was the eighties, after all). I felt confident of successfully making a decent first impression.

Then, as we walked out to the car after dinner, he shook my hand and said he’d enjoyed meeting me. “You know,” he added. “For being so young, you have terrible posture.” Then he slid into his Honda CRX and took off.

“Don’t take it personally,” said James, my future husband. “My dad always says what’s on his mind.”

Easy for him to say. Could that comment be taken any way but personally? I sat up straight on the ride home.

In the quarter century since then I’ve grown to adore my father-in-law while learning that, yes, he can be brutally candid. I’ve also worked on my posture, but know full well that—especially when seated in front of the computer—my bearing is less Captain von Trapp and more that of a breaded shrimp.

A yoga phase a couple years back helped. As I eased into week two of standing at work, I kept hearing my yoga instructor patiently explaining tadasana, or mountain pose, the posture to which one returns between standing poses in classic yoga.

“Now leeeennnnngthen your tailbone toward the floor,” she would say, elongating the word “lengthen” for a full two seconds. It took me a few classes to understand what this really meant: tuck your butt in to avoid a swayback.

“Drop your shoulders awaaaaay from your ears,” she’d continue. In other words: don’t hunch up.

Keeping a straight back and loose shoulders helped tremendously, but you can’t get anything done at a standing desk with your arms held at your side tadasana style, so I consulted a few online sources for advice, including helpfully named notsitting.com. The consensus view for proper alignment: have your worktop around elbow height and the monitor at eye level and a little over two feet away.

All great. But my ankles and feet were still getting tired, so I succumbed to the Amazon algorithm. People who bought the standing desk conversion kit like mine, the Amazon robots pointed out, also bought cushy, impact-absorbing mats. I ordered the “Sublime” model from Imprint ($59.99 for the twenty-by-thirty-six-inch model) and as soon as I placed my feet on the quarter-inch thick padding gave out the relaxed “aaaah” that eluded me in all those yoga classes. Now I know why these types of mats are used in pro kitchens and on factory floors; they cushion your feet and ankles and absorb some of the pressure of standing.

A few other notes on the experiment’s second week:

  • Determined to spend no more money, I’m still tweaking the height of
    my monitor using stacks of books. This is okay although I worry about
    the monitor wobbling. So far the IT person hasn’t come by.
  • Spiky heels will damage the impact mat. So it’s farewell pumps and
    kitten-heeled slingbacks, hello flats, wedges, and platforms.
    Instructions with the mat, and on various websites, suggest simply
    slipping off high-heeled shoes and working barefoot, but I just can’t
    imagine doing that at work.
  • I haven’t dropped any weight yet. That, I suspect, is due more to
    June being a month with lots of birthdays and celebratory meals in
    our family than with sitting vs. standing energy expenditure. I’m
    definitely moving around more during the day.
  • On the plus side, I have noticed a slight increase in tone around my
    belly and torso. Standing uses core muscles whether you’re channeling
    your yoga instructor or not.
  • Last Friday I worked at home, and without even thinking about it,
    stood at my home-office desk. This worked fine for sorting papers and
    reading. Not for typing.

The experiment so far by the numbers:

Average time spent standing at work: 5 hours (all those darn meetings require sitting)
Average motion increase during the workday: 1,000 steps
Pounds lost: 0
Waistline inches lost: 0.5
Amount over budget: $59.99 plus shipping for a cushioned mat
Estimated productivity lost due to discussing the standing desk with coworkers: 3 hours
Likelihood I will figure out a standing-desk solution at home: 80%