Alexander Technique Help for Computer Users – Part 8: Using a Laptop
Using a laptop presents its own special challenges. In my last blog I looked at ways to set up your work station, and in particular your seat, to support you better as you use your computer. And I repeat again that more important than the ergonomics is the way we use ourselves. In fact, if we use our body well, with awareness and understanding (as we learn to do with the Alexander Technique), we can cope well with all manner of situations – and we don’t have to rely on the ergonomic set up to do it for us (not that it does!).
The beauty of a lap top is that it is portable – we don’t need to be stuck in just one arrangement and variety is definitely good. When you observe people working on their laptop, however, what you see is usually not so great. You see people hunched over and scrunched up, with neck compressed and arms held tightly in, and many more unnatural and uncomfortable contortions. Sound familiar?
At a table or desk…
If you’re using your laptop at a desk or table, everything I wrote about your seating arrangement last week holds true – raise the height of your chair so that your hips are a little higher than your knees. Tilt the screen of your laptop so it’s easy to read without having to scrunch down. Starting out from a comfortable upright position balanced on your sit bones, allow your eyes to look down toward your screen, initiating a slight rotation or nod forward of the head (without collapsing your chest). Experiment with your screen to find the right angle of tilt so you can see it easily.
It’s also useful to be aware of the hinging action of your torso at the hip joint. This is where the higher level of your seat comes in really useful. You can hinge your whole torso forward a little at the hip joint, moving it as one lengthening, breathing unit, to enable you to see the screen better while maintaining a beautifully integrated back.
A laptop also makes it easier to experiment with non-traditional set ups! There has been a lot of press recently about the dangers of sitting too much, and with a laptop you can easily mix things up and try out standing. As with sitting, watch that you are not hunching over, sticking your head out, as you work. Place your laptop, and tilt the screen back, so you can see it easily while maintaining an easy, upright stance, just using your eyes to initiate a slight nod forward of the head from the very top of the spine. As you stand be aware of your feet on the ground, shifting your weight so you have a more-or-less even distribution of contact with the ground, and think of your knees as soft to avoid locking them. Remember even though you are standing you are not rigid – that you are breathing and moving even in relative stillness.
On your lap!…
If you are using your laptop actually on your lap, sitting on the couch perhaps, put something under it, if possible (a cushion?) to raise the height somewhat, making it easier for you look at it while maintaining a lengthened spine. Again, tilting the screen is important to enable you to see it without scrunching up, especially important if you have nothing underneath it. If you like to sit cross legged, a cushion can be doubly helpful in raising the height of the laptop and giving it more of a surface to rest on. Be especially careful not to have it too close so your arms are cramped into your body as you type.
There can be many challenges to our bodies in using the wonderful technology available to us. Laptops offer us flexibility and variety – we just need to remember that how we use ourselves is the most important part of the equation in our own comfort and productivity.
Do you use a laptop? Do you prefer it to a desktop computer? What do you find challenging? Let me know – I’d love to hear from you.
Thank you, Imogen! You know I was eagerly awaiting this post.
Actually, I think my chair is TOO high. I have to look down to my screen. That could be part of my problem.
Experimentation will be underway soon!
(And yes, off to share on Facebook!)
If you weren’t working at a laptop I’d advise you to raise the height of the screen, rather than lower the chair, but changing the chair height might help (though I’d still advise that your knees be lower than your hips if possible). You might be able to tilt the screen back more to make it easier to see without lowering the height of your chair. Great to experiment – that’s what it’s all about. And not having one fixed position is good too!
This is terrific, Imogen – the pictures really bring home the message. I have been so guilty of misusing my laptop in terms of body posturing. I do like standing up, which I’ve been doing for a few weeks, but sometimes I just need to sit down! I’ll experiment with what you are describing here.
The Reflective Writer
Personal-Professional Balance Through Writing
I’m very impressed that you’ve been standing so much to work. I must admit I wouldn’t like to stand all the time (and I mostly work at my PC to be honest), but it certainly changes things up, which is good. Having a variety of positions available, as well as flexibility, mobility and awareness within them, is best. And in my opinion it’s HOW we use our body, whether sitting or standing, that is key.
Great post Imogen – and I was particularly stuck by the photo of you using a laptop on your lap! It shows a position very much like one suggested by Galen Cranz, Professor of Architecture at the University of California, Berkeley, and an Alexander Technique teacher who, in my most recent podcast, suggests that a lounge chair can be very a great way to sit. Seems like your position has lounge-chair-ish aspects!
Check it out: http://bodylearning.buzzsprout.com/382/47272-an-alexander-technique-perspective-on-user-friendly-chair-design
Hi Robert! Thanks for your comments. That’s interesting that you made the connection to the lounge chair Galen mentions in the interview. I didn’t think of it while I was sitting on the couch, but the thought crossed my mind when I saw the photo. Great interview, by the way!
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