Tuesday, April 19, 2011

License to Fidget

Have I mentioned how much I hate chairs? Seemingly unassuming, these flat ledges for our bums on top of four little legs are one of the most toxic additions to modern society. And yes, most lawyers (including me) spend hours upon hours per day sitting in them.

The problems are numerous – they tighten our psoas muscles, creating low back pain, they cut off circulation to our feet, and they force us to be in a position that nature never intended, certainly not for the number of hours per day we are there. But these are small potatoes compared to their allowing us to spend our days completely inactive.

The last post was about the bouncing foot syndrome that permeates law. The problem with the bouncing foot syndrome is that it is often caused by stress, and it is done usually unconsciously. Certainly, it is something about which we should be mindful, but is it all bad?

The NY Times reminded me again this week, however, that the bouncing foot syndrome serves another purpose, one that is far less problematic and is actually probably very good for us. When we bounce, we move, and when we move, good things happen in our bodies from a reduced waistline to increased brain power. Chairs mean we enter the physiology of inactivity (an old NY Times article on the topic), where our metabolism slows down, our neurons turn off, and disease begins to take over.

The good news is that the littlest movements make a difference. A recent study found that the difference between slim people and obese people who were forced to follow a strict diet without exercise was that the slim people just move more in general – the little movements, including tying shoes, and yes, bouncing feet. These little movement contract muscles and move neurons, and they help prevent the disease and other problems associated with the physiology of inactivity.

So what does yoga have to do with it? The difference between the bouncing foot “syndrome” and movement to counteract the physiology of inactivity is the very basis of yoga – mindfulness. To the outside observer, there may not be a difference. You, while sitting in a chair, can make these small movements, and others will not know whether they are stress-induced or mindful attempts to reduce the problems associated with our sedentary lifestyles.

To you, however, the difference is huge! It is also not discussed in either of the NY Times articles above. When we act from a place of mindfulness, asking our bodies to move, we are actually in the process of managing our stress rather than being controlled by it. Much of our stress is caused by the sedentary lifestyle, by the demands that we associate with sitting in a chair in front of a computer all day; we associate the desk with work and deadlines and stress. But if instead of allowing that stress to control us, we choose to control it, we can begin to move beyond the stress.

What can you do? Start by taking a breath. Ask yourself where your body wants to move. Is contracting your toes enough? Is tapping your foot enough? Is rolling your shoulders enough? Is standing up and sitting down enough? Do you need to take a walk down the hall? What does your body need now? The good news is that most of these little movements can be done while working at a desk, and each one will aid in counteracting the slowdown of metabolism and the stress caused by sitting all day long.

Call it your license to fidget – but to fidget mindfully.


© 2011 Rebecca Stahl, all rights reserved


  1. I want to take your yoga class.

  2. Maybe try sitting on a fitball? Leo Laporte swears by them for sitting at a desk. :-)

  3. @Michael - Great idea. Those balls are great!