A Case for Mindful Movements in the Workplace
I’m Kim, Catchfire’s inbound coordinator teaching all things fitness after hours. At the office, I talk brand strategy and social media. As a Pilates & Barre instructor, I talk posture, alignment and breath. Whether your priority is to stay in shape digitally or physically, I’m here to highlight the parallels between fitness and workplace environments. It’s no secret that we’re loyal stewards to phones and desktops in this digital age. Our posture is compromised as we type and scroll, but even the most ergonomic office set-up can’t do all the work for us. I’m here to share my perspective on how awareness of tiny muscles and simple movements can make a difference beyond your 9-5.
Background + Philosophy
I’ve worked in the fitness industry for a little over a year. I started in college, leading limber groups of peers, and now teach mostly women two to three times my age at a large athletic club in southern New Hampshire. Adapting to the different age demographic was no small feat. Through this, I was able to hone in on my strengths and I began to shape my approach to teaching, focusing on the why’s and how’s of it all, rather than the who’s and the what’s.
Let’s face it. We’re human, not superhuman. We’ve all struggled with intrinsic motivation at some point, especially when we’re exercising. Some fitness instructors are all motivation, and that’s great. After a year of teaching, I’ve realized there’s only so many ways you can tell your students, “You can do it! Just four more counts!”. So, I took a different approach. As someone who started with a very basic understanding of anatomy, the more I taught, the more I craved deeper knowledge. Am I making this workout safe and effective for all ages? Are their brains working too? How will this workout help them tomorrow, next week, maybe even next year? So I got my hands on all the best movement textbooks I could find, and eventually signed up for Pilates training. Through asking myself these questions over and over, I was able to pinpoint my teaching credo: Work smarter, not harder.
I plan my classes around simple day-to-day movements and am sure to incorporate cues that make sense to the body. It’s a delicate balance between creating a sense of familiarity for the big muscles, then progressively entering a less familiar zone by engaging the smaller, complimentary muscles in a safe and functional way.
Smaller Muscles Need Love Too
Every movement starts in the brain. Tiny nerve impulses send signals to your muscles to contract, allowing you to pick up your phone and scroll through your feed of choice. This action is so second nature in our 21st-century world, that it keeps us with our heads down, eyes glued to screens and our brains in an idle state. But think about what happens when you tell yourself to sit up a little taller. Did you inhale? Did your chest open? Did you drop your shoulders? Did your chin lift up? Actively doing this will improve not only your posture but your cognitive process.
Finding a mind-to-muscle connection starts with an awareness of the smaller muscles that work before the big muscles. Larger back muscles like the latissimus dorsi and trapezius occupy the majority of the real-estate on our back body and tend to absorb the brunt of our heavy-lifting (literally). But the rhomboids live in between the shoulder blades, attaching at the spine near the base of the neck and connect laterally to the scapula (shoulder blades). These unsung muscles have a higher function than you may realize. They pull the shoulder blades towards each other, consequently opening the chest and allowing the spine to stretch taller.
How to Stay Mindful of Your Alignment (and Why You Should Care)
Here at Catchfire, we do our best to keep ourselves moving. But when we’re at our desks? That’s the tricky part. Finding alignment in a static position can feel like more work than when you’re actually moving.
So how can you keep yourself aligned? Think about the cues the instructor used in your most recent class. It probably included some iteration of: “Press evenly through the balls of the feet, soften the knees, draw the abdominals in and up, stack the spine, open the chest, pull shoulders back and down, reach tall through the crown of your head.” Even if you take away just one or two of these cues, try repeating them out loud, writing yourself a note or setting a reminder on your phone. Remind yourself frequently enough to combat that inevitable slouch. Try it when you’re sitting, when you’re standing, when you’re walking. A strong, supple spine may not be an obvious priority, but do it for the sake of longevity and vitality. Your 60-year-old self will thank you.