Alleviate Workspace Discomfort with the Lying-Down Desk
Perhaps you’ve pondered getting a standing desk. Maybe you've even thought about a treadmill desk. But have you considered a “lying-down desk”? While standing and walking both have the potential to combat the compressive and even painful effects of sitting, the very act of standing or walking may distract you from the work on your desk. Conversely, your work may distract you from attending to your ideal alignment, and standing and walking without structural integrity can lead to other kinds of compression and pain. Fortunately, a restorative alternative we can easily build for ourselves at home (or in an exceedingly relaxed office environment!) effortlessly supports a long spine and inner spaciousness, so that we can maintain our focus on our laptops, reading, or any fine work we are doing with our hands.
The lying-down desk has the additional benefit of boosting the chest up so you can breathe easily and deeply, while gravity moves the shoulder heads nearer to the earth and deeper into their sockets.
By utilizing well-placed props, we can conjure many of the same decompressive benefits as standing or walking with a tall spine. The lying-down desk “supports the spine in neutral, while minimizing sheer compression to the lower back,” affirms Dr. Jonina Turzi, a physical therapist and yoga teacher. The lying-down desk has the additional benefit of boosting the chest up, so you can breathe easily and deeply, while gravity moves the shoulder heads nearer to the earth and deeper into their sockets. When you do return to activity after time spent in this pose, there is a better chance your shoulders will be moving from the “home” of their sockets, instead of in the forward and down position that sitting can encourage, and that neither standing nor walking necessarily abets. While lying down is, admittedly, not as physically strengthening as standing or walking, the inner ease it fosters could very well encourage creativity and concentration. Marcel Proust, Truman Capote, and William Wordsworth are just a few of the proud pantheon of writers who worked while lying down.
Lying Down Desk: Version 1
To create a basic lying-down desk, as shown here, you will need a bolster (or firm, long cushion), a couple of blocks (or Russian novels), and a yoga blanket (a towel or thin pillow would also work). A lapdesk would be ideal, but a blanket or coffee-table book could be used to support your laptop or your reading.
Note: If you are planning to lie down for a lengthy amount of time, you may want to build the lying-down desk atop a soft surface (like a couch, bed, futon, or a few layers of yoga mats and blankets).
Build a bolster ramp by placing one block on its middle height toward the center of the bolster and one block on its highest setting underneath the part of the bolster where your head will soon be. Place a folded blanket at the top of the bolster.
Sit at the low end of the bolster, lean back against its incline, and bend your knees up toward the ceiling, with your feet grounded. You want the bottom of the bolster at your lower back. Your hips should be on the ground, your tailbone moving back and down toward your blocks and bolster until the lower back curves gently in and up. Arrange your lapdesk or equivalent over your thighs. If you’re working on a laptop, try opening it to a fairly obtuse angle (more than 90 degrees) so the screen is easy for you to see while lying back. Be sure to adjust the positioning of the laptop/lapdesk so that you can type easily—heels of the hands lifting, wrists smooth. Resist the temptation to lift your head up to get a better look at your screen; try to keep the back of your head heavy, your neck relaxed. If you must bring your head higher, refold the blanket under your head. (Use as little head support as you can while still being able to see what you need to see, since a high degree of neck flexion will be uncomfortable after a while, and the habit of over-pillowing the head can foster forward-head posture.) You can feel free to play with the height of the blocks and the slant of the bolster. A bolster that is too low may leave you feeling sleepy. Angle the bolster steeply enough that you retain your alertness while supporting your spine.
Lying-down Desk: Version 2
If you have the time, props, and desire to make yourself even more comfortable, place another bolster on its long, thin edge a foot or two below the bolster ramp and perpendicular to it. Fold three additional blankets into thick squares and place one to either side of the bolster ramp (where your elbows will soon rest), and one a foot or two below the second bolster (where your feet will soon rest). You can prop them up with blocks if you need to add some additional height.
Sit at the base of the bolster ramp, and lie back as in the first version of the desk, but now bend your knees over the second bolster, adjusting the blankets and blocks as needed so that you have support underneath your feet and forearms.
To counteract any tension that might accumulate from keeping the hips flexed for long periods, feel free to change the position of one leg at a time. You could, for instance, keep your computer balanced on your left thigh, while you straighten your right leg out in front of you. You may want to experiment with half-bound angle pose next, bending your right knee and opening it to the right. It might also feel good to fold the right shin in under you, so that you are sitting on, or just inside, your right heel in half hero’s pose. After spending several minutes in each of these poses, repeat them all on the second side. To counterpose the slight flexion of the neck that attends the lying-down desk, stand up from time to time, interlace your hands behind your head, and tip your chin up toward the ceiling for several breaths, all the while lengthening through the crown of the head. Be sure to walk around hourly to reenergize your body and give your mind a break from the work you’ve been focusing on—even if that work is starting to feel easier than ever before.
Amber Burke lives in Abiquiu, New Mexico. She teaches alignment-based and restorative yoga privately (and occasionally at Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs), as well as various writing classes at UNM Taos. With her anatomically-focused articles, she aims to broaden the interface between yoga and physical therapy. She and Bill Reif, MPT, are hard at work on a book for yoga practitioners with injuries and pre-existing conditions. She is a graduate of Yale, the Johns Hopkins Writing Seminars MFA... Read more>>