Stand Up or Die Trying

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You know what's funny? Back spasms.

Not twitches. Not tremors. I'm talking ferocious muscle contractions so sudden and violent they hurl you out of your fancystupid office chair and onto the hardwood floor in a fit of OMG WTF, as the world crashes in all around, kicking you like a stupefied dog.

How cute you are! Lying there in the fetal position, writhing and moaning like you're giving birth to the devil for what seems like 40 days and 40 nights but is really only about 15 minutes, as wave after wave of piriformis-clamping agony slam into your spine like a herd of hammerhead sharks. Look! The entire universe is mocking your futile attempts to right yourself or even roll sideways, much less reach the phone to text Jesus that you're almost certainly dying, so please ready a room. Fun!

Pure comedy, really. The first time this happened to me - about four years ago - I actually did laugh, in between screams. After all, as a yoga teacher of plus-minus 15 years, I'm very much attuned to body alignment and function. I teach all sorts of techniques and meditations for back-strengthening, body suppleness, deep calm. I'm aware and, uh, impervious.


Right. What? Suddenly I can't stand up? Suddenly even attempting to move even a few inches is fraught with excruciating contraction and gasping howls of pain? What's not to laugh?

But the real joke was this: I had completely deceived myself. See, I've also been writing this very column for upwards of 15 years (indeed, both careers have dovetailed rather seamlessly). Which means I've also spent thousands of hours sitting at a desk for all those same years. Deadly.

But, so what? I'm a yogi. I teach, move, bend, sweat hard for a good 3-4 hours every day. I eat zero processed food. I haven't been inside a McDonald's in 20 years. I'm in excellent shape, sufficient to convince myself that I'm somehow immune to the myriad bodily afflictions that come from idling numbly in a chair every day since the Clinton administration.


Surely you've already heard? Sitting is awful. Sitting is the new smoking. Sitting for long periods is the single-most horrible thing you can do to your body - and, it turns out, your brain - next to twerking or eyeball tattoos or joining the NRA.

The studies are everywhere, and they are unanimous: the sedentary lifestyle isn't just unnatural, it's devastating. And here's the kicker: This is largely true even if you stretch, exercise regularly, eat right, drink superlative whisky and take great care of your body, mostly. Doesn't matter. If you sit for long enough periods, you're in peril. Period.

That first spasm of mine was so debilitating I had to be hauled to the ER, where they shot liquid Ativan straight into my lower back. But even though the doctor said it was probably just yoga overwork, the muscle fibers micro-tearing to the point of triggering the nerves into violent recoil, I wasn't so sure.

I know my body too well. I know my limits, how to honor and respect my physical boundaries, not just blindly hammer through them. I've been a serious Vinyasa practitioner for years. It had to be something else.

I hobbled home and my gaze landed on my awesome, retro Eames/Herman Miller leather executive chair from the '70s, the same fantastic, timeless, minimalist chair my father had in his office during his latter business years. Aha! I was suddenly convinced it must be the culprit. After all, that chair didn't tilt, lumbarize, or offer me a thousand worthless shares in a dumb startup. It was just... a chair. Gorgeous and perfect in steel and leather, but still sort of... Luddite.

So I did the obvious thing. I bought a used Aeron. Famous! Ergonomic! Space-aged! Ugly as hell! Reminds you of SF's first dot-com boom every time you look at it, given how every greedy startup from Webvan to bought truckloads of these overpriced beasts in the '90s for their pampered staffers just before the crash, after which they dumped them in the streets like the bones of dead Aeron! Problem solved, right?


Just last week, my second spasm hit, only slightly less excruciating than the first. This time, less laughing. This time, I'd had enough.

Some excellent acupuncture, PT advice and fast research later, I landed on the now-obvious conclusion: I must have (a slow-building, long-delayed version of) Sitting Syndrome, the same malady that's been crushing spines, numbing minds and encouraging obesity nationwide since the Info Age began. All my years of yoga certainly helped mitigate the damage, but the hours spent sitting are just too overwhelming. Gravity always bats last.

I wised up quick. One hour of hardcore research later, and I finally joined the cult most of my serious writer friends signed up for years ago: the cult of the standing desk. In my case, an UpLift 900 sit-stand thing that I can raise and lower at will. We'll see how it goes.

Because here's the thing: While sitting is deadly...

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Mark Morford is an award-winning columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle/SFGate, the author of The Daring Spectacle: Adventures in Deviant Journalism, and the creator of the Mark Morford's Apothecary iOS app. He's also a well-known ERYT yoga instructor at San Francisco's Yoga Tree, and the creator of the Yoga for Writers series of workshops and retreats. Join him on Facebook, or email him. Not to mention...