“Your mood can improve in 10 minutes even if your biceps don’t look different,” says Centeredbeing co-creator Suzie Carmack, whom I lured to the offices of The Washington Post Express as part of my year-long effort to create a more healthful work environment.
As a group of my colleagues grabbed chairs and circled up for a workshop, Carmack warned us we wouldn’t be sitting for long. Maybe we had spent an hour at the gym that morning and maybe we hadn’t. There were still another 23 hours of the day. “What can we do for them? I call it the movement vitamin,” Carmack said.
The Fairfax resident, who’s getting her PhD in health communication at George Mason, obsesses over how language can motivate or discourage people. “We’re big on using ‘movement’ instead of ‘exercise.’ Exercise is a clunky word,” she says. “And everyone has to move.”
These days, however, movement often has to be within reach of a desk. Whether it’s because of responsibilities that demand constant attention or bosses who frown on afternoon strolls, it can be tough to get away. Carmack’s solution is not to fight the chair but to use it.
So she had us face our chairs, grip the sides of the seat and perform push-ups. (Standing in a lunge lessens the load, while picking up a leg boosts the difficulty.) We turned around to squat, and then took a seat to rotate to the right and the left, holding the stretch for several breaths.
Carmack showed us a variety of moves, including how to maneuver into warrior 2 yoga pose while keeping our butts on the chairs, how to extend our arms to the sides and roll our shoulders forward and backward, and how to walk our legs out from our chairs until we were supported by just our palms on the seats. That’s reverse plank, which helps counteract the effects of sitting hunched over for hours.
We ended the session by lying down with our backs on the floor and our calves resting on the chairs while listening to Carmack talk about respect, courage and kindness. Then everyone floated back to their desks ready to face whatever.
We were also ready to face the next day, armed with tips from Carmack on how to stick with her program. The Centeredbeing Web site features several 10-minute chair-based workouts. And she left us with handouts on “2/4/6/8/10,” Carmack’s numeric device that makes it easier to understand anatomy. Two through eight represent joints that need to be moved every day, and 10 is a reminder to take 10 breaths for mindfulness and to set aside 10 minutes to think about your health.