Category Archives: Furniture and Fashion

35 Purses and Posture (Part 2)

photo of black leather handbagDo you have problems with back pain, neck and shoulder tension? Do your habitually rounded shoulders bother you?

Then try making some changes to how you do things.

One area where most of us can make positive changes is with the amount of stuff we carry around on a daily basis and the bags we carry it in.

After making some simple observations and asking yourself some simple questions (outlined in the last post) if you want to try making some changes, here are some suggestions:

Clean It Out—we clean out our closets periodically. Clean out your purse regularly! Pare down your contents and only carry things you use every day. Place things you need occasionally in a drawer at work or in a specially designated bag in the glove compartment or trunk of your car. That way you can get at them but their weight is not dragging you down on a daily basis. A lot of little things don’t individually weigh much. But when you put them together they can add up to a considerable weight. One thing I do on a daily basis is to clean out the change in my wallet. I put quarters in a special tin in my car to use for parking meters and the rest goes in my piggy bank. When the bank is full I take it to the real bank and get dollars for my change.

Downsizeinvest in a relatively small purse that fits only those items that you are going to carry around with you (after cleaning out in step one)—and doesn’t have a lot of extra space! I find that if I have a large purse I will fill it. So I don’t tempt myself with the extra room. Also, consider looking at a non-leather purse simply because many leather purses weigh a lot even when empty. There are a lot of fantastically stylish and beautifully made non-leather handbags out there.

Cross Traininvest in a bag that you can wear across your body as opposed to slinging it over one shoulder or carrying it in one hand. Allowing it to hang across your body gives your shoulders a respite from tightening to hold on to the bag when it is slung over one shoulder. Your shoulder girdle then has a chance to widen out and rest easily on the top of your rib cage, how it is designed to do. Furthermore, it leaves both your hands free. Make a conscious effort to alternate which way your new bag crosses your body.

I do practice what I preach.

Below was at one time one of my favorite purses:

large leather handbag

Stylish but BIG. And I FILLED IT. Although I didn’t carry it over my shoulder I had to carry it in one hand. And that still caused me to tighten my back, neck and shoulder slightly on that side.

I then went to only cross body bags and I used this one for a while:

red leather shoulder bag

This helped a lot. Especially if I alternated the way it crossed my body. But for me I still could put too much stuff in this bag. And the weight added up. So, I downsized further.

Nowadays this is the purse I use:

small grey leather shoulder bag

And this is what I carry around in that purse:

purse contents

Image of black leather purse courtesy of artur84 at

34 Purses and Posture (Part 1)

photo of purseMany of my students ask me for advice on choosing an office chair. Very few ask for advice about their purse.

I used to broach the subject of purses very delicately with my female students. Most women are very connected to their bag of choice and the amount of stuff they carry around in it. Bringing up the subject inevitably caused a bit of conflict. My natural tendency is to avoid conflict. So, I would tread lightly.

But this did not benefit my students.

So, I decided to stop avoiding conflict. Now I do not hesitate to initiate a conversation with my students about their bags—and especially if they are constantly complaining of neck, shoulder or upper back tension or rounded shoulders. Because making some changes to the style of purse you carry and the amount of stuff you tote around can often make quite a difference in terms of your posture and pain.

Start by making some simple observations and asking some simple questions:

Weight—plop your purse down on a scale. If you don’t have a scale at home use one at the gym or in the produce section of the grocery store (probably best when nobody is looking!) How much does it weigh? You might be surprised. Also, try taking all the contents out and weighing the bag empty. Depending on the material it is made out of and the hardware on it you may already have considerable weight invested even before you put anything in it. Might your neck, shoulder and back pain or tension be exacerbated by the amount of weight you are carrying around on a daily basis?

Contents—when you get home at the end of the day today dump out the contents of your bag on a table. Put in one pile everything you used today. Put in a second pile everything you did not use today. More often than not, the pile of stuff you didn’t use is larger than the pile of stuff you did use. Is it worth the pain or tension in your neck, shoulders and back to carry around the weight of stuff when you need it only once a week or even less frequently?

Style—do you have a handbag, shoulder bag, hobo, or cross body bag? If you carry a bag in one hand or over one shoulder stand in front of the mirror with your eyes closed and put your bag in the hand or sling it over the shoulder that feels natural. Now, open your eyes. Look and observe the level of your shoulders. Are they even? Most often what happens is that you tense the shoulder carrying the weight, lifting it up and forward slightly and sometimes pulling it in toward your body. Observe others. What do the majority of them do? (by the way, an airport is a great place to observe people carrying bags because often they are carrying a lot of weight and the habit gets even more exaggerated and therefore easier to spot).

And if you happen to not carry a purse the above can equally apply to tote bags, briefcases and workbags…

Image of purse courtesy of John Kasawa at

30 Vision and Posture (Part 2)

The detrimental effects of typical smartphone and tablet use on posture is not a problem of our modern age. It is just an extension of the problem of the flat work surface.

picture of women hunched forward over an i-pad

Our bodies are not designed to read things that are flat on the table.

Plopping a paper document flat down on your desk in front of you to read has the same effect on your posture as placing your smartphone or tablet flat on a table. Same thing with reading a print magazine or newspaper laid flat out on the table as you graze over your lunch or held flat in your lap as you relax in the sauna at the gym.

Because the joint at the top of the spine (way up high between your ears) only allows the head to look down so far you end up bending the spine at the base of the neck, dropping your head forward or bending your whole spine (as I am doing reading on my ipad above).

Many years ago it was not uncommon for people to work at standing sloped work surfaces. At some point our current standard desk that accommodates right angled sitting and has a flat surface took over.

I am not debating the pros and cons of sitting vs standing desks. I’ll save that for later.

What I want to focus on is that the angle of the work surface is important regardless of whether you choose to sit or stand.

The optimal angle for reading is 60 degrees off the horizontal give or take. For writing, 10 to 20 degrees off the horizontal. You don’t need a lot of expensive ergonomic equipment in your home or office. However, some simple tools can go a long way to help your posture.

I have previously talked about a book stand, such as the bookchair below, which accommodates not only a tablet but also print magazines or books.

A bookchair like this can hold a book or a tablet in a much easier position to read comfortably.

A bookchair like this can hold a book or a tablet in a much easier position to read comfortably.

Reading an i-pad that is supported by a book stand at a good angle for viewing

Ah much better! Notice I have also given my entire back support with a big firm square pillow

I have recently also invested in a good quality slant board desk primarily for writing. It is adjustable and designed to hold reading materials but also comfortable for writing by hand.

Both a bookchair and a slant board can help transform a standard flat work surface into a more posture friendly work surface. If you invest in one or both make sure they are adjustable. See the Resources Page for some suggestions.

10 Beware the Backward Sloping Chair

backward sloping chair 2Try this experiment—this works best if you have two identical chairs. If you only have one you can work with that. The chair should have a relatively firm seat—a typical kitchen chair works well. Determine if the chair seat (a) slopes backward (the front of the seat is higher than the back), (b) is level or (c) slopes forward (the front of the seat is lower than the back). You will create two different seats so you can contrast them—one that slopes backward and one that is level or slopes forward a bit. You will need several same sized books to adjust the chair seats. If your chair is level put two same sized books under the front legs so that the seat slopes backward. If your chair slopes backward put two same sized books under the back legs so that the seat is level or slopes slightly forward.

Sit on both chairs. Sit toward the front of the chair seat and don’t lean back. This is called active or task sitting (as contrasted with restive sitting, when you lean against the back of a chair). Don’t think too much. See if your body prefers one seat over the other.

Which one would you prefer to sit on if you were going to work on your laptop at the table, eat your lunch or write a letter?

Most people find is that they prefer the chair with the seat that is flat or sloped slightly forward.

Why would this be?

Sit on your chair that has the level or slightly forward sloping seat. What are you sitting on? If you have your bottom behind you (refer to Post 9) you will be sitting on your sitting bones. Remember that these sitting bones are rounded or rocker shaped.

The fact that your sitting bones are rounded is very important. What happens when you put a round object on a backward sloping seat? It rolls backward! When the sitting bones roll backward it pulls the pelvis backward and causes the whole trunk to collapse into a c-shape, putting pressure on the lower back. It is nearly impossible at this point then to bend forward using the hip joints. Instead you are left to bend at your waist, which is not a joint at all. A recipe for disaster!

To deal with backward sloping chairs I often fold up my jacket and use it as a pillow to level out the seat as best I can. There are commercially made wedge shaped cushions to help correct backward sloping seats. If you invest in a wedge cushion I suggest a rather firm one.

Take a survey of how many chairs you see that slope backward, even slightly. You will be surprised how ubiquitous they are.

So, why do so many chairs have backward sloping seats? One reason is that they are easy to stack.

Our bodies are paying a high price for the ease of storing a bunch of chairs!

If this topic is of particular interest to you check out this podcast with Galen Cranz, author of The Chair: Rethinking Culture, Body and Design