Kinesthesis – Part 1: Five Senses and the Work Environment

In this and several of the upcoming articles, we will be focusing on the desirable quality of different environmental elements (air, light, water, walls, furniture etc.) in work spaces. We will try to evaluate these elements by looking at them from the inside out based on how our five senses and body systems (respiratory, cardiovascular, nervous) perceive and react to them.

Please take a moment right now to focus on what your body is sensing and reacting to in your surrounding environment.  What are your eyes seeing? What are your fingers touching? What do you smell? People are often surprised to notice how much their senses and systems are involved with their  environment.

Let’s start with a focus on Kinesthesis, our sense of self-movement and position/posture, by taking a snapshot of what my body (Yoko) is sensing and doing right now as I am writing this article in my home office.

It is 4 PM and I have been sitting on my desk chair for the majority of my working hours today. My upper back is straight and I feel the support provided by the back of my chair.  I feel a dull pain in my lower back. I cross my legs and sit more on my left buttock where I feel the soft padding of my chair.  My left foot touches and feels the firm cool wood floor while my right foot dangles in the air. My neck is straight as I look at my large monitor and then slightly bent when I look down at my laptop. My neck feels somewhat stiff.

Like me, 80% of adults are estimated to have lower back pain at some point of their lives.1Murray CJ, Vos T, Lozano R, et al. Disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) for 291 diseases and injuries in 21 regions, 1990-2010: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2010. Lancet. 2012;380(9859):2197-2223. This is not only a physical issue, but also a mental one which impacts businesses.  The repetitive strain on the neck and cervical spine can develop into neuromuscular syndrome that involves depression and anxiety.2Matsui, Takayoshi, and Toshiro Fujimoto. 2011. Treatment for depression with chronic neck pain completely cured in 94.2% of patients following neck muscle treatment. Neuroscience & Medicine 2 : 71-7.  At work, such pain (work-related musculoskeletal disorders) cause an average of twelve (12) missed work days per year among adults in the U.S.3Cohen A, Gjessing C, Fine L, Bernard B, McGlothlin J. Elements of Ergonomic Programs: A Primer Based on Workplace Evaluations of Musculoskeletal Disorders. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; 1997.

Back pain problems are caused by both how we sit or stand (body-focused) and how the environmental elements (space-focused) support our bodies. We discussed this body and space relationship in  previous articles (Part 1 & Part 2 of Body, Space, and Technology). 

In the above snapshot of my day , the body parts I was sensing were my neck, upper and lower back, buttocks, legs, and feet. The environmental elements that either supported or harmed my body were  my chair, my desk, the floor, and my monitor.

My chair works positively due to its customizability. Chairs that are designed with customizability are effective in minimizing strain on the body.4van Niekerk S-M, Louw QA, Hillier S. The effectiveness of a chair intervention in the workplace to reduce musculoskeletal symptoms. A systematic review. BMC Musculoskelet Disord. 2012;13:145-145. The back of my chair and the armrest can be adjusted to fit well to my body shape and support it. The deep cushioned seat helps me by making my upper body tilt slightly backwards, lessening the strain on my spine. Studies show that the best seated posture is a reclined posture of 100-110 degrees, not the upright 90-degree posture often portrayed.5Cornell University Ergonomics Web at

I use a sit-and-stand desk. Using standing workstations is one of the most salient solutions to the health concerns associated with prolonged sitting.6Buckley JP, Hedge A, Yates T, et al. The sedentary office: an expert statement on the growing case for change towards better health and productivity. British Journal of Sports Medicine. 2015;49(21):1357-1362. Yet, even with a good chair and standing desk, I still feel some pain. Why? That is where the human factor comes into play. I often sit cross-legged which twists my lower back and I do not stand up often enough.  Standing up once per hour for at least a couple of minutes is advised. There are many work-break timer apps (such as Pomodoro) that are great tools to remind us to take breaks and stand up or stretch once in a while.

Standing for too long can also be a problem. Hard flooring can induce foot, joint and back pain, and contributes to fatigue. Floor mats or other softening surfaces can help to alleviate these pains.7Wiggermann N, Keyserling WM. Effects of anti-fatigue mats on perceived discomfort and weight-shifting during prolonged standing. Human factors. 2013;55(4):764-775. How  one stands is also important. Standing straight and tall with your shoulders pulled down and backward is recommended by  the  American Chiropractic Association.

Please listen to what your kinesthesis is telling you. And make sure that you act on it.

We will continue in the next article by discussing screens/monitors and how they relate to Kinesthesis.

(Written by Yoko Kawai and Yvonne Burton)