Computers, Sitting, and Pain: The 20-20-20 Rule

Many of us find ourselves in front of a screen for hours during the day, mostly to our detriment. We may experience eye fatigue and blurriness of vision, tight and achy muscles, sore joints, mental fogginess, and even sluggish digestion.

If these long hours are the result of a job sitting at a desk, there may be little we can do about the requirements of our employment, but we can find ways to honor our bodymind’s need for movement in order to stay healthy.

While the Alexander Technique offers many ways to alleviate or even eliminate the symptoms listed above, one of the first things I tell people in this situation actually comes from the wider community. It’s called the “20-20-20 Rule.”

The 20-20-20 Rule is simple: every 20 minutes stand up and look at least 20 feet away for 20 seconds.

Standing every 20 minutes allows the blood to flow more freely to the limbs and brain. It also honors the rhythm of the brain which seems to need to change its focus every 20 minutes for maximum clarity and creativity in thinking.

Looking out in the distance at least 20 feet allows the visual system to relax. At 20 feet and beyond, the eye adjusts for distance vision, which is actually a relaxation process. Too much close work and the visual system reacts negatively by causing blur and fatigue.

Doing this simple movement for 20 seconds every 20 minutes is effective at “resetting” our bodymind systems and only takes 1 minute every hour. We do not “lose” that minute because we gain in productivity by honoring our bodymind’s natural laws. In fact, we actually achieve more, not less!

An example of this came from one of my college students who had to study for her LSAT (SAT test for admission to law schools). This meant hours beyond her usual studying for courses. She tried the “20-20-20 Rule” and found that her studying was more productive because the breaks in concentration actually increased her retention, and they also enabled her to study for longer periods without fatigue.

In fact, we can use the 20 seconds to smile at a colleague, take a drink of water (which combats dehydration), do a simple arm stretch.. . . you name it!

Much of our resistance to do this comes from our fear of being judged as “slacking off.” Yet we are actually more productive, not less! Another barrier to putting this into practice is that we will surely seem “odd.” Yet what better way to share this easy tool for greater health at a desk job than answering the quizzical looks of colleagues with an explanation and an invitation for them to try it, too?

By the way, being able to stop our habit of using our bodyminds as if they were machines which, once started, simply go until someone stops them or they run our of fuel, requires one of the keystones of Alexander’s discoveries: inhibition. We have to stop doing the “old thing” (our habit of sitting without a break) so that a “new thing” can arise. In other words, once we stop doing the thing that makes us uncomfortable and may even lead to injury and pain, then our bodymind is free to organize itself for greater ease and freedom, less tension and pain.

This 20-20-20 Rule works well for screen time that is for entertainment and social media as well, but it is more difficult to achieve in those activities because it is harder to stop staring at the screen while watching movies or videos or texting or playing video games. I’m still working on this myself! 🙂

Try it and leave a comment as to what you experienced!

S. Ahner

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