active seating

Product Review: FitBall Wedge

Originally written for Suite101.com in November 2010. Another one that didn't survive "The  Big Purge"
Do you suffer from back pain or poor posture? Sway, wiggle and squirm your way to correct posture and pain relief with the FitBall Wedge.
On December 11, 2009, Fox News reported that a study conducted by the Institute for Medicine and Public Health found that people spend an average of 56 hours a week sitting. In "That's the Way the Ball Bounces!" from Working Well, it states that the average American spends 14 hours a day sitting.
Even more alarming is the conclusion Genevieve Healy, Ph.D. from at the Cancer Prevention Research Centre after a conducting a study at the University of Queensland in Australia. She reports that not even 30 minutes a day at the gym can counteract the effects of sitting for eight, nine, or 10 hours a day.
Active sitting can relieve pain and fosters overall health. It is also known as "unsupported seating" and "sitting in motion." Active sitting encourages the body to move and adjust constantly. It also encourages the body to sit in a more natural position.
There are numerous benefits to active sitting, as stated by Fitterfirst, a supplier of active sitting devices:
  • improved core fitness: Continuous movement to re-stabilize your torso strengthens your spinal and abdominal muscles.
  • burn calories: You can burn up to 350 calories a day from active sitting.
  • improved balance: Active sitting is a form of balance training.
  • fosters natural body posture and alignment.
  • maintains blood flow. 

What is the FitBall Wedge?

  The FitBall Wedge is an active dynamic seating device. It is an 13" inflatable wedge made of PVC. One side is smooth while the other has sensory bumps. There is also a 10" FitBall Wedge Junior for children.
The FitBall Wedge can be placed on the seat of any office chair or task chair. While sitting with the FitBall Wedge, make sure that both feet are firmly on the floor. Bounce in your seat, move back and forth and from side to side to enjoy the benefits of active sitting.
Alternatively, you can place the FitBall Wedge on the back of a chair for extra lumbar support.
You can use an air mattress pump or air raft pump to inflate the FitBall Wedge. Beginners should start with more air in their FitBall Wedge until they have adjusted to active sitting.
Simply wipe down the FitBall Wedge with soap and water to clean it.
User Testing and Assessment of the FitBall Wedge
  I purchased the FitBall Wedge one week ago to encourage my piano students to sit properly at the piano and to ease my own back pain.
My students, aged five to 50+, giggled over the new cushion and its bumps. "This is fun!" was a sentiment shared by most of my students just minutes into a lesson. My three fidgety students appeared more focused during their lessons. It helped that I placed another active seating disc at their feet. Each student who used the FitBall Wedge looked more relaxed at the piano bench and sat with proper posture. I have often noticed classically-trained pianists play with stiff posture and limited range of motion. My students were forced to move with the wedge, making their playing more natural looking, ergonomic and expressive.
I found the FitBall Wedge a back-saver. Between teaching and preparing for eight performances this month, I am at the piano over 30 hours a week and then sitting in front of a computer for at least an additional 10 hours a week. My back pain disappeared within minutes of sitting on the FitBall Wedge.
There are two minor drawbacks. The FitBall Wedge is available in only one colour. I also wish it could fit more easily into a bag full of music books. However, it still is more portable than a core stability ball.

Improve your posture and reduce back pain with the FitBall Wedge active seating disc. Photo by R-M Arca.

As with any active sitting device, people with poor balance or who recently had back surgery should consult with a medical professional first prior to using the FitBall Wedge. If used improperly or with incorrect posture, the postive effects of active sitting can be nullified.
About the FitBall Wedge and Ball Dynamics International
  The FitBall Wedge is manufactured by Ball Dynamics International LLC. It was founded Joanne Posner-Mayer, P.T., an expert on therapeutic Swiss Ball applications.
For more information, read "Sitting Too Much?" by Selene Yager, Women's Health Magazine, Exercise Ball Moves to the Office and Understanding Musician Injuries.

Helping Fidgety Students Focus with Active Sitting and Stress Balls

I have two students who are extremely fidgety during lessons. At some point, I'm going to have to read the information package I have on Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder to see what other strategies I can use. The following are a few strategies I've come up with along the way.

  1. Keep changing the activities every few minutes
  2. Keep these students moving from one part of the studio to the other side
  3. Make them "play like a rock star" (play standing up)

This active seating disc is good for posture correction and fidgety students. Photo by R-M Arca.

I'm sure other teachers have come up with similar formulae:

  • Do some stretches and warm-ups
  • Play a scale
  • Tweak a scale
  • Move to the computer and watch a performance on youtube
  • Back to the piano to play a song and tweak it
  • Down on the floor to do theory exercises or games
  • Make them sit on one of my active sitting discs

This week, I've made a new discovery: combine activities and work with their fidgety nature. While I was demonstrating something on the piano to one student, I made her stand on my Fitterfirst Classic Sit Disc. She loved swaying from side to side and I was astounded to find that she paid attention better.

Another student is not just fidgety but his hands are always moving. This week, I decided to keep his hands busy by having him use a couple of stress balls (from the good ol' dollar store) whenever his hands were off the keys. In addition to that, he sat on my new FitBall Seating Wedge and placed the Classic Sit Disc at his feet.

At first, I thought it was overkill but he moved to the music when he played and continued to move rhythmically in between pieces. I was delighted to see that he focused a bit better (I, in the meantime, was moving rhythmically and practicing active sitting on a FitBall Seating Disc).

On another note, one of my other students asked if he'd be allowed to bring an active sitting disc into his piano exam. Why not? People bring active sitting discs and core stability balls to work in the name of better posture, ergonomics and health. Musicians sit a lot and suffer from back pain, so to me, it's a no-brainer.

If anything, I bet his examiner will be jealous and want his or her own active sitting disc.

Here's a video about active sitting:

All three sitting discs are available at Fitterfirst, located in Calgary.

(c) 2009 by Musespeak(tm), Calgary, AB, Canada.