Approximately 32* hours into Lent, I was ready for Lent to be over. Why? Because I was tired. I am giving up chairs for Lent. In the interest of full disclosure, I am writing this on a Sunday, and I am totally cheating and using the couch right now. It's snowy and cold out and I don't think it's possible for me to avoid the couch the entire day while I'm stuck inside. You want to know why not? Because it's exhausting to hold yourself up against gravity the entire time you're awake.
Think about that for a minute. Holding ourselves up against gravity seems like a very basic thing that we should all be able to do, but it is extremely difficult for most of us. I am speaking as someone who doesn't sit a lot at work, and when I do, it is often on a stool without my back being supported. I go to the gym 3-4 times per week and hiking (or cross country skiing or something) once or twice a week. What I mean to say is, I am what most people would classify as fit, and yet it was hard for me to hold myself up against gravity the whole time for one and a half days. Not even the whole time! There's sleeping, where I wasn't holding myself up. There was lying on the floor and stretching. There was sitting at the (long) Ash Wednesday Mass, and there was sitting in the car to various places that I had to be. Crazy, isn't it? We aren't strong enough to hold ourselves up against gravity. Y'all, that is just messed up, and yet it is where most of us are. Is it any wonder that we feel like we are falling apart? If we aren't strong and effective about the way that we react to gravity, then we impose further loads beyond that, whether it's exercise or just taking care of the normal tasks of daily life, something's going to break somewhere.
I've had a beef with sitting for a while. It hurts me to sit for too long. I stopped being consistent about a Bible study at church because it's over an hour of sitting in terrible folding chairs, and I hurt when I sit like that. I love learning new things, but one of my least favorite things about continuing education is sitting to learn it. I tell my patients all the time to get up frequently from where they are sitting at their desk. However, I never really thought about how bad an actual chair is until much more recently.
Here's a bullet point list of some things that are wrong with chairs:
- Every time that we sit, our hip and knee joints have almost the exact same load at the exact same angle. Not the best way to use a joint!
- Many chairs are designed to be comfortable; this is actually a problem, because it usually means that it conforms to our bad posture, thus keeping us in that posture (usually rounded through the spine) and perpetuating our problems.
- Because we are comfortable, we tend to sit longer.
- Even chairs that are uncomfortable still tend to promote that round posture that we all use (especially tucking our tailbone underneath us).
- The angle that we are in when we sit in chairs makes it harder for blood to flow in our legs, as well as increasing the sharpness of the angles of certain blood vessels in key spots. This means that the blood hits the vessel more and increases the amount of plaque in those areas!
There's more, of course, but those are some of the things to think about. Now, while sitting in general is something to avoid doing too much of, sitting on the floor has some distinct advantages over the chair. More bullet points, anyone?
- We have to use a much more full range of motion through all of our lower extremity joints just to get down to the floor and back up. This means that we also have to use the muscle at much different lengths than just getting up from a chair. Plus you have the exercise of getting up and down from the floor!
- When you are sitting without support, the muscles have to do the work to hold you there, we don't outsource the work to the back support of the chair! (Thus, the increased fatigue for me!)
- Sitting on the floor is much more conducive to frequently shifting positions. Partly because we are not restricted by the chair and partly because it helps for comfort. This further changes the loads on the joints and it keeps everything from being in one position for too long.
- Because you are not just letting your body be supported, you are more likely to get up and do something else a lot more often.
- When our back is not as rounded, it means we have better rib excursion (the ribs expand more easily) and we breathe better.
I was pretty happy to hear that there are already several of you that prefer the floor for sitting. Awesome! I'm thinking that there are plenty of us, however, that have been on some sort of chair or couch or recliner a lot of the time. Me included. There's a reason I'm on the couch today, folks, and it's not because it's good for me. But that's okay, we can still join the ranks of the floor sitters.
There are a couple of things to think about when you sit on the floor. One is that you want your back to be fairly straight, but comfortable. Don't let your tailbone tuck underneath you and don't let your ears sit in front of your shoulders. Another is that you should be sitting on your ischial tuberosities (I don't want to mess with copyrights, so the link will take you to a photo). In layman's terms, your butt bones. Finally, as long as you're not slouching and tucking that tailbone, there's not really a right or wrong way to sit on the floor. You can sit with your legs crossed, you can straighten them out in front of you, you can kneel, you can bend your knees and put your feet flat on the floor. You can bend one knee and keep the other one straight, whatever. Do try to switch it up though!
When you're first starting on the floor, don't worry about being there for long. Start small and work your way up to longer periods. Eventually, it's great if you can get to the point where you can do whatever sitting task you want while on the floor. A couple of ways to incorporate it into your day is to put your laptop on a coffee table or something low (I use a foot rest) and sit on the floor while you're on the computer. It's great to eat on the floor, too. If you're not wanting to do something like that all the time, at least throw it in there once a week. It can be fun to do a picnic on the floor. I found an interesting article about why you should sit on the floor while you eat. Fascinating! If you have kids, sit on the floor to play with them. (Want to know a secret? My friends have sometimes wondered why their small children seem to like me so much... It's because I sit on the floor and I'm with them at their level. They really respond to that.) You may notice that you have to get up from a sitting position a lot, because you have to do all the work of getting off the floor. No worries! Just look at it as extra exercise in your day.
If you need to when you first start, sit on a pillow. Sometimes the muscles and joints are not quite ready for those new ranges of motion, and sitting on something can help ease things into it.
When I first heard about how chairs can affect us vs. sitting on the floor, I decided to try to eat breakfast on the floor. I didn't last 5 minutes before my back was all, "What the heck?!?!" Not in a bad, painful way, but in a way where the muscles that weren't used to working were working and they were complaining. I have had problems in the past with my back stabilizers working as well as they should, and some of the exercises I tried were not cutting it. This has done better than all of those. Your back simply has to stabilize you if you're in a correct position.
Yikes! What a long post! But what are you going to do? There's so much to say about this, and there are really some stretches that would be good to discuss, and we should really talk more about truly fighting gravity instead of slouching, and so forth, but this is enough out of me for today. Believe me, sometime before Lent is over, we will discuss the whole standing thing against gravity. Yes, I know standing is something most of us do, and some of you probably do a lot, but many of us do not actually stand well, in such a way that gravity is not breaking us down while we try to stand up. We'll get there. Patience, grasshoppers.
In case this novella is not enough for you, there's more about the dangers of sitting here, or for those of you that want to rethink the chair in general, as well as the classroom chair in particular, this is another great article from K.aty B.owman here (that one also has a great graphic of some different non-chair sitting positions).
*It was 31 hours and 40 minutes. I was counting. I was tired.