Sitting on the Floor: Posture & Health Benefits
Chairs are overrated – it’s time we get back to sitting on the floor and relying on our own bodies for support.
The floor used to be our territory. Our parents watched in excitement as we sat up on our own for the first time, our tiny muscles barely strong enough to support the weight of our upper body. Sitting on the floor was our reality; we didn’t know any other option. We crawled around, putting our mouth on anything that caught our attention. When we wanted to relax, we sat up, observing the world around us.
Somewhere down the line, we began sitting on chairs. Not to paint chairs as the enemy, but sitting on chairs has removed the need to use certain muscles – muscles we developed and relied on as babies. Nowadays when we sit on the floor, our muscles quickly start to ache, causing us to slouch. What started out as a natural sitting position for us has turned into a strenuous and forceful activity.
Luckily, this isn’t a permanent consequence of sitting on chairs. We can go back to our sitting roots at any time and sit on the floor like we did as babies. In fact, sitting on the floor actually aids skeletal support, leading to better posture, improved spinal conditions, and relief from back-related pain. The muscles needed to sit comfortably on the floor take time and conscious effort to develop. As we aren’t accustomed to sitting on the floor, the discomfort often motivates us to seek out a chair, leaving us wondering how we ever managed without one.
Why sitting on the floor is healthier
As our bodies age, we naturally gravitate toward more comfortable seating positions. This makes sense, as the muscles we use when sitting have already been formed and do not require further development. Nevertheless, there are certain health benefits to be had from sitting on the floor. These include:
It may be the increased strain on your back, but sitting on the floor encourages you to automatically fix your posture. Straightening your spine and pushing your shoulders back strengthens the surrounding muscles, helping you become more comfortable with good posture.
In addition to building back and shoulder muscles, having good posture strengthens the core muscles, which may help alleviate back pain. (It won’t hurt your appearance either!)
Seated positions stretch your hips, legs, pelvis, and spine, helping to promote natural flexibility in movement.
How people sit around the world
The chair as we know it is a fairly recent invention. While chairs have been around for thousands of years, they weren’t available to every social class until a few hundred years ago. Before then, everyone was forced to sit on the ground. But this isn’t as bad as it sounds! There are cultures around the world that still spend the majority of their time seated on the floor. It isn’t as though knowledge of chairs hasn’t reached them yet – they just choose not to use them. Perhaps these cultures know something we don’t.
In any case, it’s interesting to observe their sitting customs and to understand why they sit the way they do.
This is the most common and the most comfortable position. Referred to in yoga circles as “easy pose” or “sukhasana,” it’s designed to stretch the muscles, improve posture, and bring peace of mind.
Squatting provides the most flexibility to move around and participate in physical activities. The goal is to place the heels on the ground, taking pressure off of the knees and thighs.
This is accomplished by resting on the lower legs and sitting on your heels. It’s both a yoga position (kneeling pose) and a formal way to sit in Japan.
When it’s appropriate to sit on the floor
Now, you may be wondering when you would even find an opportunity to sit on the ground. It’s not like you can do it in the middle of work – at least, not without attracting some strange looks from your colleagues! There are, of course, activities that lend themselves to sitting on the floor such as watching TV, playing card games, reading a book, and even eating dinner.
The idea of eating on the floor may sound odd at first. You may be concerned about dirt or general uncleanliness. That’s why in many floor-sitting cultures, it’s important to take your shoes off before entering someone’s home. It’s also why you’ll usually find a rug on the ground in places where there’s no carpet. Eating off the floor can also make you feel more grounded and in touch with the earth. Plus, think of the money you’ll save on chairs!
All jokes aside, it may be difficult at first to go back to sitting on the floor. Your body isn’t accustomed to sitting on a hard surface and you don’t have anything to lean against except your own will. Your muscles may ache as they are forced to support the full weight of your body. But with regular practice, you’ll be able to sit quite comfortably and for longer periods. From now on, whenever you’re seated, work on improving your posture by straightening your back. It will make it easier to support your body weight and you’ll feel much more comfortable and confident in yourself.