Would you believe us if we said that sitting like your ancestors could save your health? You’d probably be at least a little skeptical. After all, the science surrounding our health is often boiled down to the idea of eating healthy, sleeping well, getting on your feet and exercising regularly, and our bodies will be in tip-top shape. Rarely do we hear anything suggesting that the things we sit on and the way we sit might be impacting our bodies. But is there truth in this? Are we missing a crucial part of our workouts?
Some experts maintain sitting in chairs and on sofas all day, every day destroys the quality of our connective tissues, movements, and overall health. More importantly, we’re neglecting to use “archetypal resting positions” that have been in place and utilized by humans for hundreds of thousands of years. To put it simply, sitting on sofas and chairs isn’t great for our bodies, but what’s even worse is that we’re not taking advantage of the handful of ancestral floor positions that could actually help us.
Wait, What’s Wrong With Chairs?
Once a luxury item reserved only for the upper classes, chairs are now common-place in our lives. The typical Neolithic humans sat on benches, chests, or the ground until the time came when chairs were readily available and affordable for everyone. But paleolithic posteriors weren’t designed with chairs in mind; humans were meant to squat, kneel, and rest upon stumps and logs and rocks when they needed to take a break.
Sitting in chairs pushes weight on our glutes incorrectly, making them weak, loose, and inactive since, over time, most of us have forgotten how to activate our butt muscles. Sitting also keeps our hip flexors in a contracted, tight, short position for long periods of time. The result? Full hip extension and possibly even the hunched over position that we often see in older folks. Plus, there’s an extensive (and growing!) amount of literature that shows how sitting for too long increases degenerative disease and mortality. Scary, right?
What’s even more frightening is that sitting in a chair doesn’t allow us to rest in a full squat position -- something we know how to do when we’re born but forget how to do as we get older. Sitting becomes a passive act, where we’re slumped over with rounded shoulders and our feet twisted up. Rather than depending on a chair to support our weight, we should be relying on our muscles and skeletal system to support ourselves. So, are there any benefits to going back in time? Did our ancestors have it correct from the very beginning?
What are the Benefits of Archetypal Resting Positions?
Where we sit, and the way we do it, changes the way our bodies function. In countries where floor living and squatting are woven throughout everyday life, people are still able to retain mobility and function well into their golden years. Unfortunately, here in Western countries, where we stop floor living around four or five years of age, we might never quite reach that point -- but we can do much better than we are right now.
In fact, by hanging out on the floor more, we may begin to notice improved glucose tolerance and enhanced recovery from workouts as well as increased range of motion, more muscle activity, and increased flexibility. Prolonged chair-sitting can make your hips feel stiff and tight, but sitting on the floor allows you to easily stretch those hip flexors. Ultimately, these archetypal sitting positions encourage natural stability since, without the support of a sofa or chair, sitting on the floor forces your body to engage its core for stabilization.
Sitting Stiffness, Aches & Pains
Feeling stiff or aches and pain after sitting for long periods of time? Your muscles might not be to blame. While basic stretching can increase your range of motion, it does little to boost your flexibility. In other words, your range of motion is how well your muscles can elongate, while flexibility is how well you move in all directions, including lengthening, torsion, and contraction. The key to boosting flexibility? Engaging the fascia tissue in your body.
What is Fascia Tissue?
Fascia is a thin casing of connective tissue that almost resembles a spider’s web. Fascia surrounds and keeps every muscle, nerve fiber, blood vessel, and organ in place. This tissue does more than simply provide structure to our internal bodies; it also has tiny nerves that make it almost as sensitive as skin. The key to increasing your flexibility and range of motion is to find as many different ways to contact the ground as you can and use gravity to stretch your fascia in as many positions as you are comfortable.
6 Archetypal Resting Positions You Can Incorporate Easily Today
Ready to get back to Earth with some ancient habits that can actually renew and rejuvenate the body? Below we’ve outlined some easy, no-impact, ground-based resting workouts that you can do inside on the floor or outside on the ground -- wherever you feel most comfortable!
- Full Squat: This is one of the most ancient default sitting or resting positions before the invention of chairs. Start by standing with your feet planted on the floor and hip-width apart. Slowly lower your butt until its just inches above the floor. Although it might be easier to rest on the balls of your feet, the goal here is to get (and keep!) your heels on the ground. This position stretches the back, glutes, quads, and calves.
- Side Sit: Also known as the “z-sit,” begin by sitting with your butt flat on the ground. Lower your knees to the left and position them on the floor. Rest the bottom of your left foot against the front of your right thigh. Make sure you keep your spine neutral by ensuring both hips are on the floor. Repeat in the opposite direction. This position stretches the inner thighs as well as the external and internal hip rotators.
- Long Sit: A sitting position that comes easier to some people than others, the long sit involves sitting on the floor with your legs extended straight ahead of you. Flex your toes and point them upward, making sure your belly is positioned over your hips. This position stretches the quad muscles and hamstrings. From the long sit, you can also transition into a straddle sit by moving your legs wider than shoulder-width apart.
- Low Kneel: Kneeling is a common position with several variations, including a high and a low kneel. The low kneel involves sitting with your knees on the floor and your butt on your heels. In Japanese culture, this position is called “seiza.” You can choose to point your toes either up or back -- whichever feels more comfortable! This position stretches the quads, Achilles tendon, and fascia in the feet.
- Half Kneel: Similar to the low kneel, the half kneel involves keeping one leg flat and perpendicular to the floor and bending the other knee so that the foot is planted flat on the floor. This position is great for reducing pressure on your knees and is helpful for stretching the quads, Achilles tendon, and fascia in the feet.
- Cross-Legged Sit: A common yoga position and one of the more natural ways to sit, the cross-legged sit involves sitting on the ground with your legs crossed in front of you -- either with your feet flat against each other or at the calves or ankles. Try decreasing pressure on your hips by placing cushions beneath or knees or sitting on the edge of a folded blanket. This move is beneficial for those looking to stretch the hip adductors and rotators.
- Make Up Your Own! Our limbs are bendy, funny things, and we have the ability to contort ourselves into many different positions. As long as you’re on the floor, able to support your own weight, and feel comfortable doing it, it’s hard to hurt yourself. Our bodies are great at letting us know when something’s about to go really wrong. So, if your toes go tingly or your arm begins to get numb, switch it up! Come up with your own variation for sitting on the floor or ground and report back!
There’s no need to feel lazy on the sofa while watching TV or sitting still behind a desk at work all day! Toss the chair aside and plop yourself on the floor, propping your TV or computer screen up on a low-sitting table or shelf. Keep in mind that there is no right way to do this. There is no wrong way to do this. There is no perfect amount of time to spend in each position. Simply listen to your body and change positions to get more comfortable… and healthy!
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