The use of chairs in the West is ubiquitous. One of the most important life style changes I ever made was giving up my use of the chair fifty years ago. Chairs and sit down toilets are good examples of my motto, short-term pleasure invites long-term pain; short-term pain invites long-term pleasure. The physical ease a chair provides gradually robs the body of an important part of its natural capacity for movement, and that invites pain later in life. This is easy to see when comparing elderly Western and Japanese people.
The photo is of my son Kyle’s Japanese friend’s grandmother. She’s 82 and much more flexible than many Western people less than half her age. So, what is so good about being flexible? Oh, the list is so long; I’ll spare you. Besides, I think the long-term pleasurable benefits are obvious to most. People just don’t realize in their youth how the use of chairs relentlessly, albeit slowly, deteriorates flexibility.
Maintaining flexibility adds to the quality of life throughout life. So, abandon your chair and return to a more natural self! This also puts you closer to the lower position, i.e., chapter 61’s, The female always gets the better of the male by stillness. Being still, she takes the lower position. For another angle, see also, Bathtub Tai Chi, p.102.
After my 4 month long student exchange in Japan I(23) find myself sitting on the floor constantly(even when I’m at a friends). I have a couch(bed) and I don’t use it I sit on the floor with my laptop on a coffee table. Because my back is so tight lately I’ve even started sleeping on the floor again. 8 months ago when I just moved and didn’t have money for a bed(poor student) I slept on the floor for a whole month. Woke up everyday feeling energetic and my body was just so lose! 😀
You’re right on target, although I’d quibble over “micro-movements”. The range of movement can be rather macro: sitting on my heels (virasana), cross legged, legs out straight (versions of paschimotanasana), squatting, leg out straight with trunk twisting left or right, padmasana or siddhasana, one leg siddhasana and other leg bent and vertical with knee level with shoulder, legs bent with heel touching (like baddha konasana), and so on. Being accustomed to such a wide range of movement, sitting in a chair feels imprisoning.
Those non-English names are yoga position. I think part of the reason floor sitting will never be ‘in’, is because if one hasn’t been raised in that life style (or done decades of yoga) one’s body is just too unprepared for such a life-style step ‘backward’.
Despite the fact that it is profoundly beneficial, mentally and physically, I’ve never know anyone make (or sustain) the switch. Living in Asia clued me in; doing yoga all my life has made in possible.
I have a decent case of arthritis (rheumatoid with osteo probably there too by now). If it were not for floor sitting, yoga, and barefooted-ness, I’m certain I’d be soooo much worse off. That is just anecdotal. Being so outside the bounds of ‘normal’, I expect there would be little incentive to study it scientifically either.
I’ve made available a beta version of my updated yoga book. It could help anyone seriously wanting to take a life-style step ‘backwards‘.
Here’s the link:
Susan Woita says
Thank you, Carl, for sending this link to me. A friend of mine recently converted to a stand-up desk, something I’ve been using for years. I wanted to also tell him about the benefits of sitting on the floor, and point him to your article (which I will do).
A couple of things occurred to me about floor sitting, one being the fact that in order to do it, you have to lower yourself to the floor and the get back up again, a facility that most people lose as they get older. Also, when I sit on the floor I notice that I’m making micro-movements, adjusting my position for comfort. Those micro-movements increase blood flow around the body. When folks sit on a very comfortable couch, it’s easy to sit in one position for way too long, causing blood to pool.
Interestingly, I don’t see much, if any, information on the health benefits of sitting on the floor. Seems there should be more out there. Do you know of any other articles on the Net about this subject?
Another important thing I learned during my years in Japan was a better way to raise children than the one often followed in the West. Using patience as a core means of ‘discipline’ being one key difference.
Chairs are common in India. Maybe more so after the British arrive, or earlier when the Moguls took over.
The boys were equally enthralled the first time we went to a motel and they discovered bouncy beds(futons don’t have much bounce).
Lynn Cornish says
I agree. When I was in India I realized how dependent my body comfort had become on furniture. Those Indians could squat on the ground for hours in complete comfort and there I sat on a rock wall, butt aching.
I can’t remember chairs at the airport in Bombay but they must have been there, don’t you think?
I remember when your boys were little and you brought them up to be in the snow, they sat on our overstuffed couch and with a great sigh said “this is SO comfortable.” It made an impression on me because no other child would have noticed.