In kindergarten you would spend more time seated on the floor than a chair. Kids are always on the floor – coloring, reading, playing - but as children age, they move to a table, then a desk, and before you know it, they are spending 7 hours a day seated in an office.
Your standard desk and chair scenario wreaks havoc on your posture, muscle mass, and back. It’s why so many of us are in pain and hunched over. Even after a long day at work, you come home, eat dinner at your kitchen table and then move to a chair or sofa in your living room to watch TV.
We don’t often spend time seated on the floor unless we are playing with little ones. This is unfortunate because sitting on the floor is excellent for our health! Whether seated against the wall or on a meditation cushion, ditching the chair can improve flexibility, mobility, and muscle activity.
Have you read up on the history of the chair? Probably not. It’s not exactly the exciting read you want to get into (unless you have trouble sleeping or trying to rid yourself of a insomnia). The short version – the chair has existed for a long time, but not as long as the human race. There are reports of chairs existing in Egypt in 3100 BC. Chairs from Egypt quickly spread via the Greeks and Romans. Soon, they were used in continents around the world. But, although they existed, they weren’t used as often as they are today. People still sat on the ground while eating, washing, or completing chores.
Today many cultures continue to sit on the floor. In Japan, many religious and spiritual services like funerals or tea ceremonies are done while seated on the floor. In a traditional Japanese homes, you won’t see a selection of chairs like you would in an American home. Even at restaurants, you may be seated on the floor. Typically, people will sit on tatami mats or meditation pillow.
The average American adult spends 6.5 hours a day sitting; for those between 12 and 19, this number is even higher at 8 hours a day. You start to feel pain when you aren't seated properly and have poor posture. Like many others, Sara Coughlin works from home and spent plenty of time at her desk. That is until she ditched the desk for the floor. She now sits cross-legged at her coffee table and says, “I feel less sluggish, more aware of my posture, and much more comfortable than I would if I had to unfold myself from whatever half-horizontal position I used to be in on the couch.”
The Benefits of Sitting On the Floor
There are many benefits to sitting on the floor which is why you should incorporate more of it into your daily routine. For example, consider sitting on a meditation pillow and eating dinner at your coffee table or sitting against a wall with legs extended while answering emails on your lap. By doing so, you will:
- Reduce tension in your hips.Sitting in a chair for a prolonged period can make your hips stiff and tight. This doesn’t happen when you are sitting on the floor. When you sit cross-legged on the ground, you open your hips and stretch your hip flexors.
- Increases muscle activity. When your muscles are engaged, they will stay stronger, and you will increase overall muscle activity. Many of our chairs or sofas allow us to melt into them. They do the work, keeping us upright and allowing us to rest. This isn’t the case when you are seated on the ground. Many seated positions like squatting and kneeling are considered active rest positions that require our muscles to be engaged.
- Maintains natural stability.Core strength and increased stability are essential for our well-being, especially as we age. Older adults are at greater risk of falls which can have dire consequences. However, when adults spend more time seated on the floor, they maintain greater stability in their older years. When seated on the ground, your body must engage core muscles to stabilize and keep you upright.
- Increased flexibility.When you are sitting in a chair, you tend to tighten up significantly. However, when you are seated on the floor, whether cross-legged or sitting with legs extended in front of you, you stretch your lower body muscles, increasing your flexibility.
- Better posture. Sitting on the floor encourages you to fix your posture automatically. You straighten your spine, pull your shoulders back, and become more comfortable in this potion.
The benefits of sitting on the floor also include the time you spend getting up. A group of researchers found that a woman who could repeatedly stand up from a seated position lived to be 102 years old. They examined this further, finding the sitting-rising test, in which you get up from the cross-legged position without using your limps for assistance (like pushing up with your arms), is a good marker for longevity. According to a study published in the European Journal of Preventative Cardiology, individuals who could not complete this test were up to 6 times more likely to die earlier.
Your balance and core muscles get stronger when you stand up from a seated position on the floor, and your muscular-skeletal fitness improves. According to the researchers, “it is well known that aerobic fitness is strongly related to survival, but our study also shows that maintaining high levels of body flexibility, muscle strength, power-to-body weight ratio, and co-ordination are not only good for performing daily activities but have a favorable influence on life expectancy.”
Mix It Up and Try These Different Positions
There are different ways to sit on the floor that will be comfortable and provide the benefits listed here. The traditional style of sitting in Japan is called seiza. This is when your knees are resting on the floor and your bottom is seated on your heels. To maintain alignment in this position, your shoulders should remain over your hips and your knees should be kept shoulder-width apart. Although this position is excellent for your back, you are putting additional pressure on your knees. On a hard floor, this can be very uncomfortable. To ease the pressure, kneel on a folded blanket or a yoga cushion. If you have knee joint pain, this position may not be for you. Instead, try sitting in a long sit. This is when your legs are extended straight ahead with your belly over your hips.
Another popular seating position is cross-legged. In yoga, this is referred to as the lotus position or sukhasana. This position keeps proper posture and alignment, as well as stretching the muscles, and is also said to aid in digestion. Cross-legged will increase flexibility and movement, stretching the pelvis, spine, legs, and hips. However, this position can worsen posture if not done correctly. You must keep your spine in a neutral position and your weight on your hips instead of your feet.
A side sit is a great option as well. It is excellent for stretching inner thighs and is more comfortable when you don’t have a meditation or yoga cushion to sit on. In this position, you will rest the bottom of your right foot against the front of your left thigh. As a result, both hips stay on the floor, and your spine remains neutral.
The squatting position is widely used around the world. People will hold this position to cook, eat, and even use the bathroom. When you squat, you stretch muscles that aren’t often used. It may be challenging to get into this position if you haven’t squatted in a long time. Practice, and it will come. Ideally, you want your heels planted on the ground, so the pressure isn’t on your thighs or knees.
If you usually lay on the couch to watch Netflix, hit the floor with a neck roll pillow. Getting off the cushy couch will also help reduce pain and increase flexibility.
Research has found that sitting in the same position for an extended period can cause stress on the body – so move around. Switch positions and be mindful of your posture. Also, if your muscles are tired, you are more likely to hunch over and assume a position that strains your body. Use supportive aids like leaning against a wall or a meditation cushion under your sit bone to prevent this.
Tomorrow, try to do one activity seated on the floor. Grab your meditation cushion, and read a book, enjoy breakfast, or watch a movie. If you feel uncomfortable, switch your positions and try the various ones listed here. If you feel stiff at first, don’t give up. With so much time spent in a chair, it is to be expected, but the more time you spend seated on the floor, the more flexible, mobile, and balanced you will become.