Sitting Well – Or “Everything You Know About Posture Is Wrong!”

By way of an example, have a look at this piece How To Sit Ergonomically At Work. It is a good article, it is mostly accurate, but from a different angle it is also completely wrong. The wrongness is not necessarily in the suggestions themselves – choose a good chair, take breaks, don’t use a laptop, plant your feet on the floor – any one of these ideas might make a positive difference to your stamina for sitting at work, and two or three in combination could make so much difference that you might completely miss out on the opportunity to make a difference to yourself instead – a difference that might make so much difference that you become able to sit well and happily for long periods, anywhere you want or need to.

Sit Like A Cat…

My favourite examples of sitting mastery mostly come from cats; dogs are more like us, fidgeting around until they feel comfortable enough to relax; cats don’t care – as long as the chosen spot is the right temperature they can relax in all sorts of ridiculous positions.

Rudy, happily sleeping on Lego…

I can sit easily for quite a long time on most flat surfaces that are not too hard, including the floor. I am by no means a “perfect” specimen, but as I write this I am not getting stiff, my neck and shoulders are not tightening up, my wrists and hands are comfortable as I type, and I will not be getting up from my stool with a groan.

I don’t want to be unfair to the author here, no claim for postural improvement is made, however the whole tone implies that you – even with your amazing, highly sophisticated, astonishingly-able human nervous system – cannot expect to sit easily for any protracted length of time, so your only option is to “correct” your environment instead.

All of which makes it sound as though sitting well because you know HOW  to sit well just isn’t possible – but if you have been around Feldenkrais teachers for a while you may remember that “making the impossible possible, the difficult easy, and the easy elegant” is the goal of every Feldenkrais lesson.

I do not mean to suggest that the right chair or an adjusted screen position will not be beneficial; clearly if there is any practical action you can take to make your working area more comfortable then it would be very sensible to do so. The argument I am hoping to make is that, by selling you a partial explanation of what the deeper issue might be, mainstream thinking lessens the likelihood that you will realise that you have the potential to solve your sitting problems in a more permanent way – a way that could continue to be of benefit to your health for the rest of your life. In fact, sitting with ease on the floor––which will naturally involve you getting down and getting up again on a regular basis––is so good for you it may even actually lengthen your life

If a chair wobbles then sticking a wedge under the shorter leg may be the only solution; a chair cannot learn from and adapt to its environment, it can only be mended. We humans are so utterly unlike devices and machines that we can mend ourselves: we can even install new software and upgrade ourselves – however, and rather sad to say, too many adults have long forgotten how.

A new way to look at “posture”…

Feldenkrais is a different way of thinking about sitting with ease, and it requires a different way of thinking about posture. Your posture is not something you have make an effort to do right––your posture is what you do when you are not consciously doing anything with, or to, yourself––probably what you are doing right now as you read this.

So, when you notice yourself slumping, shoulders hunched, chest caved in, head poked forward, stop for a moment and notice how truly effortless this posture is for you. You will have regained your own natural poise when a similar moment of spontaneous self-observation reveals that you are sitting balanced on your sitting bones, your shoulders soft and wide, your breathing free and full, and your head and eyes available to look in any direction without your having to adjust yourself first by “sitting up straight”.

I have been searching the internet for pictures of toddlers sitting.

Photo by Alyssa Stevenson on Unsplash

Catch a child in the few short years between learning to sit upright, and being made to “sit-still-and-pay-attention” and (unless that child has neurological issues) you will see how easily a head can balance on a spine, and how easy it can be to move from sitting to standing – or from sitting to lying – in an effortless way. As soon as a young child is denied the natural, exploratory, “playful discovery” process of learning organically, and instead introduced to the “look-at-teacher-pay-attention-and-do-as-you’re-told” learning process, that ability to move freely – and to pause gracefully and with ease while in the middle of a movement – begins to fall away. 

These two films show a group of dancers developing a piece based on the movements of young children – the whole interaction is fascinating to watch…

Moshe Feldenkrais decided the solution was to remind adults that they always have access to the power of play; to explore the possibilities for new strategies and creative thinking within the everyday, to replace the authoritative voice of the teacher with the empowering tools of self-awareness, self-observation and ever-maturing self-confidence.

If you are unable to sit with ease on your chair, or the floor, then Feldenkrais may be a good way for you to begin to regain a healthy, flexible sitting posture (maybe you can find a picture of yourself playing on the floor as a toddler and marvel at the ease and length of your neck and spine). There are workshops going on all over the country, and I am offering one-to-one online training sessions if you do not have easy access to a class.

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