I am now going to recommend something to you as a daily practice. It is simple suggestion, but so valuable that I am going to give it the hard sell.
Even if you have never done any Feldenkrais before, even if you never visit my blog again, if you follow this suggestion you will improve the mobility of your spine and hip joints in all your activities, not just when sitting on chairs, but standing will become easier, for longer periods, and walking will be more fluid and more enjoyable, particularly when you are going downhill. I cannot guarantee that it will ease your back pain–although that is quite likely–but it is certainly a good way to bring relief to hip and sciatic pain–and it will certainly extend the functional life of your hip joints enormously.
Sit on the floor.
For a minimum of half an hour.
Actually, no it isn’t. In the very unlikely case that you are 12 years old, you may be thinking, “of course I sit on the floor, of course I do it everyday, why are you making such a fuss?”
It is much more likely that you are older, and that your days of sitting on the floor are pretty much behind you, except in unusual circumstances (picnics, the beach, Feldenkrais / Yoga / Pilates classes) and that you are not particularly comfortable on the floor. That is sort of the point. This is not just Awareness Through Movement, this is Awareness Through Fidgeting!
When we sit on the floor we tend to move about more than when we sit on a chair or a sofa; one position becomes uncomfortable, a foot starts to feel tingly and numb, a sore spot develops on one part of our buttocks, and we shift about. Some positions are more challenging and therefore less popular. A good strategy is to try them all out, changing position often, legs crossed, kneeling, both legs to one side (your legs can be together or apart for this side-saddle position), legs straight out in front of you. As you get used to it you will notice how easy it is to move about on the floor and how natural and easy it is to spontaneously change position once you are there. Garet Newell, my first Feldenkrais teacher, likes to minimise the furniture in her home to encourage daily use of the floor, whether working or playing. I have not found a way to comfortably use my laptop on the floor, but it is an easy place from which to make phone calls, read books, watch TV, listen to music, hang out with friends, and as your comfort improves, eat your meals.
Try it out, let me know how you get on.
Since I wrote my original post in 2013 there has been some interesting evidence that the ease with which you can get up from the floor can be an indicator of your likelihood of living longer with fewer health issues. Of course ‘correlation is not causation’, and I cannot help but think that it is exactly those people who are interested in staying mobile, and who are therefore committed to their Tai Chi, Yoga, Pilates, or Feldenkrais practice, who are probably also the people cutting down on their alcohol and their carbs, and are thus actively committed to staying well in other ways too.
The evidence gathered by the original researchers suggested that setting out to improve your “score” – participants lost points for every bit of extra support needed to get up – was directly beneficial. Now of course you can find lots of “quick fix” training videos on YouTube, but I suspect that the most effective strategy – as with all attempts at permanent self-improvement – is a change in habitual behaviour, hence my sitting manifesto is intended to inspire a commitment to a long-term alternative to avoiding sitting on the floor at all costs when you are not actually in a class. I even see this avoidance in Feldenkrais trainings now – I realise we were lucky in my training not to have access to enough chairs for us all to be able to sit on chairs during our training sessions).
The short film I originally included here originally revealed that the Brazilian doctor who designed the test was interested to discover that our modern concept of ‘fitness’ did not predict better health the way this kind of mobility does. Now unfortunately the most suitable film I have found is presented by exactly the kind of bulky muscular fitness model he was questioning. I will keep looking and replace this with a more appropriate model if possible, but I like how much extra information is included below this short film, and suspect I will have trouble finding exactly what I am looking for.
I think the research is interesting, and the test is an interesting challenge. Personally I am also aware that for hypermobile people the pressure on the ankles in this manoeuvre may feel like too much to tolerate – I am happy to score 8 and factor one knee into the equation, and other loose-jointed folk out there may feel the same way. As I update this article again at the end of 2020 I am aware that I sometimes feel strong enough to rise supported only by my ankles, and sometimes prefer to include a knee – as any regular readers knows, my own personal self-development goals include managing my own hypmobility so that my day-to-day functioning improves, and so to feel stronger and more able to muster my own strength on some days is a very positive sign for me.
Here are some older people exploring the test without accidentally promoting the sort of bulky musculature that requires intensive work at the gym:
…all I will add here is that the focus of Feldenkrais is to enable not just the basic achievement of a movement, but to achieve motion and action that is graceful and even elegant. So find yourself a regular Feldenkrais class, and you will develop your ability to get down onto the floor without falling – as so many do here – as well as being able to rise back up again more easily!
Here is a baby demonstrating so much of what goes on in our natural early development – glad I found this today as it is worth a lengthy discussion, however cannot stop to explore every aspect right now, so do just notice the easy transitions this child is making, the determined approach to the task, and the many complex vocalisations accompanying the various frustrations and triumphs:
…and this is a rather lovely dance-y video of the way we explore these transitions – lying, to sitting, to standing – in a Feldenkrais group class:
I have been told more than once that citizens of cultures that sit on the floor into old age are less likely to suffer from hip injuries in later life, but the evidence is hard to unearth. I will keep searching. I did however find an interesting blog on this theme from a very eloquent woman who is sharing her strategies for dealing with her spinal cord injury––she has turned her lounge into an affordable low-tech gym, so do check her blog out.
photo: Christian Kipp © The Feldenkrais Guild UK 2018