I BLAME CHAIRS!
There I said it. I mentioned in my last post that I blame chairs for a lot of the habits of holding our backs we humans have today. It is not our fault. It is the chairs that we have been using since our youth that have influenced the shape of our bodies. A hundred years ago the shape of people was different. Everyone was more physically active because bicycles were more popular than cars, playing was an outdoor pursuit, and time spent sitting was a small percentage of time spent sitting today.
When I think about the negative impact chairs have had on most of our bodies it makes me angry. It feels like a huge conspiracy the world made to trap us into sitting and holding ourselves back. But it was just progress. Automobiles offered a more passive sitting experience to riding a horse or driving a carriage. Many social and technological factors are involved in humans moving less, but let's take the chair.
Can you remember the school chair that came into vogue in the nineteen-sixties and seventies? A revolution for the time with the invention of polypropylene and mouldable, cheap, stackable designs. How wonderfully ergonomic for tidying up spaces. How cool and trendy to move away from traditional flat wooden benches, to something curvy, and new. I can see the attraction at the time.
As you just think of these chairs what feelings come up in you?
Some find them comfortable, but in the surveys I have done more have feelings of discomfort, boredom and being trapped.
Let’s look at the design with human support in mind.
Which seat do you prefer?
The five year old child has been moving since it emerged. The child is suddenly asked to go to school and sit down for long periods in a room full of other five year olds. To the new school goer it is a challenge to be still, stop moving, with all these new people and things to play with. Everything is new.
They sit in the plastic chair that slopes backwards and figure out for themselves, naturally, how to balance their head over their spine and pelvis. They may move the chair forward swinging on the front two legs or they will fold a leg under their pelvis to prop it up and support the spine. Both ways are useful to take the torso and head forward towards their work/play, but neither is sustainable in the classroom. These behaviours are ill-advised by the teacher, and so the instruction to sit “properly” starts. (That's another story I'll save for later.)
And so it begins. Slowly the beautiful movement, agility and freedom we were born with gets trapped into muscle tensions developed from managing ergonomically unhealthy furniture. By teenage years the habits are already strong and we are dependent on the backs of chairs for support, more than the natural support of our own beautifully design spine.
The curved shape of the chair looks attractive but it invites the pelvis to roll back. If the pelvis is rolling back then the spine needs to lean and use the back of the chair. Now the upper spine and head curves forward so that the head is over the pelvis again. But the spine is not stacked to support the weight of the head. The neck and back muscles are holding onto the heavy head and the front muscles are shortening to adapt to the smaller space. (See the pink lines). Muscles of the whole torso are out of balance and working inefficiently. The chair is taking the child/person backwards when the task they wish to be involved in is forward.
When we sit on the sit bones, the pelvis is supporting the spine and the whole torso has room to be alive and available for movement. (See yellow)
Chairs have us Holding ourselves Back by invisibly teaching us to Hold muscle tension in Our Backs just to sit.
(This is one of the reasons I called my website Don't Hold Back.)
These days there is greater interest in creative ways of learning and encouraging children to move more. This is more from the point of view of catering to all types of learning and abilities, integrative learning practices and prevention of obesity, than improving posture. Preventing poor posture can assist all these goals.
Sitting has been labelled the new smoking. Long hours hard at work sitting down has many health risks these days. Movement is medicine, so I heard the for both body and mind health. Standing desks, sitting on balls and walking meetings are new trends in the workplace. Running and mindful meditation are the antidotes when off-duty. All of this is positive self-care. It is important that the average adult who has developed poor postural habits without knowing why or how, begins to realise that dependence on chairs might be a problem.
I hope this helps you understand how you have become the shape you are, and that you are not to blame for poor posture. On a positive note, understanding how your spine is designed to support your head and other movements, offers natural poise in sitting, standing or whatever activity you choose. You can move more naturally and free yourself up so that you Don’t Hold your Back muscles in tension.
I am not saying never use the back of a chair. Of course we can relax and switch off, put your feet up and watch the telly. But if I am working with a job, something I am interested and engaged in, in front of me, is it wise to be looking for support behind me? Am I being pulled in different directions?
There is a lot of information there to digest. What I have written challenges the way we understand sitting and that is no small thing. We may not have thought about it before but chairs influence our whole life. Please share your thoughts and objections to what I have written. It is important we understand how we are supporting ourselves.
Don't Hold Back.
Love Fiona xxx
If you want to learn how to support yourself through the design of your spine, sign up for Get to Know Your Body Better or ask me about private lessons Fiona@fionacranwell.ie
I am Fiona and I am exploring themes of meeting resistances and allowing ways through. The constant weeding, recognising the stuff that's in the way to live easier.