Archetypal Sitting

I’ve been saying for many years now, when you have to sit — don’t sit like a lady, sit like a yogi.

Now there are studies proving the benefits of this. It has been coined “Archetypal Rest Postures”. 

Think we sit more now than we did when we were hunter gatherers? Guess again, we don’t. 

Research shows those who sit in an office over 8 hours per day without breaking it up have the same risk for lung cancer as smokers. But, it’s not just that sitting is the new smoking, it’s how you sit that makes it equivalent to smoking or not.

Some of the latest research following the Hadza tribe of Tanzania, a modern day hunter gatherer tribe (I wonder if they are getting tired of all these modern people coming around and watching them, poking and prodding them with our tests?), shows they sit just as much as an office worker in modern society today, however they don’t sit in a chair. They spend most of their sedentary time in a squat or sitting with their legs up underneath them, or in kneeling positions. Sound familiar? I’ve been teaching this!

Increase muscle activity when sitting.
One of the reasons sitting still in a chair is so harmful is because of circulation. It is really hard for your body to get everything to circulate upward below the waist when you are sitting in a chair with your feet on the floor. So toxins build up, muscle get tight and full of tension, and your whole body gets sluggish. The secret is to move around while you sit and change positions often.

When you are squatting or kneeling you are using more muscles in your thighs while sitting, this is the key — try to sit in ways that engage more muscles in your body. 

Try not to sit with your upper and lower bodies disconnected as in chair sitting with your feet flat on the floor. This creates a disconnect between your upper and lower bodies due to the challenge of circulating everything below the waist. In fact, ashtanga addressed this with the primary series posture supta padanghustasana, where we are lying on the floor catching out big toe while curling up engaging our abs, those combined actions reconnect the upper and lower bodies improving the communication and circulation in the whole body. 

Chairs and toilets are making Americans tight, when I speak of full squats I instantly get comments of knee pain and/or tightness that prevents one from squatting. It’s a lifestyle matter. Archetypal and cultural societies squat often in their activities of daily living. This keeps the ability to squat as you age. Even if you can’t squat all the way down anymore, half squats are very beneficial, just squat in a pain free range of motion. 

Take a look at each activity you have to sit, such as watching TV, being a passenger in a car, work, computer time, these are all opportunities to learn a new more active way of sitting. 

Even just fidgeting often has benefit if you have to sit with your feet on the floor.  Try not to sit still too long no matter how you are sitting. 

This is my work table/desk. Notice how beefy the stools are that allow me to sit with my legs up underneath me.

Here are some suggestions:

  • When you are watching tv sit on the floor
  • when you are working from home try putting your computer on a coffee table and sitting on the floor to work
  • Make it even better and sit outside on the ground to work
  • When reading a book, weather permitting, take it outside and read on a blanket on the ground
  • When you do have to sit on a chair, have a chair that is big enough to allow you to pull your feet up
  • Use stools with no arms or backs whenever you can
  • Kneel, standing on your knees or sitting on your heels when working from the floor or ground. 
  • Squat to pick things up
  • Squat down to eye level to talk to children and pets. 
  • To make squatting easier to maintain for a longer period of time, squat down all the way and put a pillow under your buttocks.
  • After every 15-20 minutes of sitting stand up and do a few squats or some stretches or even half the sun salute. 
  • Alternate between sitting and standing and when you are standing change standing positions often. 
  • Working from home and have a garden? Take a 10 minute break and pull some weeds, you’ll be surprised how refreshed 
  • Ideally have a desk height that allows you to go between standing and sitting, as I have done with my tall table and stool. 

This is our dining table, notice my seat is a piano bench. I don’t like typical chairs!

These more active ways to sit increase flexibility, improve circulation, reduce recovery times, and even enhanced glucose tolerance.

Enter Thoppu Karanam

If you do have to sit at a desk in an office break it up with Thoppu Karanam or what is called “Super Brain Yoga”

Hold your right earlobe with your left thumb on the front, fingernail outward and index finger behind your lobe. Then do the same with your right hand holding your left earlobe — and it matters which hand is on top left first, right on top.

Modernly its taught to stand with your feet hip distance apart and squat while holding your earlobes; inhale squat, exhale stand up. Squat with your breath. Although I habitually switch over to the yoga breathing way of inhaling on extension (when standing up) and exhaling on flexion or the squat down.

Photo by Patrick McDowell

The right ear lobe represents the left brain, which includes the pituitary gland. When you hold the right ear lobe in this manner, you energize your left brain and balance the hormonal secretions of the pituitary gland.

The left ear lobe represents the right brain, including the pineal gland. Holding the left ear lobe this way energizes and activates the right brain and balances the pineal gland which is what secretes melatonin.

According to yoga texts this exercise activates the brain, balances the energy of the heart and brain, synchronizes the right and left sides of the brain improving their communication giving you a sharper mind. It also induces calmness by relaxing and balancing the two sides of the autonomic nervous system leaving one with a feeling of more energy and less stress.

It’s quick and easy to do so why not slip it in and break up a little computer time throughout your day.

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