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  • Foto van schrijverPieter Derycke

Ground postures and floor living

“Every one is emperor on his own ground.”

If we know, more and more, that sitting on a chair is a real, independent health hazard (e.g. this study), and if you’re thinking about health in evolutionary ways, there are two ways to address the sitting problem: we’re sitting too much and/or we’re sitting wrong. The former is obviously true. Move! More!

The latter, I hypothesise, could also be true, but not in the way most physical therapists would expect. Not in the ‘sit-straight-and-it-will-be-OK’ way. Hunter-gatherers move more than us (at least, most of us), but they also need rest, and they have activities while sitting (digging, cracking nuts, making tools and jewellery, …). But they sit on the ground!

I have been giving my patients this picture from an old, but very cool scientific article, from 1957: ‘World Distribution of Certain Postural Habits’, by Gordon Hewes (here). It shows some of the probably hundreds of different resting postures one can have. How many do you employ?

The ones with the yellow square around it, I consider to be basic floor sitting postures (hat tip to Phillip Beach), the others are varieties.

I also use this picture to give some of my favourite exercises or assignments, as I prefer to call them:

  • Can you be comfortable in all the basic postures? If not, this is something to work on. You can do this either by doing specific exercises, or by just sitting on the floor as much as you can (but not more than you can).

  • Can you gracefully change from one position to another? How many different ways to change can you perform? Be creative.

  • Can you gracefully get up from each of these sitting postures? How many different ways to stand up from each posture can you perform? Be creative.

Of course, for people with pain and/or specific dysfunction, we may have to adapt the assignment, or change some of it. And evidently you always have to take it easy while moving in new ways.

I like these exercises because of multiple reasons:

  • They are basic, natural resting postures. We all should be comfortable is at least a few of them.

  • The assignment promotes mobility of the whole lower body (with the exception of hip extension, which is rather important).

  • The assignment promotes movement exploration in a safe way, and thus enhances bodily intelligence.

  • The assignment is often perceived as fun (relative to other exercises).

  • The assignment can be substituted with actual floor living. E.g. while reading, using phone or computer, watching TV, … No need for compliance once you live the movements.

  • For most in the west, these are unfamiliar postures, and so doing them will enhance the state of the homunculus. Added points for extra skin involvement.

  • It increases functional capacity: if you know how to sit on the floor, you can rest comfortably and everywhere. No more sore backs on a picnic, no more aching knees after a camping trip, no more difficulties when playing on the floor with your (grand)children.

  • Sitting on the floor necessitates standing up from the floor. Great movements that should be easy for all, even the elder people. See this paper

Think of the opening proverb (which appears to be German), let us take it too literal and be an emperor on your ground!




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