Sitting is Better than Standing – If you Know How

The latest research undermines the current fad towards standing at work as a solution to difficulties experienced in sitting. [see Cochrane Review paper and Whitehall study ]

This comes as no surprise to a practitioner of the Feldenkrais Method®.

Humans are inherently unstable.

As a physicist Moshe Feldenkrais clearly explained why the human body is not designed for standing in one place for any length of time. Having a high centre of gravity on a small base (our feet) means humans are relatively unstable in their upright stance. A considerable amount of brainpower and muscular work is devoted to maintaining a stable vertical position. This is especially so when we are standing still and not engaged in active moving across the ground.

Humans are made for moving

The upright human body is ideal  for movement across the ground  for a remarkably wide range of activities. For example, (good) walking is one the most efficient and integrated human activities as well one of the most common. Walking (and running) for much of the time involves being supported on one foot, not two feet, at any particular moment in this activity.

However, when it is necessary to remain in one place to undertake a particular activity like reading or writing then sitting is by far more efficient and less stressful on the body structure than standing

So why do so many people suffer in their seated work?

It must be the technology? Wrong! The equipment, the computer based devices? Wrong again!

FACT: It’s our lack of awareness of how our body functions in movement and the consequential poor use of ourselves in our work (and other) environments that is the primary cause of our problems.

Individuals and businesses can spend large amounts of money investing in the latest ergonomic equipment and online information about what you should do. But this is of very little benefit if the individual has not learned to move themselves somatically (bodily) in an effective and integrated way.

Very few people I come across in my practice or elsewhere really “grasp” how important it is to be properly supported at all times by your two feet and the boney base of your pelvis (sit bones) when sitting. This understanding  does not come from following instructions or studying functional anatomy. Although that can help. What is essential is the sensory experiencing of these fundamentals of dynamic sitting.

We are creatures of habit …

You can’t learn this in 5 minutes or even 5 hours and necessarily experience comfort and ease in sitting if your learned habits and responses to your environment over a lifetime have not been informed by somatic (body) awareness.

This is a difficult thing for Western culture to get its head around as we believe we can control our environment through our ‘head’ and that our body is secondary. So that if we read about good sitting we will be able to sit well. But neuroscience is finding out that in fact we embody  our learning. So when our history of somatic (body) learning has been faulty, the way we move and the very shape of our bones and our body profile reflects that history.

… but we have an almost limitless capacity to improve

What is required is not book learning or some vague “mindfulness” but involves developing a very specific sensory experiencing of the interconnection between the efficient support and alignment of your bony structure and neuromuscular system. It is the kind of learning we did at a very young age but have lost.

Once a client has learnt to sit well I can begin to show them not only how to learn to move well and with ease in sitting activities but also how to improve their total functioning in any activity – sitting, standing, walking or running. This is what I mean by dynamic sitting.

Here is how one of my clients experienced this approach to dynamic sitting:

“I went to Alan in the first place as I had chronic pain in my arms, neck and back when sitting at my desk. I learnt your work station works around you, and your body is the most important environment of all. Learning how to sit properly over a couple of sessions has improved my experience immensely.”   – Mark Frampton, Karori

– Alan Cameron ©