When you take a class at the CommonWealth School of Herbal Medicine, like as not, you’ll sit on the floor. Oh, don’t worry, we have a table and even a “comfy chair” if you’re feeling squishy. But in general, we much prefer to have a seat on a cushion on the floor. Why? Like most of what we do, because it’s better for your body!

Most of us spend many hours every day sitting in chairs. Additionally, most of us learned that to show attentiveness in class, you must sit very still. These two behaviors might make for a quiet, non-disruptive classroom, but not for a happy body.

When we sit in one position (say, in a chair) for a long period of time, we’re actually training our muscles. It’s hard to imagine that by sitting in a chair, you’re training your muscles, but you are: you are training your body to remain folded up into a particular configuration for an extended amount of time. This changes the way that blood flows through the body, reducing overall flow to the whole lower part of your body. And now, instead of flowing in a nice centrifugal spiral, it begins to crash into the bends in your blood vessels like bumper cars, causing oxidative damage and weakening in these areas.
Prolonged sitting also changes the structures of your muscles. In order to remain intact, your skeleton depends on a muscle system that remains in appropriate tension: too much tension and connective tissue can snap. Too little and your muscles would fall out of place. When we sit for periods of time, our body reconfigures the muscles, in this case, shortening them to take up the slack. You are training your body to be a “sitting machine” – and your body is actually reconfiguring itself in order to comply!

But of course, sometimes, sitting is useful. So how do we sit without damage? First, we get rid of the furniture that allows your muscles to slacken. Furniture will hold your body up for you, so your muscles don’t have to do any work. By sitting on the floor, you have more opportunity to engage your muscles in your sitting. You can sit up with good posture, allowing your core muscles to hold up your body. You can sit right up on your sitzbones, which prevents the tailbone from tucking in – giving you a neutral pelvis position, which will help to lengthen the muscles of your pelvic floor and prevent the leg and lower back damage that is caused by tucking the tailbone in. Not only that, but you can move around frequently, changing position so that you’re not training your body to stay stuck in one position. You can even practice yoga or other stretching techniques while you’re right there on the floor!

What if the idea of sitting on the floor is new to you? Maybe you like the concept, but you’ve been sitting in chairs for so long that you know you don’t have much flexibility in your hips and legs? No problem! By adding extra cushions, we can help you to find a position that encourages good pelvic position, and allows extra height so that your legs and hips can make the change slowly. And if you prefer, you can also stand at the work table, or sit on a stool at the table for a while, while you lengthen your ability to sit comfortably on the floor.

Don’t ever feel shy about shifting around or getting up to stretch if you need to: we want you to move often! It’s not just good for your muscles – it also keeps your mind engaged!

Interested in Katy Bowman’s work with Aligned and Well? Katja is currently training with Katy to become a Restorative Exercise certified practitioner, adding a solid foundation in movement therapy to our vitalist philosophy on herbalism and good health!

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