Sitting will kill you! Sitting is the new smoking!
Let´s face it: The most dangerous threat to life is life itself!
My old biology book is a wonderful resource of authentic material documenting how set beliefs are developed and our attitude towards our bodies shaped.
A reed-thin stick figure ist sitting on a tiny chair. The bent legs have no joints. The feet are tiny and without heels, the thighs join directly into the spine and the head – far too heavy for the fragile spine – is laying face forward on the table. No ears. But: it smiles! Above is a red arrow. Accusingly it points toward the rounded spine, stating: “wrong way to sit”.
So. So that´s wrong. But what´s right? The school system leaves me helpless – at least my biology book refuses to give any advice.
But economy – hurray – offers numerous answers to this question. Countless products and services offer to rescue us from the slowly appoaching “death at the desk”. “Best office chair back pain” ist entered very often into the search engines. Not only sex sells. Fear too.
Anxiety is a poor advisor. The free market too.
Yes, we do sit a lot and yes, it has consequences for our body. We in-corporate our lives. The amount of sitting has increased and the amount of walking decreased. Most of the things we had to walk for can now be accomplished with a mouse click. Yes: the idea of the human organism is movement. Sitting is the embodiment of motionlessness.
So if motionlessness is the core of the problem, there are three obvious ways of solving it:
- Move as you sit. We call it “dynamic sitting” so we produce shaky chairs, and sitting balls to rock and swing and only get more tense.
- Sit less. So we produce adjustable high tables for offices and do our meetings standing.
- Sit correctly. You have been sitting since the age of 5 but you are so incompetent, that you have no idea how to do it correctly.
Let´s face it: Does this work for you? Not for me. And so a sense of guilt creeps under my skin as I must be to weak-minded, not disciplined enough, too weak and too stupid to sit correctly. How stupid I am, as I know how dangerous it is as I´m continuing to do it. Blame myself for the slipped disc – if I had only exercised more! And with this irresponsible sitting behaviour I am creating costs for the general public.
Anxiety makes us motionless and makes us slump..
“A theory should be as simple as possible – but not simpler.” Albert Einstein
There is no “black and white”, “right and wrong”. We are social beings, complex, alive and under many influences. I really hope that this “pro-sitting-list” gives you a sense of feeling for the long, exciting history and tradition of sitting. This history is not something we can just wash away. Understanding the cultural importance of sitting was a relief for me and changed my way of sitting. What about you?
- As nomads we lived a chairless life moving through the countryside. As we settled we became sedenetary. By sitting on the land we literaly posessed it. The Latin root of all this words is “possidere” which means “to sit on”.
- In old Egyptian times only one person sat: the pharao. He was the chair-man, the pre-sident. Being the only one who never did any physical labour he could serve as a knowledge-reservoir for the people. Who sits, reigns.
- In old catholic times only the priest was allowed to sit down. Common people had to stand in the cathedrals. Using the standing aids (Misericordien) a monk or nun in the sanctuary sinned. Therefore ugly monsters were attached beneath this misericordiae to deter sitting down. Only after the beginning of the reformation from 1517 onwards were chairs gradually provided for the parishioners. So it´s only for 500 years that we have all been allowed to sit at an equal level. What an achievement!
- Sitting still – the skill of not following every impulse to move – is a tremendous cultural achievement. It allows the mind to transcend over the body, to think complex thoughts, to recognise abstract relations. Important philosophical oeuvres and literature were created sitting at a desk. And in many old traditions as Zen or Vipassana understanding and enlightenment lies in the practise of sitting still.
- Sitting is a relief for feet and legs. During industrialization that was great luxury and expressed a high status. At machines and assembly lines work was done standing – for hours and hours. Even the accounting clerks had standing desks. One was very lucky if one could sit down! And every bookseller and shoe shop assistant can tell you about it.
- Sitting creates eye level and how you sit creates social bonds. Sitting up straight as a teenager is really not cool and would cost the support of the peer group.
- Sitting creates trust and community. “Let´s take a seat.” This sentence calms and gives stability. Sitting together signals that we are taking time, that we won´t jump and run away in the next moment. The back of the chair is shelter, security and support.
- Sitting is comfortable, versatile and fun!
Don´t let yourself be infected by hysteria and scare mongers. Don´t let anyone give you a guilty conscience. Don´t let anyone drive you mad. The only person to judge your sitting is you.
So: Take a seat! Relax and let your mind wander. Sense the relief for your legs and dream yourself into a life without sitting-stress. What would that require? Do you really want to sit less? Or rather walk more? Then go for a quiet walk this evening – right now around the block.
Make peace with sitting. You´re in respectable company!