In the 3.5 billion year tale of human evolution, it is from our fish ancestors that we and our entire extended vertebrate family inherit our spinally organised head-tail structure. Legs arrived much later, and in some sense their function is simply to get the earth out of the way so…
Sitting for many of us is an inescapable feature of our daily activities and one which we struggle with. Maybe it even pains us. Especially when we’re sitting in front of a computer and our attention is focused on that screen.
Many books on ergonomics and posture propose a correct way of sitting, an ideal, which if taken seriously, we cannot help but fail to live up to. In this paradigm, any discomfort experienced while sitting is either our fault, or the fault of our particular chair-desk combination.
The first costs us our sense of wellbeing, while the second costs us money if we buy into the quest for the latest ergonomic furniture solution.
But searching for ease in sitting doesn’t have to be approached like this. There’s another more fun and intuitive way to engage with sitting. And the clue rests with the fact that somewhere in our past we have all embodied this ideal.
We have all experienced ideal sitting
We human beings are not designed to sit up straight. There’s not a single straight line in our bodies. Nor are we designed to sit still. If there is an ideal way to sit then it is one which nearly all of us has experienced but, paradoxically, few of us make use of in our daily lives.
My proposition is that ideal sitting, if such a thing existed, is most clearly demonstrated by a baby who has just acquired the ability. With a larger head in relation to its body than that of the adult, and the neuromuscular system unused to the position, a baby has no other option other than to balance its head above its pelvis, making the best possible use of the bones of the spine and pelvis for support. And the motivation to sit is to orient to and engage with the environment.
Forget posture – comfortable sitting is more like dancing
As babies we certainly didn’t sit still for long. Sitting for babies is not a position that they hold, but one they move through. So, if we take baby-sitting as an ideal to inspire us, then movement is a part of it too. In other words, sitting is a bit like dancing.
By considering sitting as being like dancing, then we can all benefit from gentle and playful somatically-oriented movement investigations, supported by the latest developments in neuroscience, to improve our experience of sitting.
Learning about sitting the BodySchool way
What you won’t be told in this work is how to sit correctly. Our bodies are not like those of babies. That ideal is simply an image to aspire towards. We are are all different shapes and sizes, with different histories, education and cultural backgrounds. Negotiating between these, and also to mitigate injuries we might have picked up along life’s way, we’ve all devised our own habits of sitting, all perfectly valid even if far from ideal.
Instead you’ll be invited to try out many different ways to play with sitting. The aim is not to erase your habits but instead to multiply your range of solutions to the physical puzzles presented by sitting. Playing with puzzles is fun; being as deeply engaged with our physical selves as we were in childhood.
The more variations you can teach yourself through play, then the more choices you’ll have to move through when you sit. And of course, if you discover something pleasurable about how you can move playfully in sitting, then you are more likely to apply it spontaneously in daily life. It becomes part of your movement repertoire.
Working smarter not harder
We’ll look at some basic anatomical structures in ourselves and you’ll be guided to feel how your own personal anatomy (experiential anatomy) shapes your movement. We will examine how different ways of thinking of, or imagining, ourselves sitting effects how we actually sit (ideokinesis). And we’ll do some gentle Feldenkrais Awareness Through Movement classes to take us beyond our habitual use of ourselves.
We’ll also make use of the latest insights from neurological research, which enable us to work smarter not harder. All the movements we’ll do will be easy, slow and relaxing and can be done by anyone.
Please don’t think you’ll be sitting all the time. We’ll also work in standing and walking, and we’ll spend a lot of time lying down. Working smart means working without suffering. Sitting is our focus and we’ll return to it again and again, but many of the strategies we’ll explore to improve sitting won’t all be done in sitting!
The course structure
In the full three-weekend course, the first weekend looks primarily at how to sit comfortably and the part the legs have to play in the organisation of the torso; the second weekend explores how to integrate the arms and hands; and the third weekend brings in the use of the eyes and breath, and introduces ways to play with orientation in space to bring ease and awareness to working in front of the screen. Above all, the aim is to learn how not to get stuck in an uncomfortable position!
Shorter introductory classes or workshops are also available, please email me if you are interested in organising an introduction at your workplace.
What you’ll leave with
Besides the experience itself, and whatever tools, tips and tricks that you may pick up and integrate into your lives, I offer a booklet with notes and illustrations as a reminder of everything that we’ve covered in class. I also record all the Feldenkrais Awareness Through Movement classes and make them available as downloadable mp3 files so you can repeat these longer and more complex sequences of guided movement explorations at home whenever you like.
And finally, even if sitting ever more comfortably is our goal, since any improvements you feel will be the result of some reorganisation of your way of being with yourself physically, then you may notice positive changes in other realms of your life. As I say in the introduction to BodySchool: “The way we learn to orient to and move through the world sets the ground for all the other skills that we learn in life.” In other words, change how you move and everything changes.