"Unless ye become as little children ye cannot enter the kingdom of Heaven" - Jesus Christ.
We spend an hour and half in our yoga practice putting ourselves into different shapes.
Then what about the rest of the day? What shapes is your body in and how is it affecting your health, mental state and your yoga practice?
While there is plenty of information on the next way to jump into [insert whatever latest posture here] I'm going to talk about a part of our lives not discussed.
This post is part of the Strong Foundations Series which you can sign up for for free by clicking here
Jesus never ate Twinkies.
Apparently there is a part in the Bible that says if you are a guest somewhere and the host offers you food to never refuse it.
I heard about this from Darby's son Shankara years ago.
When he told the story he said after....
"Well when Jesus was around there were no Twinkies!".
Good point. There were no "food like products" to avoid at that time. It brought up the important distinction that the world we live in today is unlike any in human history.
Our “threats” are not natural ones like getting eaten by an animal (unless you live where I do) but instead man made and a lot less obvious.
Have you heard of the book "The Omnivore’s Dilemma" by Michael Pollen? He teaches about how corn is basically in all the food we eat. It’s become so prevalent in the food supply that it’s almost impossible to avoid.
Well for resting our bodies we have a similar situation happening.
Introducing the monocrop of human resting - The chair sitting position.
Sitting in a chair puts your body in a single very distinct position.
Along with the toilet, the car, the couch, the bike, the exercise equipment - we are constantly being asked to put our bodies in this one shape for extended periods of time.
This shape becomes the dominant resting nutrient. Where the problem starts is that the other resting nutrients, the ones the open your hips as well as strengthens your legs & back, are no longer part of your resting diet.
Technology moves in. Nature gets pushed out. You end up with back pain, fear and no squat.
Our bodies are a part of nature. We do better when challenged with variety and little bits of stress. Not so much stress that it hurts you but just enough to continue to be challenged and grow stronger. I teach about the other forces of nature to bring in the email series Strong Foundations
Floor Sitting Positions To Open Your Hips
As children we master the floor resting positions. My brother and I were pro's.
Next we master getting up and down from the floor.
Then? We forgot all about both of them and start sitting in chairs. Usually just after starting school.
Not until we leave a yoga class with back pain do we realize that we can’t do those same body positions that a child or people who live in natural environments can do without effort and without learning.
The kingdom of heaven just closed the doors.
Since there is only so much time to devote to your yoga practice in a day one way you can start to regain some of your natural human mobility is simply by removing the chair technology and start sitting on the floor.
This requires no extra time, no extra cost and as an added bonus you will be doing 50 or more squats a day as you get up and get down. You'll also be doing all sorts of variations of sitting postures as you spend time on the floor reaching and moving for things.
Learning how to both sit on the floor and then how to get up and down from it will strengthen what needs to get strong and bring flexibility to what needs to be flexible.
You won't need to learn the names of the muscles or why they do what they do. We just learn from the example of children and natural people on how to spend our day getting our daily movement nutrients.
"Marichiasana D? Got anything harder?" - Man in Picture
Below I’ll show you some of the floor resting postures I use while working on my computer.
I started floor sitting almost 3 years ago now and it's made a massive difference in my practice but also in my mental attitude. More about the mental effects of floor sitting after the resting postures. Before you read them I want to point out one important point
Variety & volume is what we want here. Not intensity. Remember this is resting.
1. The Drinking Posture
This is called the Drinking Posture since apparently this is how people would bend over to drink water out of springs pre plastic bottles. To make this a little more comfortable I often put my Mysore rug underneath my knees just to soften the bone on hard floor issue.
I like this resting posture since it helps open up the feet and toes plus adds in some ankle dorsiflexion. It can be intense in the beginning but just from doing a little each day my ability to stay in it has increased pretty quickly and I definitely notice the increased range of motion in postures like Janushirshasana C.
An added bonus is that because of the intensity you have to move out of it. This is important. We want as many positions as possible.
2. The Hanuman
Often you see Hanuman bent down on one leg as in the picture above. Also known as the Cowboy Posture this position sets us up for the floor to standing transition.
Getting up from the floor is an overlooked essential movement nutrient that is lacking in our propped up world.
As you see in the picture my left leg is in the flat footed squat position and then I have the help of the right leg to assist me in getting up. Use the right leg with the toes flexed and the ankle in dorsiflexion to propel you forward to get up to standing.
If you alternate between legs then before you know it you have done a bunch of single leg squats all day. Small actions repeated add up.
Another option is to sit with both legs under you and knees bent which is the Japanese Seiza position
3. The Side Saddle
5. Cobbler Posture
If you've been to Mysore to study at KPJAYI then it is more than likely you walked past this man by the coconut stand. The first time I saw him my jaw dropped. Then I saw more cobblers with the same open hips.
This level of mobility is something you just don't see that often in the chair culture of the West. These natural body positions have become extreme to us when for a lot of natural people this is just baseline.
The simple crosslegged position is not to be overlooked. When I first started attempting it as a working position I had to sit up on rugs to get my hips higher than my knees. I would prop myself up with cushions to get into a spot I could stay in long enough (20 mins) to get some work done.
Over time my body changed and 3 years later it's finally becoming possible to sit straight up and have my knees on the ground without discomfort.
Although you will notice changes all along the way this is still a slow process and remember that if you spent 20 to 30 years or more molding your body into chair shape that it will take some time to mold it out.
7. Long Sitting
Jump through straight legs. Sit down.
We all know this one. Sit on your butt with your legs straight out in front of you. Watch you aren't defaulting into spinal flexion at the lumbar spine. If you find it hurts your low back use some props to support yourself and focus on doing standing postures in practice correctly.
Again I teach about it in Strong Foundations why haven't you signed up yet?
8. The Cobra
I got this one from my Dad. He used to do his paperwork at night laying on his stomach with a couple pillows propped under him while he watched the hockey game. I've never seen his backbend but I bet it's pretty good.
When I was searching for a position to work on the computer without having my hips in flexion I remembered this is how he did it. In India they have these great floor chairs that I use in reverse to create a similar effect. Make sure any bend is at the thoracic and not in your lumbar.
And now for the holy grail of natural human resting positions.....
9. The Flat Footed Squat
Want to be able to squat? Then do more squats.
Not the kind where you go to the gym after slamming a red bull but simple body weight resting squats throughout your day. Whether that is picking something up from the floor or working on your computer, start to make a conscious effort to bring your version of this movement and resting position into your life.
The men above who I'm guessing are over 40 at least are the people who make the Ekaminhale Organic Rugs. When we went to visit the weavers they offered us coconuts after and with ease they could get up and down plus work in a full flat footed squat.
They have this ability because they do it all day long everyday. Pashasana for these guys? No problem.
Although my squat has improved dramatically it's still not 100% there to rest comfortably. To make it a resting position I add in some support with one of the Mysore Rugs for the heels.
What I've listed are just a few of the many natural resting positions you can use while on the floor.
Don't stress about it. Just get on the floor and let your body figure it out. If you start to feel uncomfortable then adjust. Add in some cushions or blankets for support or just move to a new position.
The more you move around on the floor the better. Look how children do it. They don't just sit in one spot all day, they constantly move around in a million different positions and they didn't even have to read this post.
In my office there are no chairs. Just the standing workstation and then a floor workstation. Keep the junk movement out of the house so it's not an option. All my supplies etc are around me on the floor so I'm constantly moving around like little kid.
A good mantra to follow is "the best position is the next one".
The Deeper Meaning of Floor Sitting
The different positions your body gets into when sitting on the ground have been used by people since the beginning of time. Our bodies were meant to sit on the ground and when we return to these positions our body thanks us for it.
What may not be as apparent is the attitude that also develops.
Since I started sitting on the ground I often get weird looks in public places in the West.
People assume that something is wrong with you and that you should be put in a chair.
A chair above the ground. Above the earth.
And this is where all of our problems as species start. Thinking we should be above the earth.
We are not above the earth. We are part of it. We need to return to the earth both physically and mentally to heal the damage we have done by this wrong attitude.
It may be as simple as removing that man made technology like shoes and chairs then just sitting down on the grass. feeling the ground on your skin and then seeing what happens.
This post is part of the Strong Foundations Series which you can sign up for for free by clicking here
Want to learn more about sitting on the floor and getting up and down from it? Watch this excellent video from Phillip Beach