“Comfort” as a noun can be a slippery word. One definition has it as “a condition of pleasurable physical ease or release from pain or stress,” but a second definition calls it “a condition of well-being.” But physical ease doesn’t necessarily correlate to well-being, and nowhere is this truer than in our modern world of sitting down.
The human organism is a developmental motion machine. That means even when growth plates are closed and the human is fully grown, growth still occurs. For a basic example of that, look no further than cell activity, which is in a constant state of birth, decay, death, and rebirth (also known as cellular division). All of this growth is predicated on movement, and the engine of that movement is the muscular-skeletal system. It provides the energy for all continued growth, and how we move determines how we continue to grow.
We are a sitting society. We sit to get from here to there (planes, trains, automobiles, bicycles); many of us sit for many hours at work; and when work is done and we go for a little entertainment, well, we usually sit some more, either for a movie, a sporting event, or a good book or TV show at home. Almost all of that sitting is done in a couch or chair that rarely goes lower than twenty-four inches.
This is where we get into the confusion on the definition of “comfort.” When we sit in chairs all day long, we do provide a pleasurable physical ease and relief from stress. But we don’t provide comfort in the sense of well-being. In fact, just the opposite is true.
Because most of us never sit on the floor, most of us gradually lose our range of motion. Again, how we continue to grow is determined by the movement of our muscular-skeletal system, and if our muscles never tell our shoulder, hip, knee and ankle joints to go lower than those couches and chairs, those joints lose the ability to do just that, or at least lose the ability to do it easily and well. The muscles were designed to perform a full range of motion, with the four limbs moving in many directions. By limiting their motion, we limit their ability, and the initial sense of “comfort” we feel from sitting in a chair ultimately leads to a harmful discomfort in the sense of well-being.
We not only lose the ability to get up and down off the floor. Life, in many ways, becomes limited. The muscular-skeletal system is also the engine of all metabolic processes and rates. So when we limit our body’s ability to move, we also ultimately limit its ability to rapidly digest, we limit the strength of the immunity system, we limit the cognitive system to become as effective, and we hamper other bio-mechanical processes, such as bowel movements and menstrual cycles, all because of postural incongruity.
That’s right. So much of our basic health comes down to our posture. When researchers talk about a shortened life as is indicated by an inability to get up easily from the floor, what they’re really talking about is a reduction of the body’s metabolic rate and its loss of comfort in the “well-being” sense. Some attribute it to a loss of strength, but it’s not that at all. It’s a loss of the capability of the basic metabolism of the human organism because of habitually compromised posture.
And that loss of capability is a reflection of our habits. Our posture is simply a reflection of what we do each day, and if we have a habit of sitting only in couches and chairs and not working to realign our body, what we will see in the mirror is a compromised posture—a head that does not rest squarely atop the shoulders but rather juts forward, hips and knees that are not aligned above the ankles.
Aligned posture is about the shoulder joints, hip joints, knee joints and ankle joints correlating in a straight line, each set of joints directly above or below the others. That’s true comfort.
It is important to note that the body does not view stimulus as good or bad; it merely adapts to the stimulus it is provided and grows according to the habitual patterns of the host, many of which are formed unwittingly. Most of us sit in couches and chairs for years, simply unaware of the cumulative impact. There’s nothing wrong with couches and chairs, per se, and there’s nothing wrong with sitting in them, provided they’re not the only place we’re ever sitting, and provided that sitting in them is not all that we’re doing. We need to be mindful of all the human organism can do, which is significant and astounding, and we need to be doing it, often and regularly.
As stimulus is neither good nor bad, so, too, bodies are neither good nor bad. They’re just limited to varying degrees, depending on our habits, and the good news is those limits can be lifted rather quickly. As I said earlier, all growth is predicated on movement. So if our current movement is limiting our growth, then we need to change our movement to expand that growth. The body will respond. It always does. It’s smart. So any inability you have in getting up and down on the floor can be easily remedied. Thus, any diagnosis made from your ability to do so is, at best, impermanent; at worst, it is incomplete and even irresponsible.
For what you can do to start realigning your posture from all those couches and chairs, check out the video above.
There are some other quick things you can do every day. Before you stand up from a couch or chair, make sure your feet are parallel and pointing straight forward, not in or out. Then stand. Also, whenever you are moving, remind yourself to breathe. You may think you already do, but you’d be surprised how often people don’t breathe when they move; they usually breathe afterward. Lastly, here’s an exercise you can do easily twice a day. Go stand against a door or wall, making sure your feet and buttocks are pressed against the wall. Point your feet straight in front of you. That will feel odd because most of the time our feet are not pointed straight but rather to the side; it will probably feel like you’re pigeon-toed. Next, flex your thigh muscles, relax your abdomen, pull your shoulder blades back toward your spine, then lean your head against the wall. Hold that position for a couple of minutes, remembering to breathe. You’ll be amazed by the effect it has.
The more your body responds to its new range of motion, the more comfortable you will be in every sense of the word. In fact, begin today by expanding your range of motion, and you’ll be surprised at how quickly and dramatically all your function will improve.
And how comfortable you will feel.
Known as the father of postural therapy, Pete Egoscue has helped relieve thousands of people from their chronic pain, including many of the world’s leading athletes. For more information on Pete and any of his 25 clinics worldwide, go to egoscue.com.
By Pete Egoscue