Chairs: The Seat of Wisdom
A chair that encourages an easy upright posture, a minimum amount of harmful strain, and that is comfortable to sit in throughout the day?
Most Alexander Technique teachers would say “no” – that the harmful postures people exhibit when sitting are primarily a function of the way in which they sit, not the object they sit on.
F. Matthias Alexander, the developer of the Technique himself said – in this case about “correct” school furniture: “…what we need to do is not to educate our school furniture, but to educate our children. Give a child the ability to adapt himself within reasonable limits to his environment, and he will not suffer discomfort, nor develop bad physical habits, whatever chair or form you give him to sit upon.”
And just how can you (or your child) acquire that skill?
Simple: take a course of Alexander Technique lessons from a qualified teacher.
And, by the way, a portion of your lessons will consist of “chair work” – sitting in a chair, standing up, sitting down again. A teaching procedure almost as old as the Technique itself.
There is certainly a lot to be said for taking Alexander Technique lessons in order to be able to sit more easily – especially these days when many of us are sitting for longer and longer portions of the day.
But of course the same sort of argument could be made for – let’s say – coal miners working in a four-foot shaft.
With proper Alexander Technique training, they could spend their long and hard-working days in a “posture of mechanical advantage” – ankles, knees and hips easily bent, head releasing gently away from their unstressed torso.
I wonder how many Alexander Technique teachers would willingly sign up for this experiment!
I think we need to admit that there are some activities we humans just aren’t well adapted for – and that maybe sitting for long periods is one of them.
That’s the argument made by Galen Cranz, a Professor of Architecture at the University of California, Berkeley and a teacher of the Alexander Technique. She is the author of The Chair: Rethinking Culture, Body and Design, a fascinating book on many levels, and one I highly recommend to anyone who uses a chair. She also wrote an essay titled The Chair as a Health Hazard.
The title pretty much gives away her general take on chairs!
Galen makes a few specific suggestions for sitting – using a stool that’s about 1 1/2 times as high as a standard chair, “perching”, and using a lounge chair.
This latter idea will probably come as a shock to most Alexander Technique teachers and students, but like all of her suggestions it is deeply rooted in basic Alexander Technique concepts.
Galen challenges some long-held Alexander Technique beliefs, but her thinking is solidly based on basic Alexander Technique principles and I believe her ideas are worth serious consideration.
You can listen to an interview I did with her for the Alexander Technique Podcast here:
What are your views on this important subject? How important is it that we learn to sit well in any chair? What do you do to look after yourself while sitting? Do you use a non-standard chair or sitting surface when you can?
Chair Image: Suat Eman / FreeDigitalPhotos.net Recliner Image: Ambro / FreeDigitalPhotos.net