How to Break Free of the Sit Down, Do Nothing Culture

Indian girl sitting on ground with back lengthened perfectly, next to white people showing rounded backs, not educated in ancestral movement.
Indian girl sitting on ground with back lengthened perfectly, next to white people showing rounded backs, not educated in ancestral movement.

A new era of health/wellness/exercise/fitness is upon us. New studies coming from a variety of directions are all meeting at the same place. And this new paradigm is turning the fitness industry as well as the medical establishment upside down. The fact is, they have had it upside down all along. Looking in the realm of ancestral health has perhaps been taboo–it flies in the face of neurotic, entrenched values that have been moving away from Nature. But the startling research that has been turning up is about to revolutionize the world.

Jeah showing a crab crawl you can easily do to get some relief on the spine in between other floor sitting positions.

Katy Bowman’s new book: Move Your DNA, spells out in detail the catastrophe of the modern sit down lifestyle. Some of her key points are:

Movement is more important than exercise. And exercise is not movement. Exercise, the kind of thing you do once a day because it is good for you, does not replace what is more important, and is missing from our lives–constant movement in a variety of directions all day long. Without it the body breaks down on every level, including the DNA. You can’t get around it…the effects of sitting for hours per day cannot be undone by an exercise session at another time.

Jeah Kessha showing the assisted squat position
Jeah Kessha showing the assisted squat position

Katy coined the term “Movement Nutrition” to describe her concept. Exercise is too much of too few movements. Moving the same way over and over for too long actually causes its own problems. It is better than sedentary alone, but for optimal health, it does not come close. Exercise is like overeating on healthy foods, sedentary is like overeating on junk foods.

We don’t even know the possibilities of optimal health because our culture has been entrenched in its debilitating lifestyle for so many generations that our norm today is a pale example of the possibilities for human potential.

Kneeling is lengthens the thighs and helps the knees as long as done properly.
Kneeling is lengthens the thighs and helps the knees as long as done properly.

Exercise is nutrient deficient. She likens it to eating not enough balance of nutrients. They may be healthy nutrients, but not in the right proportions, so they don’t establish health. Exercise may be the healthy veggies, but you also need other things, like fats, proteins, and micro-nutrients for example. In movement, this would be things like, climbing trees, squatting and kneeling on the floor, crawling, bending over to pick things up or gather berries, carry babies on your back, run and jump on logs and rocks.

Stress in one area can weaken another area. So we need to ‘cross train’, doing as much variety of movement as possible. “The gap between what we are doing right now and what we are capable of doing is vast. ” says Katy Bowman.

A "lumbar interbody fusion," an operation in which the surgeon builds a metal cage around the spine.
A “lumbar interbody fusion,” an operation in which the surgeon builds a metal cage around the spine. Very common injury and treatment which is easily avoided.

There is a world wide epidemic which can be described as “diseases of captivity”–and sometimes referred to as “sitting disease” and “metabolic syndrome”. What we are captive to–is the sit down environment. It is likened to an animal in a cage. We do not move. We sit at work, in the car, at home. We sit on average 9.1 hours per day, which is more than the 7.3 hours we sleep. Animals in captivity are notorious for compromised conditions and shorter lives.

The teenage look has become standard...a culture that grew up in captivity.
The teenage look has become standard…a culture that grew up in captivity. Slide from Esther Gokhale.

The conveniences of modern have taken away our need to move to survive. So without the natural impulse to move–we don’t. Walking, jogging, biking, etc. do not replace the same nutrient dense movement nutrition of our ancestors.  They were always on the move, walking miles per day barefoot or clad in moccasins, carrying babies, belongings, fresh game on their backs, bending, squatting, running, and resting a lot too. Push button everything delivers our food and furniture raised off the floor, like beds and chairs, deprive us of the need to bend over or get up off the ground.

I personally started sitting and sleeping on the floor when I was in high school. It was part of my quest to find what ended up being ‘paleo’ but there was no term for it at the time. And for years I have always been reluctant to sit on furniture when I visit other people’s houses. People keep saying, “there’s a couch”, as if they feel sorry for me, like I’m depriving myself, or I somehow didn’t notice. And it is the same with cars. I will be out walking and people will offer me a ride or they will ask, “Don’t you have a car?”

This just shows the ingrained paradigm. Our culture ASSUMES we should not do work. We should use a machine to do what our body normally does. And also, the assumption, we should not bend down to the floor or sit on the floor. This is like fish in water who don’t know they are in water because the water is everywhere and always has been everywhere.

hunchedatdeskWe don’t know we are surrounded by a cage. We have trapped ourselves inside a cage and we do not see the bars of the cage. Our bodies have been shaped in a distorted fashion that we don’t notice, because everyone is that way…except native peoples. We are basically shaped the same as our cage–which is the chair. We have lost the ability to move effectively and so now, the floor is considered unhealthy.

Professional ergonomics researchers try to take away as much movement as possible.  So even the people we look up to for advice on health are completly lost. This problem has been lurking behind our field of vision for so long, we are now trapped. Our neuro-pathways, our cultural norms, our body’s muscles, joints and ligaments and even cells and DNA are all shaped in a contorted, debilitating pattern.

So how do we get out?  The body has been shaped by years of using it in a way that leads to a progressive humping of the back and jutting forward of the head. Herniated and bulging disks in the lower back result, and now 80% of Americans will experience chair-related back pain in their lifetime. The muscles needed to do things like bend and sit are atrophied and the muscles which hold us in the right angled seated position are locked into place. An individual often cannot just suddenly make the transition to healthy movement without some guidance. Basic movements like getting up and down to the floor and squatting and kneeling would be out of the question for many. Standing, or any position that you hold chronically with inactivity is just as bad as sitting.

Fortunately there are many resources available that can get you started right away. The  Gokhale Method offers a very well researched and presented system to achieve optimal posture, functioning, moving and prevention of back pain injuries. Here is a detailed introduction and demo of how to properly keep the back lengthened in various positions, which is the primary technique for many other healthy movements. Click here for a very detailed intro to the Gokhale Method presented by Esther Gokhale.

I have my own take on it as well. Let’s look at the office environment. Whether you are sitting at home, the local hot spot, school or the office, you are pretty much doing the same thing. You are looking at your screen and typing, reading a book, or shuffling papers. Some of these experts teach how to move from your either chair or stand up desk every so often and do some sort of movement. However, I have a solution that puts movement into the act of actually doing the work. So if you can’t get up, or get down, as the case may be, and move, you are already moving. AND, I had this idea, of doing unusual positions like I learned in yoga. THey felt so soothing in yoga. How could I do them more, for longer periods? Why not put them into the routine of what happens during the day?

Now when I am saying ‘movement’ I am referring to Katy Bowman’s definition. In this sense, movement is loading the body in a variety of balanced and constructive ways that simulates what our ancestors did. So movement is standing, shifting, fidgeting, wiggling, twisting, stretching, bending, dancing, changing. You can be sitting and there is movement as long as, the sitting is done with good alignment and the way you sit changes ever so often.

Resting is one component the Footloose Method offers which is unique to other protocols. Resting is different than chronic inactivity. Resting means taking the load (use) off of one part of the body that has become fatigued. While chronic inactivity is not the answer, neither is becoming fatigued. We are aiming for optimal vitality and functioning.

Native American girl with backrest and buckskin.
Native American girl with backrest and buckskin.

Some options are: leaning against something like a wall or prop, laying down flat or against some kind of backrest or lounge chair, or using the wall. This supports the back in a spine neutral position so it can recover from all the new stress and strains–i.e.resistance–you have introduced it to. Resting while you work is new. We usually wait until we get home, and then the resting positions (like a couch) are often keeping us in our slumped posture. But optimally, resting should be incorporated intermittantly any time an individual feels they like it. Even Native people had backrests.

jeahecobacktypingbestIn the Paleo philosophy, rest and sleep are considered good things. So let’s put it inside the office. We need ways to move and not move, and to be able to use our instincts to create  our own rhythms and routines. It is an individual process.

I was reluctant to introduce a new system since there are so many good ones out there. However, I saw some ways to integrate various principles from a variety of other methods that themselves were not connecting some of the dots. Thus was born: the “Footloose Method”.

The Footloose Method™ works like this: a set of props that act as training wheels for your body to adapt to more natural ancestral ways of moving. You actually interact with these props in creative and healthy ways. These props move easily because they are lightweight and small. So you look at the day as a kenisthetic adventure in movement. You are going to the office to work, same as before, but the whole office is interactive. It is okay to kneel, squat, bend over, stand, dance, wiggle, fidget.

Stiff, compromised corporate office environments–where conformity is entrenched– are even looking at these kinds of solutions. The problem has gotten so bad, and in this case taken a toll on productivity, that new ideas are accepted far sooner than times past.

In an ideal situation, such as a enlightened office or a home office–anything goes.  You play with all day, using props to put you and computer in all kinds of wild positions you never would have thought of. Sometimes the props support your body in a variety of constructive ways. Sometimes they support your laptop and keyboard to fit to where your body needs it for any one of the positions at any given time. You can take what you have already learned in yoga class, pilates, physical therapy, cross-fit training, etc. and start applying this knowledge in places that before were literally unreachable.You can take your yoga practice to work with you–they call it ‘off the mat’. I call it  the Integrated Office Workout..

1–Barefeet–(or minimalist shoes) There is no other way to start building natural alignment. It starts with the feet! That’s why I call it ‘footloose’. Also, some foot therapy tools and classes would be recommended. See foot fitness instructor here.

lay down work station2–Four basic positions with infinite variety in-between

Standing, Active Sitting (perching squatting, kneeling, cross-legged_. Lounging and Laying down.

3–Constant movement

When you stand, you can wiggle, dance or whatever, sometimes even while typing. When you sit on the floor, you can stretch in different ways that the floor allows. I just go by instinct. I may stand 30 minutes, kneel/squat 30 minutes, stand again, or chill out in the EcoBackrest™. Or I may chill in the Ecobackrest an hour or even two, if I had a big adventure the day before. Or I may stand all day and do floor stretches and lift weights while I’m watching the screen. It depends on how I feel and what I’m doing. Sometimes talking on the phone, listening to a podcast or watching a video, allows for all kinds of movement treats.

4–Adaptable/evolvable. Your environment is not fixed–it changes as you change. You can constantly shape and reshape your set up. As you increase your flexibility, muscle tone, energy and alignment, you will find yourself using different positions and movements that feel right for where you are at. You will constantly discover new things you can do that feel good and bring out the best in your work.

It’s like this. We’re talking about a lifestyle overhaul, a complete redesign. This is a step by step process of relearning the natural ways of moving in the world, and readapting.  You are changing what you are doing, the way you are doing it, and reshaping your body and your environment. You can take it as far as you want, with big changes or small. This is a multi-fauceted approach to optimal health and avoiding the problems with back pain and aging that are the norm in our society. You aren’t going to get there overnight. But the good news is, you can start right away.And the smallest changes make huge improvements.

The Footloose Method™ offers  a simple jumping off place for your new movement friendly journey. You tweak as you go. The Footloose Method™ is merely a platform where you can engage the movement teachings from other places and create a an integrated work habitat. You incorporate other movement techniques and fitness modalities with the simple props that provide interactive work stations in a variety of alternating positions.

So don’t just sit there, let’s get moving! Click here for how to create your own Paleo Hunter Gather Office.


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