I just got back from a two week trip to Nicaragua. What a beautiful country!
The people were warm and welcoming, the landscape was a rugged mix of jungles, volcanoes, lakes and Pacific shores, and the colours were out of a tropical fantasy, especially in the charming city of Granada.
We were lucky enough to have gone there for a wedding, which means we also got to enjoy a trip with many dear friends (as well as making new ones). We surfed (probably my all time favourite movement dessert!) and we trouped up and down super steep hills. I got to teach in a gorgeous yoga studio set back in a jungle filled with monkeys, lizards and tropical birds!
And being out of Toronto meant I got to walk on hills and all kinds of different surfaces – my feet are FIERCE right now! All in all, it was an adventure that fed my soul and my body on many levels, and I’m so, so grateful for the experience!
One thing that it really made me realize, AGAIN, was how much our culture forces us to sit in chairs. All. Of. The. Time.
I sat in small and terrifying ferries, I sat in cars, vans and shuttle buses, I sat on airplanes, and I even sat on a dirt bike (except for when I fell off it, which fortunately only happened once, very gently).
I sat to drink cocktails, I sat for almost every meal, and I sat to play cards after dinner.
I sat, and I sat, and I sat, and I sat and then I sat some more.
I think I’m pretty conscientious when it comes to my daily movement habits, but on this trip, I found that sitting in chairs was almost entirely inescapable.
There were a few times I managed some floor sitting – on the beach, of course, and I sat on my half dome when 20 of us pitched in to make paper flowers to decorate the wedding. I took fairly frequent standing breaks on the plane (which meant I didn’t get to finish the newest James Bond – boo!), but all in all, I sat in chairs about 9000 times more than I usually do.
My poor psoas, hip flexors and pelvic floor! Fortunately there was lots of other movement to be had so my body didn’t suffer as much as it might have done, but I could really feel all the sitting time when I finally got home and checked in with my body.
Why Is It So Darned Hard Not To Sit In Chairs?
I’ve thought a lot about this, because I was kind of blown away by how impossible it was to avoid chairs. In the end, I think it comes down to two things. First and most importantly, it’s about physical environment. Second, it’s about culture.
If your only option for resting is chairs, you’re going to sit in them. End of story. I mean, unless you want to sit on the ground under the table and get stepped on by a waiter.
Also, we were in a developing country. Floors were dirty or dusty, and well travelled by dogs & cats. I didn’t really want to lie on them without a mat – and because I knew we’d be staying at a place with yoga mats, I didn’t bring my own. Big mistake, since only one of our destinations had a yoga space.
It was amazing to me how the instant we got back to our home, our resting movement possibilities changed. We ate dinner seated on bolsters around the coffee table (where I’m working now), and I stretched my shoulders until my hands couldn’t hang on to the rings any longer. I admit, we’re lucky to have a house so full of movement potential – but it’s also because we’ve created an environment that encourages movement. No chairs, people!
If you’re struggling to figure out how to move more and you feel like you don’t have time to exercise as much as you’d like, the simplest thing you can do is get rid of your furniture. Or, at the very least, give yourself some options, like bolsters at your coffee table. Because if you have no easy alternatives, you’re going to sit in a chair.
I found it surprisingly tough to stand when everyone else was sitting. So much so, in fact, that I rarely did. Culture and social conformity play a huge role in movement!
Case in point? When I travel on my own, I use all my airport time as movement time, because I’m ok with strangers thinking that I look bizarre. I stretch my calves, hamstrings and hips like crazy, and if I found a patch of low travelled carpet, I’ll do lots of twists and shoulder stretches.
Travelling with a group, I really decreased the time that I spend moving because I felt super weird. I still stretched but no where near as much as I normally would, and I mostly did movements that were a bit more subtle and kept my face and head upright and closer to eye level. No rolling on the floor for me!
In a funny coincidence, this amazing story about Jenny Beavan’s Oscars outfit came out yesterday. I think it really illustrates the courage it takes to do something even a little bit out of the ordinary. Bravo to her for choosing what worked for her body!
Your Environment Shapes You
We live in a culture that is designed – physically and socially – for sedentary comfort and physical convenience (even when that so-called comfort creates chronic back pain and many other long-term, painful health issues) and it is really tough to choose another path.
What I discovered (again) is that it takes hard work, commitment, creativity, and courage to move. At home, it’s a challenge. A doable challenge, but you still have to be willing to make changes in your lifestyle.
And when you’re travelling, it’s sometimes impossible. In which case I don’t recommend feeling guilty. If life gives you lots of chairs and no alternatives, enjoy yourself and do some extra stretching (especially this psoas release) when you get home!
P.S. I have a bunch of new classes starting soon – and they’ll ALL help you learn to sit better, sit less, and stop sitting in chairs as much. If you want to do something amazing for your body this year, here’s your chance!