Movement Sovereignty

By Justin Lind

How much of our personal movement freedom have we unknowingly given away?

I began sitting on the floor about a year ago for writing and desk work. It was physically uncomfortable at first. My limbs were not adapted to being folded underneath me in such myriad ways. My hips were not open enough to allow many of the positions I wanted to assume. My back, core, and other postural support muscles were not strong enough to support my torso for extended periods without assistance of a back rest.

Creativity and efficiency remain at bay when your hips are screaming to please alter your “criss-cross-applesauce” position. I persevered and now I can sit on the floor in enough comfort to be productive. I found that the key was to constantly vary my position. What I first viewed as a personal shortcoming (inability to maintain any one position at length), I came to understand as another benefit. Constantly shifting adds more movement and circulation to my working hours and allows me to explore  and stretch many different positions. These were, in fact, the primary reasons why I began floor-sitting in the first place.

My hips are more open, my hamstrings more flexible, and my posture straighter and stronger, to list a few of the most obvious changes. As I have found with all other fitness endeavors, the physical benefits are simply the first layer of progress. Any fitness and movement journey can be a gateway to deep introspection and self-work if you are willing to look.

Shunning furniture in favor of the floor proves to be an extremely radical act.

When I took to the floor I did not grasp the profundity of my actions nor the revolutionary implications. As my physical comfort on the floor grew so too did my cultural comfort to sit on the ground in public. I receive odd looks sometimes (squatting in public is by far the worst) but I just tell myself that the onlookers are in fact the weirdos. I’m simply sitting how humans have sat for thousands of years, and still do in many other countries.

Furniture is not inherently harmful, just as few foods are inherently unhealthy. The harm comes through our relationship to them. Furniture’s primary purpose is comfort - a seemingly virtuous aim until we examine how it affects our health. Furniture seeks to create the type of comfort that allows you to remain stagnant for extended periods. We as a society have grown quite proficient at designing furniture to these ends. The road trip and the Netflix binge would not be possible otherwise.

The ergonomic movement has spread these ideals to our offices as well. The goal being to find a working position that is comfortable enough to facilitate focus while causing minimal harm. This only worsens the problem by perpetuating the idea that any single position is the answer.

Furniture conspires to steal your freedom of movement from you. This is not a grand conspiracy to transform you into an inactive (albeit comfortable and productive) blob, but it has the same effect. Humans simply seek comfort and we have grown exceedingly adept at designing for it.

We have no laws mandating our use of chairs, couches, benches, or beds, but we all feel the pressure to use them to exclusion. Imagine how you would feel sitting on the floor of a half empty doctor’s office waiting room. With plenty of available chairs (even ones with no one next to them) you elect to sit on the floor. Objectively, you have made a perfectly reasonable choice. Culturally, you are a crazy person.

None of us are free from this pressure, at least not at first. Purposefully refusing the chair exposes the previously unacknowledged rule to always use them. The onlookers’ discomfort arises first from questioning my motives (and from being in the presence of such an obviously crazy person) and second from seeing someone blatantly disregard the rules.

Floor-sitting is a radical act because it takes back a small amount of personal sovereignty. Personal sovereignty that we did not even realize we had forfeited. Modern life has us completely isolated from natural movement. We wear clothes and shoes that do not allow natural movement expression. The little walking we do is over flat and level surfaces. Even the healthiest amongst us go to a gym for exercise, confining their movement practice to a small block of time in a specific location.

We feel pressure to act, speak, dress, and move in certain ways depending on the societal context. We give away so much of our personal freedom to societal norms to the detriment of our health and happiness.

I give no prescriptions and hold no judgment for how others want to live their lives. I share the pieces of my personal recipe that I believe might offer value to others.

I leave you with a question rather than any answers:

How many ways have you given away your personal movement sovereignty?