For thousands of years, humans rested on the ground using variations of a squatting, cross-legged, or kneeling position. And despite the availability of chairs and things to sit onsitting on the ground is still common in many cultures.
According reports, many English speakers refer to floor sitting as “Indian style”, although it is also known as “Turkish style”. In Korea, this is called “Yangban style” – named after the traditional ruling class. Whereas in Japan, the formal way of sitting is called to inputwhich involves sitting on your heels with your knees resting on the floor.
In yoga, sitting cross-legged on the floor is called sukhasana or lotus – believed to be designed to stretch muscles, improve posture and bring peace of mind. Some people claim that if you sit in this position while eating it aids in digestion.
These cross-legged, squatting and kneeling positions stretch your hips, legs, pelvis and spine helping to promote natural flexibility and movement. Since people pass now more and more sitting time during the day, should we opt for the floor rather than a chair in the interest of our health and well-being?
Effects on the body
Anecdotal and clinical evidence shows that different ways of sitting place different physical stresses on our bodies. Sitting for a long time in the same position normally affects the structure of your lower back, called the lumbar region of the spine, and the movement patterns of your pelvis. And it’s thought that it could lead to long-term health issues, like arthritis.
This is why people are normally advised to use appropriate supports or assistive devices and to change positions often when sitting for a long period of time.
Researchers and doctors has watched to the ergonomics of sitting in chairs and provided a variety of advice on the right sitting posture and how to avoid long-term health problems. But there’s actually little scientific evidence for sitting on the floor.
Despite this, health professionals are more and more advising that sitting on the floor helps maintain the natural curvature of the spine and thus helps people sit straighter and improve their posture. It is also claimed that sitting on the floor helps improve strength and flexibility and can help you avoid lower back pain.
Although there is little research on floor sitting, there may be some truth to these claims. This is because the structure of the spine has a natural inward curvature of the spine in the lower back called lumbar lordosis. When sitting on the floor, the lumbar lordosis is relatively low, which is closer to our natural position and posture.
Sitting cross-legged could also bring natural and correct curvature to both the upper and lower back, effectively stabilizing the lower back and pelvic region. But that said, some sitting positions rotate the pelvis backwards and the lumbar lordosis is more flattened than when sitting in a chair, which can cause problems.
Previous to research showed that when sitting on the floor, changes in lumbar lordosis occur mainly at the vertebral or segmental level at the lower end of the spine. In this regard, sitting on the floor can easily aggravate lower back pain. To avoid this, it is important to sit with a lordotic lumbar curvature.
Studies also claim that sitting cross-legged in a chair places a greater load on the intervertebral discs and spine – particularly when in a slumped position, as this can further increase disc pressure and worsen the chronic low back pain. This is why it is very important to use the correct sitting position.
The exact relationship between sitting, how and which muscles work and lower back pain has yet to be established. But scientific to research shows that certain lumbopelvic muscles, the muscles of our hip regions, play an important role in postural stabilization.
There are also a few evidence that sitting on the floor with bent legs is less harmful compared to other sitting postures, such as squatting and sitting on the floor with straight legs. In fact, one study found that squatting with bike were two risk factors for knee osteoarthritis.
While high-quality scientific evidence is still lacking on the benefits of floor-sitting, it’s becoming a growing trend – especially among people choosing to embrace more minimalist or lifestyles without furniture.
So what’s the best way to sit? Although a comfortable sitting position will probably vary from person to person, the key to good sitting is regular movement and frequent change of position. These changes could be as simple as moving from side to side in the chair or getting up and stretching once in a while. Basically, listen to your body, it will tell you what it needs.