Parker Knoll

Why chairs suck. Most of the time.

Image via

Okay, I'm going to come right out with it. I am a chair whore. I can spend hours drooling over a slender leg, a well-turned back. I have way more chairs in my house than I honestly need. And none of them come from Ikea.

My love for chairs is such that I dream about finding warehouses of undiscovered Parker Knoll chairs (and also of having a large enough house to accommodate this found trove).

But sitting in them sucks.

It's a special form of torture, one that results in tight hips, a sore back, headaches. I joke that if I end up in hell, it's either going to be a non-stop body pump class, or being made to sit in a chair forever.

David Borenstein, known as America's Back Doctor, believes that sitting is making us fat and achy.

Phew. Rough words.

In a recent blog post, he wrote:

Given how much we sit day in and day out, it’s amazing that some of my patients can go a week without going to the emergency room. Never mind prescriptions for medications; these days, I’ve had to write prescriptions for the ergonomically challenged. It’s clear: Employees really do require a better setup at work.

Sitting leads to conditions like neck and low back strain. And it’s particularly problematic for those already suffering from back problems such as herniated discs and spondyloarthritis, a family of inflammatory diseases that lead to arthritis; the most common is ankylosing spondilitis, which affects the spine. If it worsens, spondyloarthritis can manifest in other parts of your body, e.g. psoriasis (skin), and inflammatory bowel disease (digestive system).

Medical conditions with tongue twister names aside, sitting and staying still simply hurts.

Sophie, who's a member of teaMM...Yoga! (and a writer) agrees:

I’m a yoga teacher, so sitting on the floor or a cushion is relatively comfortable for me. But I found it really difficult to settle enough in an upright position to read for more than about five minutes.

Trying to figure out why that might be, I went back to Against Chairs, an essay I’d read earlier in the year that had me nodding emphatically. “I hate to piss on the party,” writes Collin McSwiggen, “but chairs suck. All of them. No designer has ever made a good chair because it is impossible. Some are better than others but all are bad.”  Any chair with a back encourages slouching to some degree, which puts extra pressure on the spine and weakens the muscles that support the skeleton. Chair posture can also restrict circulation, breathing and digestion. Even if you’re young, fit and eat well, spending too much time sitting dramatically increases the likelihood that you’ll die sooner. Seriously problematic.

None of this really surprised me. Teaching yoga classes, I come across it all the time, and watch people with some variation of slouchy chair posture struggle to keep their breath steady. I also know it well from my own body. Slouching caves you in; there’s no room for the lungs to expand and the organs are squished in on one another.

Well, she mostly agrees. She found some fascinating research about the link between posture and mindset - here's and excerpt but you should pop over and read the whole article:

Giving weight to the idea that confidence can also be unhelpful, research from the University of Ohio found that an upright posture encouraged participants to be confident in their own thoughts about themselves, regardless of whether those thoughts were positive or negative. Previously, the same researchers had similar results when participants were nodding their heads (as opposed to shaking them) while they had these thoughts.

There are times in the writing process where confidence in my own thoughts would be far more a hindrance than a help. Sometimes the words aren’t there or the ideas haven’t quite yet clicked into place; the frustration of that I’m sure would be tenfold if I couldn’t see there might be something beyond my own thoughts about the writing or about myself as a writer. Confidence — certainty — potentially shuts out possibility. And this, perhaps, is why I crave an armchair: sometimes in my reading and writing I need there to be space for the idea that I might be wrong. It makes me more receptive to other people’s ideas, more likely to explore unlikely possibilities.

The upshot? Mostly, you are better off moving more, sitting less, and sorting out your slump. But sometimes there's space for a cosy armchair and a nanna blanket.

My favourite pose for sorting out the slump is Mountain Pose. You can find instructions, plus illustration, here

The authors:


Mm... Yoga!_001

mm...Yoga! founder Nadine Fawell teaches yoga and occasionally writes - irreverently - for Nature & Health, Australian Yoga Life, Recovering Yogi, elephantjournal, and MindBodyGreen. She sucks at resting and buys too many chairs.

sophie headshot

Sophie Langley  (who is wise beyond her years) writes and also teaches yoga. She also sucks at resting, but she's working on it. She plans to share her thoughts on rest with us all soon.