On Posture: a follow-up

My talk on posture at YAPC::Asia last month is now available to watch on YouTube!

I wanted to follow up on one of the questions which, as you will see if you watch it, I was a bit confused about. Someone asked me a question about some traditional Japanese postures and how they applied to my advice. Specifically: squatting, and a seated posture called Seiza.

At the time the question was asked, I did not quite understand the nature of the squat in particular, but both were explained with more context and detail after my talk. So here is my answer, in a lot more detail.

Seiza

Seiza

Seiza is basically sitting on one’s feet and lower legs. This is a common posture for people in Japan, and they learn to sit this way from very young.

It is very similar, though not exactly the same, as a posture in yoga called Virasana, or Hero’s Pose.

Virasana

Virasana

The difference is that in Virasana, you are not sitting directly on your feet. Your feet and legs are outside of your hip bones, and your sit bones are down on the ground (or on a block, as in the photo above). The reason for this is to ensure that your feet are straight behind you. Sitting on one’s feet (like Seiza) is actually a modification of Virasana (though optimally, you would sit on a block or a blanket). As I mentioned in answer to the question, what’s important when you are sitting like this is to make sure your feet are aligned with your shin-bone (the Tibia). “Sickling” at the ankle, as it is called, can be bad for the muscles in your leg. This article talks about it in the context of Ballet. In general, correcting this ailment just involves being mindful of it and working to keep the ankles straight. Lastly it is important just to maintain spinal alignment in this posture.

Squat

Full Squat

Full Squat

Squatting is another thing humans are born to do naturally. In Western cultures, however, people tend to stop squatting at a fairly young age, and sit in chairs instead. In a lot of Eastern cultures, they continue to do this for long periods of time for various tasks. This is a perfectly natural posture, and as long as your knees are headed directly over your middle toes, you can alternate between this and standing as much as you want. Most adults in the U.S. cannot do this posture anymore, or at least not for very long.

Again, this is similar to another posture in yoga, called Malasana or Garland Pose.

Malasana

Malasana

Here, the triceps are pressed against the knees, keeping the hips turned out enough that each knee is headed directly over the middle of the foot. The hands come to a prayer position in front of the heart. This is a very intense stretch for people who are not used to squatting in the first place.

So, to conclude, these traditional Japanese postures are better for us than sitting in a chair, and it is likely that the entire second half of my talk does not apply to the average Japanese person. ^_^ Alas.

The reason for this is because I talk about how sitting in a chair can affect the hips negatively. However, if one spends enough time in a squat and is comfortable there, it is likely they do not have the hip problems that I mentioned. It also forces the tailbone down toward the earth, which engaged the abdomen muscles. So my advice is that if you cannot do a squat comfortably, practice! Make sure your knees are properly aligned. This can help to counteract the issues from sitting in a chair all day.

I plan to do one more follow-up post from my talk which will include a better video of one of the exercises that I demoed. Stay tuned!

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