The Art of Sitting.

How many minutes or hours a day do you think you are sat down? Supposedly the first known chairs were in ancient Egypt. They were a symbol of wealth – go figure that now you could easily have more than 10 in your house. I remember a time in my room I had a whole 5 chairs: 1 spinny one for the desk, 1 piano stool, 1 gaming beanbag, 1 chair just lurking by the gaming chair and this strange thing we call a puff, although I never really understood situation this would help my “sitting needs”. Now I have this amazing thing: one chair. The crazy part is… I can move it! That’s right, this lightweight object can be my desk chair one second and a second later I will be sat behind my piano on, that’s right, the same chair. What a world.

But less on the clutter, how the hell do you sit? The common way, for the purpose of this I will call it the “L”, is what society claims the way to see must be. You know how it is, legs in front, back upright. The problem with this is, as Michelle Dawn discusses on Livestrong.com, spending that extended period of time sat down in a day (at a desk, in our car, on the sofa) takes a huge toll on our mobility and often leads to back pain, tight hip flexors and weak glutes. This means we find it difficult to bend down, to squat, to move. In this essay, I would like to discuss how we can rediscover this movement and change up the way we sit and explore a few exercises to strengthen those muscles. However, if mobility is not a value in your life, I would click off this post. I don’t want to waste your time.

Luckily, in our rehearsal spaces, we like to keep “doing” and moving. We may be discussing the context of the scene and I will go through 5 different sitting styles. And one of these is that “L” position I talked off. However, I do not like to stay in one position for too long. Despite this, in my past and some of my present, I have found myself losing mobility and movement capability through this extended sitting; sitting in my car for my 1.5 hour commute for two weeks, sitting in a class room on some real uncomfortable chairs. It is just what you do, right?

When in life do we learn to sit? Probably when we get slotted into that high chair to eat some food. It is less about the sitting, more about keeping us in one place, nevertheless we are programmed to sit down in the “L” when we eat. Interestingly, Ido Portal discusses how the deep squat is the natural position for digestion, although digestion isn’t the topic of this essay. Instead, we can look at the child in the raw form. The play. Isn’t it just crazy that as a baby we could deep squat for hours and as we grow older we lose this? Surely it should be the other way round?! Instead we are unlearning mobility. Rediscovering that deep squat can be challenging at first, but I would recommend going down into it everyday for some time. 1,5,10 minutes. Adapt to your capability. A couple of form cues to go with this are to make sure your weight is on your heels, not your toes, which doesn’t have half the benefits. If this is tricky at first, put a book under your heels and this should make it easier. Then, bit by bit, get a thinner book until that moment when you can hit that deep squat. It is important to note that I myself will be in this position for a max of 10 minutes. I do not want to limit myself to this position either, even if I have the potential to go further. Keep moving.

Martin Boileau, still moving.

Martin Boileau, still moving.

Currently, I do have a sitting desk with a nice leather chair as I said earlier. However, as I write this I am currently in a deep squat on my chair. I’ve been in this for about 5 minutes, so I will now change to a cross legged position, or a butterfly position. Or I may even take my laptop on the floor and sit in a pancake position! The key here is I will keep moving and I think this is fundamental for the longevity of our bodies.

So, although this article steers from the usual theatrical discussion, I passionately believe mobility and proprioception is fundamental in theatre – even if you have a disability, being aware of what your body can do and optimising your movement is powerful. Obviously, there is the social element where to begin with you feel out of place. But if you’re not willing to put yourself in the shit, to be wolf amongst the sheep one day, then you cannot do this. But at what cost?

Billy Taylor