Monday, January 7, 2013

Floor Living

One of the topics that I fine fascinating is that of getting older.   More specifically the idea of getting older while maintaining physical function: it is one thing to be old but something totally different to be old and capable of doing things for yourself.  There was an interesting piece on the radio the other day about a Greek island which has a lot of very healthy and active old people.  They were trying to filter out what accounted for their health - it looked like a complex of things: good quality food, wine, physical activity, low stress and lots of social interaction.

Anyway, that is off topic.  Well a bit off topic.

The other day I posted about a study that linked mortality to how capable an individual was of sitting down and standing up.  A commenter there pointed me to Phillip Beach's Muscles and Meridians, in which he discusses several floor- or ground-based "archetypal postures," and recommends "erectorcises" to practice getting up from them.

Intrigued I bought the book (that is the beauty and temptation of an Amazon account and a Kindle).   It is a really interesting book.  I've not really got into the meridians or the contractile field stuff, but the centre section on archetypal postures is fascinating.

The book proposes that we can reduce the incidence of musculoskeletal distress cheaply and effectively by taking three steps:

  • We need to spend more time on the floor - in the natural postures of sitting, squatting, kneeling
  • We need to be good at standing erect from the floor - this is a basic skill requiring a host of muscles to coordinate in work together
  • Our feet need functional rehabilitation - shoes are sensory deprivation chambers!

If you want to preserve your mobility, and that of your clients, start with simple exercises that involve the floor to standing transition.


The Contractile Field model helps us to understand movement. The opposite of movement is rest; one without the other is nonsensical. At rest we assume natural Archetypal Postures. The archetype is the original pattern or model from which copies are made; the best example or prototype of that class of objects. Archetype used in the context of human movement refers to postures that emerge from, and are embedded within, the interaction of many joints and many muscles. Losing access to our Archetypal Postures is a biomechanical peril.
We sit on the floor in many postures that are our birthright, postures that our modern society neglects to value, instead preferring chairs and sofas. Rising from these Archetypal Postures to our full upright bipedal posture uses deeply embedded patterns of movement.


To stand up from the floor is a movement sequence we mastered as children. Regrettably, in our busy lives this mastery has lessened over time until the normal act of rising from the floor becomes awkward and uncomfortable. Our musculoskeletal system needs the exercise of erecting to stay in good moving health. I call these the Erectorcises and the ability to relearn and reintroduce these exercises into everyday life provides some protection from degeneration and dis-ease.
Archetypal Postures and the Erectorcises are key insights derived from my work in Contractile Fields. If you want to achieve your sporting ambitions or to age gracefully you need to include this concept in your life. Learning why and how to value floor based rest and erecting from the floor with grace and facility will be of lifelong value to you.
Note: Erectorcises are applicable to all but the most infirm but are not appropriate for those with joint replacements.


Pieter D said...


I've had the book for a good year now, and indeed it is very interesting. As a physical therapist with an evolutionary/ancestral interest, I was thinking and tinkering with those ideas for a longer time. This book gave me more confidence in actually applying those three simple suggestions (actually, the last about barefooting, is somehting I've been doing for 5 years).

You've got Hebert's and MovNat's 10 major, basic human activities, but I would certainly ad floor living to that list (And dancing btw).


Pieter D

Mark said...

A bit of ground-based MovNat posted yesterday:

Asclepius said...

Good post. 'Floor time' has been on my mind for several years (

"Sitting on the floor (and for that matter squatting down), feels comfortable surprisingly quickly. It works your body through a significant range of motion. It is a credible test of a child's development so why not that of a pensioner's demise?"

Sifter said...

Sounds like working Turkish Get ups without the weight.

Chris said...

Thanks Pieter - I agree.

Mark - it is good to see Erwan posting more material

Asclepius - had this first! I had forgotten that post of yours.

Sifter - good to hear form you again - you have't commented or a while

Chris said...

I just spent 15 minutes playing around with standing up from the floor in lots of different ways. Great fun and surprisingly tough as a workout

Unknown said...

A bit off the subject but not really.

Most researchers who go to these Greek Islands to study these long lived people miss one major factor in their longevity.

All older residents of these Islands are members of the Greek Orthodox Church which requires 200 days of fasting a year. These fasts vary from eliminating certain foods for the day to full on water fasts including a 3 day water fast once a year.

Their intermittent fasting increases their longevity as their fasts stimulate the production of:

Autophagy which repairs damaged cell components including mitochondria.
SIRT6 which repairs DNA damage.
AMPK which is a tumor suppressor.

Chris said...

Hi Richard

Obviously there are may factors contributing to longevity in these places. Intermittent fasting may have a role, but the promises of longevity on the basis of animal models do not seem to have been successful in humans.

Have you read Blue Zones? Lots of discussion there of various long lived populations.

Helga said...

Several years ago I came across a brief summary of a study that showed elderly Japanese people with arthritis of the hips and knees showed a marked improvement in symptoms during their New Year season. Doctors concluded that, because these patients received many more visitor than they did during the rest of the year, they were having to stand up from a kneeling position far more often.

Of course, the subjects of this study were traditionalists, living mainly on the floor. Since WWII, more and more Japanese have adopted Western living habits (chairs, sofas, raised beds, sitting toilets), so many cannot sit correctly in the formal "seiza" kneeling position.

Unknown said...


I know of one of the "blue zones" Loma Linda California as I lived there for three months. Most of the residents there are members of the Seventh Day Adventists. That church suggests but does not require one or two days of water fasting a week. However, most do the suggesting fasting. That means they are doing 50 to 104 days of water fasting a year.

Loma Linda and Greek Islands both have frequent fasts and have long lives. Coincidence? I don't think so.

Tom said...

Floor living. Hmmm! Lots of zen students do sitting meditation and that's typically done on the floor. Plus, we do prostrations daily as part of our practice. In addition, I personally sit on the floor and work from a low table, like traditional Japanese. Nothing to it. Easy. Everyday. Simple. No mystery to it.

Tom said...

Helga, the seiza position isn't the primary way for Japanese to sit on the floor. Sitting cross-legged is more common.