How should we sit?
Is there one good or best sitting posture? Research says ‘No!’ Movement specialists such as Dr. John Medina – famous for his, “Baby Rules” series of books and online material says the classroom that has seated children is limiting their academic potential. Other ergonomists suggest the same is true in adults daily work or home routines.
However, standing, running, hopping or jumping can be tiring and after a time, children will naturally sit, rest or provide themselves with different comfortable positions. Different ways of sitting place different physical stresses on our bodies, meaning that variety is good.
To work out if a posture is “good” or not, we can assess it based on several things:
Different ways to sit at a desk or table
Children are often asked to sit still on the floor. How long can they maintain a still position? Normally about 30 seconds unless they really are focused or engrossed in what is happening. If not, they will start to fidget and change positions multiple times.
If the only reason you ask children to sit, stay still or ‘stop fidgeting and concentrate is ‘tradition’ your instruction and reasons have no scientific basis. Let’s honour our kids and provide them with creative, fun variations that make floor based tasks more enjoyable, learning fun and engaging.
Learning to sit is a process that nature put in place. That process involves movement, which allows children to develop their proprioceptive and vestibular systems, which allow children to be able to sit.
What are variations that are useful, engage different muscles, joints, tendons and nerves? Have you taken the time to help children unlearn bad habits and form better ones that suit them in a variety of settings? How can we make the classroom experience better for all?
Here are a selection that are taken from gymnastics, dance and yoga which teach children how to use muscles, develop core strength, maintain flexibility and provide enough variations for you to create ‘timed’ changes to ensure ongoing engagement.
4. Tuck Shape
A foundation of many gymnastics’ activities, especially rotating. It requires spinal flexibility, core muscle control and engagement and has dozens of variations.
Children hold their knees and draw them into their chest. Over time they will be able to put their noses onto their knees, rounding the spine opening the spinal column and stretching the back muscles and spinal cord.
5. Pike Shape
Legs straight out to the front. Without instruction, children will slouch, arching their low back. Sitting on a block, placing a towel under the hip bones or knees improves the posture initially until the child learns to activate core low back and front and side abdominal stabilisers.
Practice making the pike tall. Sit against a wall, table leg, non-moving object. As core strength and core control improves, use this shape to stretch the spinal chord by leaning the stomach forward onto the thighs, with hands on knees or ankles with a straight back. Relax into a rounded back version to achieve spinal cord extension from the base of the brain to the backs of the ankles.
6. Straddle Straight Knees or Slightly Bent
Straddle sitting is easier for girls than boys. This is because of the difference in the placement of hip bones. When learning a straddle, it is a good idea to not emphasise straight legs in the beginning. Over time, as flexibility of hips and hamstrings improves, it is easier for students to press legs straighter.
Straddle is an open posture. Yogis say it is one of the ways of allowing emotions out that doesn’t impact on others. Breathing into extended positions not only allows children to sink into the position, but makes them aware of when their body reaches its flexibility limitations. It is easy to see how limitations may be muscle length or tendons stretched over two joints. However, we often forget the nerves, blood and lymph vessels that also have to stretch to accommodate the position.
Using a wall or to flatten and extend the spine takes a straddle in 2 different directions. It allows children to grow tall from the hips to head whilst extending out and sideways from the hips to toes. Very subtle adjustments to core muscles teach children core control with strength.
Kneeling is often viewed as ‘dangerous for knees’. It is however a great changing posture and one that allows the front of the body to open and reverse all other forms of sitting. It opens the chest, quadriceps, hips, abdominal region and restores the natural position of the lumbar curve. It allows internal organs that may be compressed sitting in other positions the opportunity to receive more blood flow and reposition themselves.
Kneeling should be a tall position. The shins should be on the floor and the hips raised vertically. Children should be discouraged from sitting backwards on their shins due to the pressure this places on tender, partially formed, knee joints. It is not a long term position, but one that may be used as a stretching, realigning or moving through to another posture.
8. Deep Squat / Yoga Malasana Pose
This common sitting position is popular all over Asia. When taught correctly it quickly becomes a favourite ‘anti-sitting’ position. The deep bend in the knees, open hips and tall spine quickly become a comfortable, balanced position. Most of the Western world has lost the ability to squat in this way with feet flat on the floor. Many who struggle to hold this position as an adult find focus difficult and have low back pain.
The position is contra-indicated for children with knee damage. Its restorative functions improve the flexibility of calves / Achilles, ankles. The organs have space for realignment, the chest and hips open and the lumbar spine and shoulder girdle return to their natural positions and curves. It improves balance and strengthens the plantar muscles and fascia. It is best done in bare feet so children feel the floor pressing up and their feet and toes pressing down.
The skill in ‘extending the spine upwards from the hips’ engages back muscles more than perhaps any other sitting position.
Now we get serious about core muscles and strength. A V-sit is not a position that one sits in comfortably for long periods. It is a part many abdominal work out routines.
Learning a V-Sit must consider the child’s core strength. In the initial stages bent legs should be taught and gradually straightened over time. Toes may be pointed or flexed, feet pressed together or apart. Knees and thighs locked together or apart. Allow children to experiment within their own limits.
Teach children to stop immediately if they feel sore low backs. This is the indicator that abdominal muscles are not yet strong enough to proceed further.
10. Cross Legged, Butterfly Sit, Parallel Shins
Cross legged sitting is the ‘traditional’ classroom floor sitting posture. Is it the best posture? No.
But with variations and shorter periods between different postures it remains an option for children doing floor base activities.
A butterfly sit opens the hips with the soles of the feet pressed together and parallel shins is a partial leg cross but with both shins flat on the floor. Switching the shins from front to back doubles the time this position is comfortable.
There’s More to Life Than Sitting
There is a lot to be said for offering children choice, recognising individual difference:
Ryan Williamson is a gymnastics and movement expert.