I dream of giving all of my living room furniture to Goodwill and replacing it with a few low tables, a couple of floor mats and an assortment of cushions. I want to spend more time on the floor.
On the floor, I can put my legs up the wall while I read. Or, I could lean on one elbow while lying on my side, then easily transition to leaning on my elbows, belly down. I can sit cross-legged, or with legs out in front. I can drape my spine over a cushion and reach my heart for the sky. I can kick my legs up into the air (just for fun!) and crawl around with my dog. And I do! I do all of these things on a regular basis, even without my dream living room arrangement.
Just getting my body up and down from the floor–not to mention kneeling, sitting, squatting, rolling, and crawling–increases strength, flexibility and range of motion. Being on the floor allows me to access my body’s full range of motion and reposition frequently in a way a sofa or a chair doesn’t. Sure, I can move around a little on furniture, but the softness and the limited amount of space limits the possibilities. I’ve also found being on the floor leads me to naturally and spontaneously stretch or do small strengthening exercises, just because it feels good.
Recently, I was reading a book presenting a cultural study about a small village in Northeast Thailand. One of the black and white photos showed a man in his late 70s or early 80s. He was squatting outside of his home, a cigarette hanging from his mouth, just watching the world go by. His heels were all the way down on the ground and his body folded neatly and tightly together so that he could easily wrap his arm around his bent knees and keep his spine long and relaxed. This man spent a lifetime on the floor, and his joints and muscles were far more flexible and supple than mine, and he is 40-50 years older!
Despite the numerous benefits of spending more time on the floor, many people have hips that are too tight, or a low back that is too tight, or funny knees, or short hamstrings, to name a few, making it very difficult to sit cross legged on the floor comfortably, let alone get up and down and move all around. This is one reason why I often avoid putting clients into a seated position during a Thai Massage, even though I know they could benefit from various techniques that are best approached from that position. In these instances of discomfort, developing a relationship with the floor is something that needs to be done slowly over time, and with the help of support props, such as cushions and blankets.
To gain strength and flexibility, start sitting on the floor whenever you can. Put cushions under your pelvis, use blankets under your knees. Use as many as you need to feel comfortable. Stay for as long as you can. Maybe it’s only one minute to begin. Take note of what is uncomfortable so you can work on those areas with stretches or massage.