Adapted from Philip Beach's Muscles and Meridians
We as a society need to spend more time on the floor. All humans, all cultures, throughout the ages have spent all our resting and much of our working lives on the ground in variations of a squat, kneeling or cross-legged position. Humans had found ease getting into and out of these primary floor postures until we created the comforts of modernity, which has led us to dis-ease in both form and function. Dr. Mel Siff stated in his book, Facts and Fallacies of Fitness; “Many aboriginal folk squat many times a day while carrying out their daily chores, while the Japanese sit on the floor with their knees folded fully flexed beneath them bearing all their body weight for prolonged periods daily.” We share the same functional heritage as all ancestral cultures, yet with modern amenities we have lost much of our capacity to move pain free simply because we fail to practice these archetypal postures.
All well constructed systems develop a corrective mechanism to preserve harmony between the many hierarchical levels within the system. The practice of Archetypal Postures as a form of repose should be seen as a self-tuning mechanism for the body whereby removing these modes for self-correction is asking for trouble as it is necessary to preserve our biomechanical tune, without which we are met with the prevalence of issues like plantar fasciitis, low-back pain and even neck and shoulder pain. The dense network of muscle, joints, and fascia fail to reach appropriate tune if not adequately placed in our Archetypal Postures. And it should come as no surprise as to why….
In the modern world, we rise out of an elevated bed, waddle to a toilet that is again elevated. Breakfast is eaten either standing or sitting in a chair; work is generally completed in the same fashion, either sitting or standing. On a good day we can make it into the gym but many exercises are based on machines that are constructed so that people can, AGAIN, sit and exercise. After sitting or standing all day, we return home to sit for dinner, followed by more sitting in front of the television on a couch in roughly the same position that we have existed in throughout the entirety of our day. Most people, day after day, fail to make any transition from the standing to the floor, failing to place the musculoskeletal and fascial system through a full range of movement thus compromising biomechanical tune.
Tune is not optional. It is the point and purpose of a well functioning system. The interaction of hundreds of muscles and joints in such a way that internal friction and dissonance are kept to a minimum is not a task that is congruent with spending your life in a chair. Suppose you are a musician who is about to go on stage and your assistant offers you a choice of two instruments – one is well-crafted and aesthetically pleasing but is hand-made, the other is cheap and naturally weathered by time but is in tune. As a musician you have no choice but to take the instrument that is in tune because no amount of aesthetics is going to win-over a crowd primed for harmony. Whether it is an instrument or a biomechanical system, tune appreciates; for rhythm imposes unanimity upon the divergent and melody imposes continuity upon the disjointed.
Achieving better tune, thus less pain and freer movement, is as easy as adopting a floor based lifestyle, just like those used by our ancestors. Instead of sitting on a chair or couch while watching television, transition to sitting on the floor. Floor sitting encourages normal movement patterns across the biggest joints and muscles of the biomechanical system. Archetypal postures are also valuable to use in a post-exercise setting, as the body finds the usual 30-second calf stretch to be an insignificant task of little benefit after running up a hill for the last 30-minutes. Returning to the floor in various archetypal postures will reestablish fundamental relationships between muscle compartments as they cool and set. After exercise go back to the floor as people have always done.
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The following are the Archetypal Postures that you should try:
Full Squat (Figure 11) - the ideal squat has the feet near parallel, the heels on the ground and the knees over the second toe with no collapse of the medial arch of the feet. The tibias anterior is relaxed as body weight has moved over the ankles center of gravity. Ease in full squat tunes the relationship between the muscles of the anterior and posterior compartments of the lower leg. When dorsiflexion is limited the anterior compartment muscles have to work against the stronger posterior compartment muscles so conditions such as shin splints are more likely to manifest.
Toe Sitting/Standby Posture (Figure 102) - most people find this a difficult posture to maintain, as the muscles and fascia of the sole of the foot are too tight to allow the metatarsal heads of the feet to fully rest on the floor. The toes do not fully extend and so they take too much body weight. If the posture is held and the toes become more painful the natural movement pattern is to use the quadriceps to sit up and raise the shoulders to lift away from he pain. Ease in the toe sitting posture normalized deep relationships between the posterior compartment muscles of the calf, the plantar fascia, and the toes that are the sensitive end point of all the muscles of the leg. All the limb musculature expresses itself via the fingers and toes. In systems theory, you look for control points that are able to initiate or correct the system. Tuning the toes and feet is much more than just a local increase in flexibility.
Kneeling (Figure 103) - when the quads are too tight and the buttocks cannot rest on or between the heels it is indicative of an extensor pattern that is too primed
Long Sitting (Figure 70) - to sit with a straight back in this posture is difficult if the hamstrings are too tight. IF the low back is stressed in flexion by this posture it is better to slightly flex both knees to take the pressure off the low back. Sitting in these postures builds a functional core strength as the abdominal wall is interacting with the powerful muscles of the hip joints
Cross-Legged (Figure 80) - people who find these cross-legged postures easy often do so because they are stiff in the more linear postures
Butterfly Posture (Figure 89.5) - the sartorial muscle is often associated with this posture as it externally rotates the leg and flexes the knee
Side Saddle (Figure 106,107,108)
Cowboy (Figure 129,129,130)