Searching for the perfect chair?
I hate to bust your bubble…
It doesn’t exist.
I know. You want to find the perfectly designed chair—with the assumption that if only you could find The Chair, it’ll completely take care of your posture and body issues.
The risk in this way of thinking is that you throw your responsibility for yourself out the window.
F.M. Alexander, the man who developed the Alexander Technique, was famous for saying, “we need to educate our children, not our furniture”. As an Alexander Teacher I’m in the business of educating my students how to use themselves well, not being a rep for ergonomic furniture.
That said there are certain chairs that just make it easier for you to use yourself well.
And there are certain chairs that just make it a lot more challenging.
(Please note that this discussion focuses mostly on work chairs—chairs that you might sit on to work at a desk or work or eat at a table as opposed to lounge chairs).
Below are some things to consider in choosing a surface to sit on:
If you can’t stand on it, don’t sit on it is London-based Alexander Teacher Adrian Farrell’s wonderful piece of advice.
Why? Because good support helps your body respond appropriately.
Firm doesn’t have to mean a wooden chair. Firm just means that as your weight comes down onto the seat, the seat doesn’t sag down with you but comes up to meet you.
When you are actively sitting you are sitting on your sitting bones, which are rounded.
The sitting bones are rounded is important to remember.
Put a round object on a sloped surface. What happens? It rolls downhill! So, if your chair seat slopes backward (front higher than the back) guess where it will invite your pelvis to go? It’ll invite it to roll back and it’ll take the rest of you with it! Into a big ol’ c-shaped slump.
And that’s lots of pressure on your low back.
If you are trying to sit actively and work in front of you, you’ll be fighting this backward pull of gravity the whole time.
So, look for a flat seat.
When a chair has a backward sloping seat, I find it best to just go where it is inviting me to go—back—and rest against the back of the chair.
The simpler the chair the better. Being able to adjust it up and down is important. It may also be useful to be able to change the angle of the back and lower the seat so it slopes slightly downward in the front, dropping your knees a bit lower than your hips.
Beyond that I don’t find a lot of the bells and whistles that interesting. If adjustments are easy to use you’ll be more likely to use them. No rocket science there.
No piece of furniture should require a user’s manual and a 45-minute tutorial on how to adjust it!
If you have an adjustable height desk, which I’m a strong advocate of, realize that you’ll need a chair that adjusts up and down to accommodate desk height change. And, to beat a dead horse—it should be easy to adjust.
If you’ve the luxury of space, consider having a few different things to sit on. I use a firm flat stool that swivels and adjusts up and down with a simple lever for when I’m sitting actively. I also have a simple wooden kitchen chair that I use with a large firm pillow at my back when I want to lean back and work. And that’s it.
I leave you with this:
Ultimately remember that you are designed to move. So, whatever you sit on, get out of it at least once an hour and MOVE!
Recommended Resources: Galen Cranz, a pioneer in the field of Body Conscious Design, talks about chair design in this podcast. Her book, The Chair: Rethinking Culture, Body and Design, is also a great read.