Mark Sisson chats with Matt Wallden – Mark’s co-writer on two medical papers on the concept that the notion that chairs – a mainstay of most industrialized cultures – were only invented by the Mesopotamian’s 4,000 years ago. This means that for more than 99% of our bipedal evolution our ancestors were using the floor as their place of rest. Indeed, still in many cultures today where chairs are not available or practical indigenous groups still use a definable set of ground-based sitting postures, which are known as “Archetypal Rest Postures”.
If you, or someone you know has experienced connective tissue injuries, such as Achille’s problems, tennis elbow, jumper’s knee you’ll know that these can be persistent challenges which can be difficult to resolve. Similarly, blood sugar handling can be a stubborn challenge which may even resist diligent attempts to manage through diet alone.
What if there was an ingredient of your daily routine that our ancestors (and therefore our evolving physiology) partook in as part of their lifestyle which is missing from your modern existence that could help solve these challenges? Something so simple, that takes no extra time in your day, but helps to ease the aches and pains of daily life and optimizes blood glucose issues – all while resting? Sounds good, right?!
The concept of Archetypal Rest Postures was first described by the Osteopath & Acupuncturist, Phillip Beach, back in the 1990’s, and full descriptions of them are available in Phill’s book “Muscles & Meridians – the manipulation of shape” and in Matt Wallden’s Rehabilitation chapter in the textbook “Naturopathic Physical Medicine”.
In these papers, published in the most recent edition of Elsevier’s prestigious Journal of Bodywork & Movement Therapies, we describe how the disconnect between how we rested for millions of years, and how we rest in a modern environment may be a key factor in contributing to persistent tension in various muscles we use for sports and activities of daily living; and also how this may impair healing mechanisms, especially in tendon injury.
Similarly, applying an evolutionary lens to this natural way of resting may provide insight into why it really makes little sense that our ancestors would have needed a full stretching warm-up before allowing the Sabre-tooth to chase them (as any athlete seems to need today before competing)!! Could it be that these archetypal rest postures were nature’s way of keeping the body “tuned up” and balanced ready for activity at the drop of a hat… or the snap of a twig?!
This would all seem to make good sense; but what may be less expected is the fact that several research papers have now shown that stretching (and in particular passive stretching) across a period of weeks has a balancing effect on blood sugar control. Who would have thought that essentially “doing nothing” other than sitting using archetypal rest postures could be enough to help balance blood sugar? Exercising – yes, that seems to make good sense, but resting?!
The key, though, is that resting using archetypal rest postures is a natural way of stretching a variety of muscle groups and connective tissues, but none of the rest postures is inherently comfortable. The end result? You move! You squat down and, after a few minutes, it gets uncomfortable, so you may put one knee down on the ground (half squat, half kneel), but give that a couple of minutes and you want to move; so you may switch to full kneeling. After a few minutes kneeling, this becomes uncomfortable, so you switch to sitting cross-legged and so on. Each posture stretches a different set of muscles and fascia and each provides both a healing stimulus and an opportunity for blood to flow into different muscle groups and to increase glucose uptake within the muscle. The upshot of this is better blood sugar control.
So, finding ways to build these postures into your daily routine is the key to realising the benefits of them. Finding or building a workstation to allow you to tap out emails from a floor-based position is one simple solution. Coffee tables tend to work well for this kind of scenario, some height-adjustable desks may go low enough for this, but also there are an array of display stands that can be adjusted to the perfect height for your working conditions such as here. Similarly, those playing computer games, watching endless hours of YouTube, social media or who enjoy TV; these archetypal rest postures can be adopted for the (on average) 5 hours per day this is happening. Imagine that, a no-time impact, no effort means of helping balance the body’s biomechanics and its blood sugar management!
If you like the sound of that, then you can dive deeper into the details of the discussion on connective tissue, blood sugar and archetypal rest postures in the two papers.
• Modern Disintegration – Primal Connectivity, Editorial Paper: https://authors.elsevier.com/a/1Z3KO4rR6wMn9r
• Biomechanical Attractors – A Paleolithic Prescription for Tendinopathy & Glycemic Control, Practical Paper: https://authors.elsevier.com/a/1Z3KO4rR6wMnA1
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This is a superb topic. Darryl Edwards who I know you are familiar with has a great TED talk discussion about human’s over reliance on the chair in the 21st century. You should have him as a guest on your podcast!!
With an ageing population and unyielding concrete surfaces the chair and upholstery has been a necessary part of evolution. With people are required to work in sedentary roles and then choose to sit for leisure or transport we need well designed ergonomic seating with built in dynamics to encourage us to be active while seated and take every opportunity to be as physically active as possible.