Is There An Ideal Chair?

Raquel Baetz writes: When my repetitive strain injury became too painful to ignore anymore, I was using a top-of-the-range ergonomic chair, specially designed for computer use.

I still got injured.

Why? Because no chair can prevent musculoskeletal disorders such as repetitive strain injury.

Back then, I sat with my legs crossed – Buddha style – up on the chair. At the time, I thought this position was ok, because it felt comfortable.

Not anymore. Now I know that how you use your chair is more important than what chair you use.

“The next posture is the best posture,” says Galen Cranz, professor of architecture at University of California Berkeley and author of The Chair: Rethinking Culture, Body and Design.

Cranz is a big proponent of moving – often – and changing chairs as much as possible throughout the day. In this podcast, she talks about the chairs she has in her home – a huge variety, and she moves between them regularly (as well as sitting and lying down on the floor).

Cranz is also an instructor of the Alexander Technique. This discipline teaches people how to sit, thus taking the responsibility for comfort and safety away from the chair completely. Here’s a blog by Alexander Technique teacher Adrian Farrell where he explains, “a chair is an inanimate object, it is incapable of ‘doing’ anything, let alone taking responsibility for you”.

We should all take a lesson from Farrell and Cranz – especially at the office.

In an ideal world, we’d all know how to sit, and we’d have many different chairs at our disposal, enabling us to change at least every 20 or 30 minutes, alternating with periods of standing, squatting, even sitting and lying on the floor like Cranz. (In this utopia, we’d all have the brand new iWatch too – reminding us to stand up.)

In my experience doing workplace assessments, the office workers I talk with find the idea of switching chairs…well, a bit weird. And most people think they know how to sit already.

Also, even if employees were willing to rotate chairs, most offices don’t have a big selection on hand, and people are often territorial about the chair they do have.

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