October 29 2019

Ancestral Resting Positions: Video Guide

By Mark Sisson
21 Comments

Earlier this year, I collaborated on a pair of papers (1, 2) with Matthew Wallden, Global Head of Institute of Education for the Chek Institute and an absolute obsessive when it comes to applying ancestral lessons to modern life. The papers were all about how humans today are failing to honor their tissues at rest: by sitting in chairs, slumping on couches, and slouching at the computer. The sad fact is, we’re ignoring the myriad ancestral or archetypal resting positions that humans have been using for hundreds of thousands of years, and this is having huge consequences on our health.

I wrote a blog post explaining the consequences. Not only are modern resting positions destroying the health and viability of our connective tissues and muscle function, they’re even inhibiting our ability to control blood glucose levels. We’re getting injured more often, ending up with terrible conditions like osteoarthritis, and we’re making our already substandard blood glucose control even worse.

The point of all this is that sitting in one single position with the majority of our tissues supported by furniture is incredibly harmful. Instead, we should be shifting our body from position to position. We should be stretching this muscle in one position and stretching the opposing muscle in the next position. Our rest should be productive. It shouldn’t be turning off the entire body for 8 hours. It should be resting one piece while engaging another—and switching things up constantly. Even our rest, whether from our workouts or daily life, should involve movement, in other words.

Despite being “ancestral” or “archetypal,” it’s a foreign concept if you’ve never done it. These can be hard to visualize through text alone. So I’ve made a helpful video showing some of them. As you can see, these positions aren’t always “easy” or “natural,” especially if you’re coming from a background of modern resting positions (like all of us). But do what you can, and work toward achieving these resting positions. Even breaking up all that sitting with an hour or two of shifting ancestral positions on the floor will be a huge help.

I hope you enjoy the video, and I hope you give these a shot. You can also listen to my podcast with Matt here.

Let me know what you think. Which of the postures do you see your incorporating—now or moving forward?

References:

Wallden, Matthew, Mark Sisson, “Biomechanical attractors—A paleolithic prescription for tendinopathy & glycemic control.” Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies, Volume 23, Issue 2, 366 – 371.

Wallden, M., Mark Sisson, “Modern disintegration and primal connectivity.” Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies, Volume 23, Issue 2, 359 – 365.

TAGS:  mobility, videos

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21 thoughts on “Ancestral Resting Positions: Video Guide”

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  1. Have you read Katie Bowman’s books? She’s organized her house specifically for these kinds of things (places to sit on the floor, a short dining table with cushions to sit on, “monkey bars” in the house so one can hang, move from one to the other, do pull-ups, etc. I think all of this that you’re writing about and her writings are extraordinarily helpful (and needed by me!).

    1. I just checked her out. Watched a video tour of her house. Very inspiring and great ideas. Thanks for mentionning her.

  2. What a great idea, Mark. Jen Brea in her ted talk about ME/CFS said that she needed to sit cross legged because it helped her maintain consciousness. I’m not sure if she took it further than that. But this is the second time I’ve heard something about the way we sit having an effect on our body and mind.

  3. That’s awesome! Most chairs are really uncomfortable to me anyway, as I’m only 5′ and my feet don’t touch the floor.

    1. I have the same problem….5’3 with short legs. I can’t sit properly in chairs, just not comfortable. I tend to use position H on the chart shown in the video.

  4. Is the low kneel, where your legs are folded under your body and pressed together good, too? (It’s very helpful to me at a dining table, as the chairs put me too low to the table.) I think you said that in the blog post earlier, but it wasn’t in the video, and I had always been under the impression it was bad for your knees (but I also used to be under the impression fat was bad for your heart.).

    1. It’s in the video, demonstrated by the woman, when Mark talks about the high kneel. The low kneel is a traditional sitting position in some Asian cultures, and is also a common meditation position in some traditions. I find that my calves and feet go numb if I sit in this position too long (have noticed this problem since I was a child), but you can put a small pillow or cushion between your butt and heels and I find that very helpful, as well as using a thin cushioning pad under my shins and feet since I have hardwood floors.

  5. Not cheating if you sit on cushions on a wood floor? Just moved our laptop around the coffee table away from the sofa, where I already sit when eating there, ’cause it works better.

    Also, what about when you’re sitting because you’re tired? On the floor against the wall? Maybe a futon mattress on the floor and going up the wall? Cave people must’ve had to lean against something at some point. But I suppose you can’t just get rid of all your sofas–unless you don’t want to ever have guests (especially frail ones) again. (or keep some folding chairs in a closet to bring out for them)

  6. I’m so glad I found your blog at an early age (around 16 i think), as I was able to work my way to a full comfortable resting squat position with no difficulties. If I was older I doubt I’d have been able to accomplish it so smoothly.

  7. I love that you have published this information. For the last couple of years I have slept on a very thin mat on a concrete floor. My body works much better as a result. As a soon to be 73 year old woman I am fascinated with archetypal postures for relief of pain. Unlike you, I love to stretch, but floor sleeping and sitting almost make it pointless. Were it not for the sheer pleasure I get from such activity I would not take the time to stretch. I seldom need to employ the trigger point release techniques I learn back in the 80s. Perhaps letting my “pressure points” be pressed all night long is causing my muscles to be more relaxed. What do you think?

    1. Yes. Would love more on floor sleeping. I slept on the floor (either directly on carpet or on a comforter on hardwoods) for several years and recall having slept much better then. I only stopped after an incident where I awoke to a waterbug on the underside of my arm right above my nursing baby’s head. I screamed like a f*cking maniac and had a full blown panic attack and have only slept on the floor one time since then (and I put a perimeter around the mat of diatomaceous earth and was anxious all night). I was already terrified of roaches before that, but it only got worse after that… Any post info on floor sleeping and also on minimizing risks of bugs crawling on you would be awesome.

    2. Also I think it’s awesome that you’re in your 70’s sleeping on the floor. Woohoo! I wanna be like you when I’m older 🙂

    3. WOW, sleeping on a mat on a concrete floor? I have trouble walking after sleeping on a hard bed, I can’t imagine trying the floor. How and why did you start sleeping that way, if you don’t mind telling?

  8. This is the premise and promise of yin yoga. Yin takes these postures, adds a focus on the breath, and allows the practitioner to experience a different form of meditation, one where the body’s sensations, or the breath, can be the object of meditation. Using the breath to aid release and using the body and/or the breath to access a meditative state improves the effectiveness of these postures, but Mark is right, the body will benefit from the postures alone. All of us need more yin, especially as we age. Thank you, Mark, for exposing more people to the benefits of these postures.

  9. I really liked the video – and all your demo videos. I have a makeshift stand-up desk – now I have to figure out how to set up an ancestral sitting desk in my small New York apartment.

  10. So, basically, sit like we used to do when we were kids. Great – any excuse to behave like a child is OK with me.

  11. So, basically – sit like we used to when we were kids. Great – any excuse to behave like a child is OK with me.

  12. Cool video. An additional benefit is having your bare body parts in contact with the earth beneath you – Earthing! (or Grounding).

  13. Hey Mark,
    Thanks for the video! I’m writing out of curiosity about your thoughts on props for some of these postures? You have written about Ester Gokhale’s Method before, and it encourages folks to avoid rounding their spine for any length of time. Her book offers using pillows or towels as bolsters to prevent pelvic distortion. Did your research on the paper take you to new findings?
    Appreciate any info,
    Harrison