I grew up in Japan where people are accustomed to sitting on the floor, plus I had to practice sitting on the floor quite a bit during years of martial arts practice. I didn’t really correlate the lifestyle in the United States/Western culture with postural/movement bias at first. After several years, I started to see some characteristics of postural/movement bias in people in Western countries and Asian countries. It’s very common for many people in this country to have limited mobility/flexibility in hips and ankles as compared to people who grew up in Japan. Then, I started to recognize some differences in lifestyle between the two cultures. I realized that sitting position is one of the major factors that sets off some of postural/movement bias at very early age.
Floor sitting requires hip muscles to move the pelvis and torso thus creating more mobility. It also allows many more options in movement and position in hips, knees, ankles, toes. From biomechanical and physiological perspectives, floor sitting places more demands on those tissues. Tissues adapt accordingly (SAID principle). Tissues that are underused can become weak or short, for example. It makes sense that people who spend more time sitting on the floor have more mobility in hips and ankles than those who never sit on the floor.
Are there negative consequences in adapting to chair sitting? Absolutely. Chair sitting limits movement of hips and ankles and in addition a back rest takes over the work of hip flexors to keep the torso balanced on top of the pelvis, leading to tissue adaptation such as weak hip flexors, short hamstrings, and slouched posture. It becomes more apparent when people get older. Many people start to stand more on their heels as they get older. One of the reasons is probably due to lack of ankle mobility especially dorsiflexion. This impacts their balance. They become less confident about their balance and become more fearful and anxious. As a result, they become more rigid, which makes it even more difficult to maintain balance and react and recover from loss of balance.
The longer people have adapted to chair sitting and avoided floor sitting, the more hesitant they will become to change their old habits and get down on floor. However, it's never too late to learn new habits. I encourage everyone to start spending more time on the floor. You can even start with 5 minutes a day while watching TV or reading a book, then gradually increase time. The more you do it, the more friendly the floor becomes, and you may start to notice that you're becoming more mobile.
© Taro Iwamoto 2015. Please do not reproduce without the express written consent of Taro Iwamoto.