arabian sands

  • You are how you sit

    woman sitting in the desert
    A seat in the desert (Photo by Patrick Schneider)

    Just how culturally conditioned are we to sit in a certain way? Western inventions – from the chair and the stool to the sofa and the car seat – have encouraged a certain posture. This posture is reinforced by the sense that it is a civilised position.

    What if we’re wrong?

    New school movement practitioners like Katy Bowman and Erwan Le Corre have been suggesting that sitting in chairs all our lives isn’t so great for our physical health. The get-off-the-couch concept is as old as the hills, but what if we just got rid of the couch?

    The superior squat

    So, different ways of sitting are hip (check out Le Corre’s MovNat essential deep squat posture), but I like to take the long view, so here’s one: desert explorer Wilfred Thesiger’s majestic 1959 book Arabian Sands is famous for chronicling his crossing of Arabia’s Empty Quarter.

    What it’s less famous for is Thesiger’s recurring observations about his own pain and discomfort at riding a camel for days on end, in stark contrast to the ease of the Bedouin. He could only ride legs astride, while they could ride in a deep squat, then with one leg dangling, then the other, in endless movement.

    The morality of chairs

    What is even less famous is a cultural insight. Every time they reached a town, Thesiger would be offered a room with a table and chairs. It vexed him, since he wanted to sit on the floor like the Bedouin and despised furnishings. Yet the locals assumed he would want them.

    More tellingly, any local Arab who had a certain standing in the community wanted Western furnishing. It was a sign of civilisation and progress. While the Bedouin lived their lives in movement between the ground and two legs, endlessly performing Le Corre’s essential deep squat, the civilised turned their backs on such savagery.

    Next time you want to feel subversive in a public space, just perform the deep squat, or perish the thought, even sit on the floor.