While working from home undoubtedly has its perks—easy access to snacks and an all-sweats uniform are top contenders—there are some disadvantages that come with the territory, too: for one, my studio apartment isn’t the most spacious, so I’ve put off buying a desk. To make do, I’ve been working from the couch, which, too often, leads to the feeling that I should be relaxing instead of working. Besides, a day on the couch leaves my back feeling hunched and tight.
A few weeks ago, I made some changes. In an effort to feel like more of an upright worker, I decided to have my low coffee table stand in for a desk, and ditch the idea of a chair completely. I’ve never been happier to get to work: Sitting cross-legged on the rug, I feel less sluggish, more aware of my posture, and much more comfortable than I would if I had to unfold myself from whatever half-horizontal position I used to be in on the couch.
Of course, it’s hardly groundbreaking to sing the praises of sitting on the floor: In her book The Chair: Rethinking Culture, Body, and Design, architecture professor Galen Cranz writes that sitting, often either cross-legged or in a squat, is a normal posture for everyday life and work in several cultures: “The reasons for sitting on the floor, on mats, on carpets, platforms, Chinese k’ang, or stools stem from cultural traditions… All around the world, the chair and chair sitting has become a symbol—and sometimes direct evidence—of Westernization.” But, despite its ubiquity (and my comfort), it remained unclear to me whether sitting on the floor presented benefits from a medical perspective.
So I checked in with a few experts to see if sitting on the floor affects our physical well-being—and whether I was right to dismiss my couch so quickly.
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Your Circulation Could Improve…
Robert Trager, DC, a chiropractor at Ohio’s UH Connor Integrative Health Network, highlights research that has linked sitting on the floor in a cross-legged or “hook” position with improved circulation, as well as a hypothesis that sitting on the floor may do more to reduce leg swelling and the risk of developing deep vein thrombosis (a condition in which blood clots in the veins of your legs, leading to cramps and pain).
…And So Could Your Strength and Flexibility
Dr. Trager notes studies suggesting that sitting on the floor may bolster hip mobility and even reduce the risk of contracting knee osteoarthritis down the line. He also mentions that being able to sit down and stand back up from the floor with relative ease is a sign of overall muscular and skeletal health, implying that getting somewhat accustomed (and comfortable) with sitting on the floor from time to time could be a wise decision in the long run.
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Sitting On The Floor Might Incur (Or Contribute To) Chronic Pain
Despite its potential benefits, Dr. Trager points out that, among people who spend hours working in a seated position on the floor, sitting on the floor has been associated with increased hip and lower back pain. In that same vein, research suggests that people who’ve had surgery on their lower backs should probably avoid sitting on the floor altogether.
It Could Also Affect Your Spinal Shape
Charla R. Fischer, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at NYU Langone’s Spine Center, explains that working the day away on the floor puts the spine out of alignment, with the sitter often hunching forward to get more comfortable. In turn, she says, spending too much time in a hunched position can lead to signs of lumbar kyphosis, or an exaggerated rounding of the back. It’s for that reason that she doesn’t recommend floor-sitting for the WFH set: “It’s not a good position for extended work.”
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Antimo Gazzillo, MD, who specializes in physical medicine and rehabilitation at Ohio’s UH Broadview Heights Health Center, says that the best seat to work from is a “supportive chair with good lumbar support.” But, if your seating options are limited or you’re actually quite comfortable working on the floor, Dr. Gazzillo recommends setting up your laptop on a raised surface (like a coffee table) and sitting on a floor pillow to avoid hunching and encourage a neutral spine. “We typically recommend a more neutral posture, near 90 degrees, for you to be looking at your computer screen,” he says.
However You Sit and Work, Don’t Get Stuck In A Rut
If there’s one thing we know for sure, it’s that extended periods of sitting, wherever you do it, isn’t great for your health. Doing so, Dr. Fischer says, “can lead to back muscle injury and pain. If your work requires you to perch in front of a computer all day, try to take breaks as often as every 20 to 30 minutes, Dr. Trager says. And definitely try to avoid working from your easy chair, Dr. Gazzillo says: “Soft and comfortable is not always the best for back support.”
With all this in mind, I plan to upgrade my floor-sitting routine with a floor pillow, pencil in more walks and stretching breaks—but continue to resist the siren call of the couch.
What WFH set-up works best for you? Tell us in the comments below.