Chairs of the week

End of Term 3 and my first year of training

I’m used to standing up and sitting down.  Much of what happens in our training or in a regular Alexander lesson involves working with a teacher to get in and out of a chair.  We’re thinking about how we’re moving, and whether the head, neck and back are working in harmony to take our bodies fluidly and without effort from standing to sitting, or vice versa.

But this week my thoughts turned to what I’ve been sitting on rather than how I got there.  The chairs were many and varied.  Firstly there was a concert where I sat in a wooden Victorian pew with a hard, protruding backrest, made comfortable only when I stuffed my bag behind me to provide a different kind of contact for my back to lengthen into.  Then there was the awkward interlude waiting for a bus.  Trying hard not to be a bench, the shiny red surface was subtly curved downwards, so I could only perch and not sit, in danger of bracing my legs, and worrying always about sliding off.   Once on the bus, the soft springy padding of the lurid blue and orange seats gave me an illusion of a comfortable ride as the driver negotiated the potholes that have arrived with the coming of spring.

Matters were no better at the office.  My new ergonomic chair was both ungainly and uncomfortable.  Somehow I seemed to be at an angle below the desk looking up, accentuated by the sloping floor of the historic building I’m based in. So I tried the Arts and Crafts chair nearby.  This was the triumph of the week.  Beautifully made, simple, elegant and a good height for the desk, it had an upright back and a base that provided just enough support.

The next day I travelled by train.  Yet again my body had to adjust to a new shape of seat, the backrest long and angled backwards, the seat softly undulating.  And finally on the homeward stretch I waited for another bus.  This was my least favourite chair experience of the week.  The seats were metallic, harsh and cold, with a combination of severe straight edges and sinuous curves in the wrong places. This meant I was sitting too low, too far back, too far off the ground and in a position that made it impossible to get up without effort for the bus.

What do I want from a chair?

Until recently I hadn’t given much thought to chairs. But what I do know is that I want to be able to sit on my sitting bones with my feet on the ground and my hip joints slightly higher than my knees.  To do that I’d like a chair that has a flat, reasonably firm seat with a back I can rest against, and that is neither too high nor too low. Very few of the chairs I sat in fitted this description.  And most of them, unfortunately, encouraged the kind of use of the body that I’m learning how to prevent.

Victorian church pew
No sleeping during the sermon in a Victorian church pew
Bus stop seat
Perching at the bus stop
Bus seat
Well padded seat at the back of the bus
Office chair
Ergonomic office chair on wheels
Arts and Crafts chair
Arts and Crafts chair, useful and beautiful
Train seat
Travelling by train with the backrest leaning backwards
Bus station seat
Difficult to get up to catch a bus from this seat

If you want to read more about chairs, chair design and history and the Alexander Technique, read The Chair: Rethinking Culture, Body and Design by Galen Cranz