Wellness

Why I Ditched a WFH Desk for the...Floor

I feel less sluggish and much more comfortable. But is it good for me? I let the experts weigh in.

September 15, 2020
Photo by Rocky Luten

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.


First, the good news

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.


What to be concerned about

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.”


How to make it work

Try To Recreate A Desk Set-Up

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.”

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“I've spent all of quarantine working at my coffee table using yoga blocks to support a kneeling or squatting position - and am now free of the back pain I used to have at the end of most days in my office chair.”
— celiaruthless
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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.


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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

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Sara Coughlin is a freelance writer living in Brooklyn. Although she writes about food, health, wellness, lifestyle trends, skin-care, and astrology, she’d much rather talk to you about professional wrestling, rock climbing, and her personal favorite true crime theories. You can find her in her studio apartment doing yoga while a pan of veggies gently burns in the oven.

5 Comments

witloof September 19, 2020
Investing in a zafu, or meditation cushion, will help keep the spine in alignment while sitting cross legged on the floor. Sitting that way, and squatting on heels, is beautiful for keeping the hip capsules open and the muscles in the back and legs lengthened, and will go a long way to preventing back pain. But make sure you get up and move around frequently and that you're not hunching down to look at your screen.
 
celiaruthless September 15, 2020
I've spent all of quarantine working at my coffee table using yoga blocks to support a kneeling or squatting position - and am now free of the back pain I used to have at the end of most days in my office chair.
 
Monica E. September 15, 2020
I used to do this quite a bit before I got a desk at home. My older dog (who has now passed away) liked to be by me all the time, so I would sit at my coffee table with my back up against the couch so he could lay behind me. Worked well for everyone. :)

If you're working longer days, an old pillow or other cushion on the floor can help!
 
Arati M. September 15, 2020
Sorry about your dog, Monica. I would 100% be sitting on the floor to be by my dog, too. Using your couch for back support is a good idea though!
 
mamarella September 15, 2020
As a kid I loved sitting on the floor! And I still do now. I also found squatting to be super comfortable. I noticed my toddler frequently sits cross legged.

Now as an adult I work on my laptop on my bed because same, my apartments have always been too small to add a desk and a chair. The next place I'm moving to I'll have a whole room to convert as an office and I'm SUPER excited. But for now... it's just me and my bed.