Last week I found myself lost mid-sentence several times. I noticed my breathing was shallow. I have committed to meditating 20 minutes each morning and it has been helpingto relieve the my stress and fears about the future. Even as recently as yesterday, I felt too agitated to do sitting meditation and did walking meditation instead. As a long time meditator, I’ve been surprised by my own lack of balance.
Perhaps we can view these stressful times as offering us a koan by these current times. A Zen koan is a teaching story. Generally, if one is working with a Zen teacher, the teacher selects a koan to look at together with the student. It is a collaborative effort based on friendship. The teacher sets out the koan and asks the student questions about the meaning of the koan. The introspection of the koan, being with the teacher–talking, laughing, drinking tea, questioning each other is awakening itself. The answer to the koan emerges.
Meditation room showing Zafu, Smile and Sky Bench being used with a Zabuton sitting mat.
Our life and these times can serve as our natural koan. The Teacher is Life itself. As students we have an opportunity to work with what is presented, or perhaps, thrust upon us. We check in with the Teacher through introspection and questioning. Life reflects back its response.
The reality we’re finding ourselves in is basically the human condition. So long ago, Siddhartha Gautama meditated under the bodhi tree to reflect on this same koan of life. He awoke– as from a dream –with clarity about the illusions and delusions of this world. He realized the origins of samsara* and spent his life demonstrating what it means to be Awake.
It’s not that easy to think of this current political climate with so much fear and chaos as an opportunity to wake up. Certainly most people, myself included, simply want things to go back to the way they used to be. We like our comforts. But it is our discomforts that force us to grow and evolve.
Judith Lief writes, “Ironically it is only…disappointment with the world–with human beings and their stupidity, and with ourselves–that provides a powerful enough motivation to change. Traditionally reaching the point where you see the futility of samara is considered an essential breakthrough on the path.”**
When speaking about current world events, Mooji Baba, a modern day Jamaican teacher in the lineage of Papaji, says that all this mind chatter will wake us up. We certainly hope so. As we pray and meditate, let us remember the jewel hidden in the compost.
May all beings live in peace and harmony. May all beings be safe and have enough food. May all beings Awaken.
This is a time of great opportunity. Use it, don’t lose it. Eckhart Tolle
*Samsarain Buddhism is the beginning-less cycle of repeated birth, mundane existence and dying again. It’s considered to be unsatisfactory and painful, perpetuated by desire and ignorance, and the resulting karma. You don’t have to believe in rebirth to recognize this….just look at everyday desires, disappointments, and personal suffering. **https://www.lionsroar.com/how-not-to-freak-out/ Thought provoking article in Lion’s Roar Magazine online. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wKpmXhGVMxI Staying Conscious in the Face of Adversity | A Special Message From Eckhart Tolle This talk is a healing balm in this troubled world.
Winter is a great time to get some extra beauty sleep. With the longer nights and cold temperatures, our bodies are designed to slow down and regenerate. Sleep and meditation compliment each other. Meditation helps us slow down so we can relax and experience deeper sleep, and sleep helps our meditation by optimizing our ability to focus and thus reach that magical silent peace of deep alpha and theta brain waves.
How well balanced are your circadian rhythms? Meaning, do you sleep deeply and wake up refreshed? Is your metabolism working? Body weight at a good level? Most likely not. Because the modern lifestyle has thrown off the basics of circadian biology.
Here are some tips that help you balance your Circadian Rhythms and improve your sleep and meditation.
1–Eat a pro-thyroid diet, which means a diet native to the climate you live in. This includes high quality fat and protein and less carbs during winter. The reason is this regulates blood sugar and makes your body generate the heat it needs to stay warm. According to Dr. Lita Lee, chronic insomnia or lack of quality sleep is one symptom of a major health condition called hypothyroidism which leads to all the major degenerative diseases and aging. By understanding this problem, one can reverse the aging process, restore quality sleep, and get off of sleep medications.
2–Turn down the heat in your house, especially during sleep. Studies show we sleep best at lower temperatures. Also, expose yourself to outside air regularly. This practice, also called Cold Thermogenesis, has proven to enhance sleep quality dramatically. In other words, cold exposure has a dramatic calming effect on the body. Cold exposure is also part of the equation of synchronizing our circadian rhythms.
3–Get natural sunlight every day…at least 20 minutes. But an hour or more is even better. For many of us we need to be creative to incorporate this into our busy lives with the short daylight hours of winter. This sunlight exposure on the skin and retina causes the body to produce more serotonin which converts into melatonin when it gets dark. Make sure you have no glasses or sunglasses when trying to get the maximum sun (these block the beneficial rays which set circadian rhythms). The most effective time is first thing in the morning at sunrise. Another option is during lunchtime. So try to plan your day around your needs for these essential and powerful nutrients. Take a break as often as you can and get outside with as much skin exposed as possible.
4–Low Lights. Artificial light (meaning flouescent, incadescent, ) causes under production of melatonin which makes it harder to fall asleep as well as hampers sleep quality. Use Blue Blocking Goggles or Amber Colored light bulbs three hours before you want to fall asleep. Another option is beeswax candles.
Your body produces the important hormone melatonin, the so-called sleep hormone. Increasing your body’s melatonin production can improve your sleep.
Melatonin is produced by your pineal gland, normally only when you are in darkness. Using artificial light in the evening before going to bed shuts down melatonin production. Blue rays in ordinary light are the problem.
Only the blue component of light shuts down melatonin production. Using Blue Blocking Glasses for one to three hours before retiring allows melatonin to be produced naturally. While using them, the remaining colors of light allow you to read, watch television, etc.
5–Avoid exposure to Electromagnetic Fields (EMF’s) as much as possible. Especially during sleep. Turn your bedroom into a sanctuary from EMF’s as well as toxic chemicals. There are many ways to mitigate EMF exposure but some of the simple things you can do are to turn the circuits off in your bedroom at night, ground your computer during the day, and create a Faraday Cage by various means, such as painting shielding paint in your bedroom, creating a bed canopy with EMF Shielding Fabric, or putting metal siding and roofing around your house.
6–Optimal Circadian Timing of daily activities:
a–Go to bed early. This means at least by 10pm but even earlier if you can. The trick is…you don’t need to force anything. You should be so tired that sleep just happens naturally. The way to get to this point is to follow these principles.
b–Wake up with the sun. Ideally don’t set an alarm but let your body get whatever rest it needs. When you can greet the sunrise outside with exposure to cold and light on the retina. You can have your breakfast on the porch or yard. Morning sun is extremely important because it tells your brain to get moving.
c-Make breakfast the big meal of the day. The digestive juices are the most abundant during that time, which is about 30 minutes after waking up. Include lots of fats, proteins to fuel your metabolism throughout the day and keep blood sugar even.
d–Get movement during the day. Our DNA is programmed for movement…meaning it is an essential NUTRIENT. This recent discovery has birthed the new Movement Culture and books like “Sitting Kills, Movement Heals”, by NASA Scientist Dr. Vernikos. Create a movement friendly office environment and get some walking or other fun activities in. Play in the snow!
People often ask me how I got myself to fit into a 184 square foot tiny house (8’ x 23’). The answer is, by changing my paradigm about how I think about space, stuff and redefining what quality of life means to me. It didn’t happen overnight. It has taken me years of consistent effort to get to this point. So many people want to do what I have done. The first step to less stuff/more freedom is to declutter and downscale. Here is a basic outline of the 9 Principles I use.
It is a continuous process because living tiny means, staying organized and efficient. There is not an inch to spare so as soon as something is out of place, it is right in the way. This is good in some ways and can be annoying in other ways. After many years of living tiny I have developed a system which allows life to flow through the space without feeling too strict or confining. I am not a magician, anyone can do it.
This shows my clothes cubby underneat the “Juice Bar”; an all purpose counter for cutting veggies, juicing and serving guests.
You are going to go through your entire belongings and sort, organize, get rid of until you are at the sweet spot where your life feels just right and you can move into the space that fits your needs or travel footloose and carefree.
You can do this no matter what point you are in the process. If you don’t plan to downscale…it can still improve your life to help free energy and get more effcient.
If you are already tiny, this process can help you continuously improve your game. You can do this on a personal level but will also need to work with your partner and family or household as well since you will be restructuring established systems.
1) Make a Plan
a) When first starting your downscaling process set aside time each week to work on it. It could be one or more hours each Saturday, or it could be 30 minutes each day when you wake up.
b) Give yourself a timeframe for when you want to have the project completed. Put this on your calendar. Also break it down into steps and put each monthly goal on your calendar.
This photo shows my bedding put up on shelves while I do a little spring cleaning work. Stand up computer station on the left.
2) Divide and Conquer
Break your belongings into piles. Like goes with like. This doesn’t always have to be physically moving the items, but perhaps keeping a list in a notebook. You will however want to put some of the items physically in their pile so you can later take the next step which is to actually get rid of it. Start with one area such as clothes, kitchen, tools, or office. I like a four tiered system to start
b) Throw Away
c) Give away
As you are looking at each item if you don’t get an immediate answer about whether to keep it or not ask yourself:
a) Do I really need this?
b) Will getting rid of this item allow me to still do what I need to do and have less moving parts?
c) Will getting rid of this allow me to have better order, beauty, simplicity, serenity?
d) Can I make this smaller, rip a page out and throw the notebook away? Digitalize old recordings?
e) Phase out plastic from your life. Start replacing synthetic and plastic clothes, dishes, toys, etc, with natural materials. Now that you live small, you can afford to get nicer things and create more quality and beauty in your space.
f) Think lightweight, portable, modular, multi-use. See my own inventions including Barefoot Office Kits™ for inspiration. You want to be able to move, air out,
wash things and rearrange now and then.
g) Get matching jars and dishes. Don’t save odd sized containers. Use movable, portable boxes instead of heavy, bulky drawers that can’t be customized as your needs change.
Take action on the ‘get rid of’ pile before you start to tackle the next clutter category. Take to Goodwill or Habitat for Humanity, advertise on Craig’s List, ask a friend if they want it, or take to the recycling center.
3) Create Zones
Zone One: FRONT LINE
Only things actively used in easily accessible places. Not stuff away in a closet but more out in the open such as a drawer, shelf, table top near at hand. Books you are actually reading is zone one. Books you will need later go into zone two or zone three.
Zone Two: OCCASIONALLY USED
Things occasionally or seasonally used. This should be somewhat less accessible but not too hard to get. This could be in the back of the closet such as winter clothes that you don’t need to hunt down when the time comes to use them again.
Zone Three: STORAGE
This should be the things that are the least accessible. They could be a stack of boxes in the garage clearly labeled. Also these should be things you really do need and you aren’t simply storing because you are afraid to let go of them.
(Above) This is my bed taken down to do some spring cleaning.
(Left) This is my Barefoot Office Kit™ for when I want to sit at the computer instead of stand.
Zone Four: TRANSITION
There should be some designated transition zones which are neutral spaces where you can put things to be sorted later. No-one wants to live like a robot. You need to throw your stuff down and be spontaneous sometimes so if there is a special shelve, cubby, box, or drawer where you can plop it down. Then you just need to occasionally go and straighten things out. But this step allows the space to remain clutter free even in the midst of a busy life.
4) A home for every thing and every thing in it’s home.
This goes for every little thing, even pens, shoes, daypack and purse, wallet, and things in process such as dirty clothes and pieces of paper. I use a folder for my “In Box” so stuff isn’t laying on the surface. These should be clearly obvious and labeled when needed. Labeling is especially helpful when first setting up the system and especially when multiple people are using the space. Keep your labels in a labeled box or folder or actually out on the counter because you will be grabbing it all the time for awhile. Yes, I am talking about setting up your home similar to an institution, using special cubbies, shelves, racks for personal belongings and everyone needs to know the house procedures for things like where to put the compost, shoes, coats, etc.
Once you have gone through all your belongings, you will want to devote energy to constantly improving systems and creating more beauty, functionality, space and flow. You will get new ideas as you try things. You will find new things to replace old things. Spend some time each day and each week keeping the place ship shape. Have some empty spaces. In other words don’t fill every shelf and counter top with things. You need places to set things down occasionally so it doesn’t end up in a pile on the floor. You also want to have visually soothing surroundings. Place some flowers out and keep them watered. Have a few crystals or sacred items but well placed and easy to keep clean.
6) Design with dust in mind.
Dust takes time to clean, looks bad and can even be toxic. Fung Shui principles see dust as stagnation. So we want to make all nooks and corners easily accessible. We don’t want counters and shelves lined with many small items. Keep things containerized as much as possible. If there are several small items, think how you could box them into something that got them out of visual site to create more space and serenity. This is one reason why beds on legs have a disadvantage over floor based beds. Cleaning under a bed (or other furniture piece) is one more activity that could be avoided with better designing. The Japanese know this well.
7) Think of the floor as a piece of furniture.
In our over domesticated, overbuilt houses we don’t have much inspiration or need to practice healthy primal movement and positions such as squatting and kneeling. Keep open spaces on the floor instead of covering it with furniture and remember to squat part of the day during activities you would normally be sitting or standing. Do things on the floor, eat, sleep, work, yoga. Have a place to put your shoes when you walk in the door. Keep the floor clean and use floor coverings when needed. Have yoga mats and props available nearby
8) Design standing surfaces for eating and working.
A bar which is about 40 inches tall is a good place to sometimes eat. It may sound a little strange when in the habit of sitting, but sometimes it is more comfortable to stand, especially if we have already been sitting a lot. Also making use of vertical space saves the precious limited floor space in a tiny house.
Many people have wondered what kapok is and why Carolina Morning uses it as a stuffing for so many of our products. Some wonder if down or feathers might be a better alternative. In society at large, it seems like feathers are considered the premium filling. However, there are many reasons kapok excels as the best choice. “Kapok” comes from the seedpod of the kapok tree and is similar to the milkweed pod: a hard shell outside and feathery seeds inside. It is one of the few sustainable crops grown in the rainforests and is found in Asia as well as in South America. It does not require pesticides or herbicides. Among many of its benefits, it is hypoallergenic, resistant to mold, forms to the shape of one’s body while simultaneously bounding back when not being used. Kapok even floats and is often used as the stuffing in airplane seats.
At Carolina Morning, we choose kapok because we love knowing that it comes from a tree and that it has so many healing qualities. The tree isn’t harmed by the harvesting process.
One of the common alternatives to kapok is duck and goose down. The down we see in so many of the common products sold in the marketplace – from jackets, to comforters and pillows comes from water fowl, or duck and geese. Feather pillows are far more popular than kapok pillows, although this is slowly changing. At Carolina Morning we like offering products filled with kapok as an option to feathers and down. While kapok is a stuffing that is eco friendly and cruelty-free, feathers and down can’t make the same claim. It’s sad to report about this issue. So many of us aren’t aware of it, and by sharing this information we hope to reduce the suffering of our beloved bird friends.
Birds are a symbol of spirit and of freedom. Keeping them in captivity to take their feathers is harsh, but there’s more to it. The subject is a complex and controversial one. If you continue to read this article, you’ll learn about nature and human nature. It’s not totally pretty in that it shows the shadow side of human nature. We encourage you to read it to educate yourself, and to–when shopping — choose kapok stuffing over feathers. Click here to continue reading and to see a 5 minute TV news report video which summarizes the issue.
Here is a short video of a news broadcast on the subject,(it has some harsh scenes).
Some areas of the world have made efforts to protect the birds in various ways. Live plucking is the most common way to gather the feathers and is very cruel. In the USA and Europe this practice is outlawed. Since more than 80 percent of down and feathers come from China and other places, that makes a small difference world wide. And unfortunately that doesn’t insure that that the materials (down and feathers) are cruelty-free. There are ways around the laws, and enforcement is difficult and sometimes absent. If the birds were killed and used for meat, and then feathers taken off the dead bird, it would actually be a more humane way of collecting them. The reason live plucking is so rampant relates to water bird feathers being the feathers of choice.
Nature protected water birds with two kinds of covering: feathers, which allow the bird to fly, and down, which insulates and keeps the bird warm. Down grows beneath the feathers, close to the skin, and mostly on the chest and underbelly. Because ducks and geese live partly in the water, both the feathers and down are coated with an oil produced by the birds and applied during preening. This waterproofing enables the feathers and the down to stay dry even when the birds are in the water.
Due to the waterproof nature of ducks and geese, removing feathers after slaughter, by scalding (as is the typical route for poultry), doesn’t work as well for waterfowl. It’s a slower process and requires more attention compared to poultry. For this reason, along with the production of fois gras, a French delicacy requiring the force feeding by metal tube inserted into the esophagus, live plucking has become a common choice for many down suppliers.
In 2009, the Swedish news program Kalla Fakta released a documentary uncovering the hidden secrets of the industry. The report revealed that in the three largest down producing countries, Hungry, Poland, and China, live plucking has been widespread. The expose included footage of live plucking and the trauma endured by the geese. These birds endure repeated plucking, as often as every six weeks, throughout their lifetimes. The plucking often leave the birds with open wounds which are sewn up hastily without anesthesia. It is a traumatizing existence for the birds.
The Swedish documentary gained lots of attention at the time of its release and forced well known companies such as The North Face, Patagonia, and Ikea to address the issue of where they source the raw materials for their products. As a result, two major organizations were formed, Responsible Sourced Down and Globally Traceable Down Standard, in an attempt to provide certifications to companies who pledge to support safe and humane practices of down harvests.
Still, the controversy lingers. Even though well-known companies are pledging to source cruelty free down under the standards of the mentioned organizations, there have been reports uncovering more unethical behaviors:
Some reported issues remain:
Certified non-live plucking farms are still buying down from live pluck farms who then resell the down masked as humanely sourced.
There are loopholes that allow farms to divide there facility into two sections: one area that abides by non-live plucking standards and another area that does not. Once down is plucked (live or after slaughter) there is no way to determine if it came from a live plucking situation. Therefore, these ‘responsible farms” maybe operating more irresponsibly than not.
As you might realize, navigating the industry of down filling can be a daunting process if one is seeking 100% cruelty free options. At Carolina Morning, our goal is to lessen suffering, both physically and mentally and we feel that kapok is one choice we can make to support that goal. Harvesting kapok causes no injury to the tree, other plants, or living creatures. In addition, kapok is not a synthetic-petroleum based product. It is truly an earth-friendly stuffing option for our pillows, cushions, and futons. We hope this article helps to raise your awareness to the controversy of down so that we can continue to grow as mindful consumers.
In high school I was often bored and lonely, but I kept myself motivated with the hope that life after graduation would be better. I longed for an environment where I could be intellectually challenged and find a strong supportive community. When I got to college, I gradually realized that I was probably not going to find the environment I craved there. I slowly became more and more depressed.
Late in my freshman year, the news-anchor Dan Harris came to our small college’s campus, to promote his book 10% Happier, which advocated introducing meditation into your daily routine. I was impressed, and from time to time would attempt to meditate for 5 minutes or so, but didn’t keep up with it because I found it so difficult to keep my mind from wandering. The following school year, I became even more unhappy and I ultimately decided to take time off from college and then later decided to switch colleges. At first, I wasn’t any happier at my new college and a therapist mentioned that maybe I should try meditation. A few friends of mine studied abroad in India and Nepal and they become very intrigued about Buddhist philosophy and meditation. Fortunately, my depression eventually subsided on its own, but my interest in meditation remained.
I wanted to learn how to meditate, and even bought The Experience of Insight by Joseph Goldstein, but still never managed to get started on a consistent routine. Some of my favorite podcasts put out episodes extolling the benefits of daily Buddhist meditation and taking extended meditation retreats. I still never was able to set aside daily time for meditation. So when my housemate my senior year of college mentioned that she had taken a free 10 day course. I promised myself that I would try it someday. Eventually, six months after graduating college, I found the time to register for a course on dhamma.org. I was on the waiting list and received an email just days before the course was set to begin that I had been accepted off the waiting list. I accepted the, and a couple days later I packed up my car and drove the 7 hours to the nearest center in Southeast Georgia. I was armed with my zafu cushion, and a zabuton and peace bench lent to me by my generous neighbor who worked at Carolina Morning, but I didn’t really know how to even use them.
I went into the course knowing almost nothing. I came to learn that the promise of Vipassana meditation (at least as taught by S. N. Goenka, the man who founded the worldwide network of Vipassana meditation courses given free of charge) is that with hard work and dedication, anyone can liberate themselves from the miseries and dissatisfactions of life. The teaching dictates that misery and dissatisfaction stems from either craving things or having aversion towards things. Cravings and aversions stem from ignorance: everything is always changing and shifting. Any pleasant sensation or feeling that we crave will go away in time as will any unpleasant sensation that we dislike will do the same. If one can learn to accept and observe the ever-changing nature of reality with equanimity, then one has liberated oneself from the misery of unfulfilled cravings or the unpleasantness of manifested aversions. Vipassana meditation essentially consists of continuously scanning one’s body, observing the sensations without reacting. One must observe an itch without scratching, observe soreness in the knees and keep them crossed, all the while merely observing and not wishing for the sensations to go away. Remembering that all sensations, good or bad, are impermanent and will come and go on their own.
As maybe you can imagine (or perhaps you know already), practicing Vipassana meditation is very difficult. For the first 3 or 4 days, we practiced Anapana meditation (observing the breath) in order to sharpen our focus in preparation for Vipassana. My main challenge, even after the days of practice with Anapana, was that my mind would wander into daydreams and I would cease doing the body-scans. Other times I became frustrated or even angry that I could not observe sensations on multiple parts of the body at once. Our days essentially consisted of meditation all day with some longer breaks to eat, rest, and walk and shorter breaks between meditation sits to stretch and use the bathroom. In the evening we would watch a video recording of a lecture of Goenka’s in which he would explain the theory behind the meditation techniques we were practicing. Each day the meditation technique would get slightly more complex and so would the accompanying theory.
In order to facilitate the environment where it is possible to practice the technique for 10-12 hours a day, the 60 students were expected to maintain “noble silence.” Starting on the first evening of the course until the final full day of the course, my classmates and I refrained from all verbal and nonverbal communication except for with the teacher and the course manager. The silence and other restrictions (which include no use of electronics, books, or eating snacks outside of mealtimes) help one not get distracted on the task at hand: the sharpening and purification of the mind.
I admit at times I longed for the days to move more quickly and for the course to end. I craved snacks. I wondered what was going on in the news. I worried I would miss an important email. It was impossible for me to maintain focus on the meditation practice for 12 hours each day. Sometimes, during an hour long sit, my mind wandered for 50 of those minutes, remembering places I had been and people I had met in the past few years. Sometimes my knees got stiff. Sometimes I craved a chicken dinner or even a Google search. I just wanted the retreat to be over. I admit I rarely floss my teeth, but I flossed every day at the retreat because I wanted something more to do.
Other times I was focused. My mind only wandered for 10 minutes spaced out over an hour. I was able to observe sensations without wishing for them to stay or go. Part of the practice is learning not to get frustrated when you can’t maintain focus and not being happy when you can maintain focus. The objective is to merely observe what is going on without reacting.
Finally, on the last day, we were allowed to speak with the other students. It was a relief to be able to speak to the people I had been very physically close to for over a week but never even made eye contact with and in some cases, never heard their voice. It was amazing how different everyone’s experience had been. I thought I had had intense feelings at times, but compared to the anguish and fear some others mentioned they had felt at times, I realized that perhaps I had had an easy time of it. Everyone seemed in a very good mood on the last day, and ultimately I was a little sad to go just as I was making friends with the fellow students.
I learned a lot. I learned how difficult it is to control the mind. I learned that purifying the mind and reaching inner peace is a lifelong endeavor. And I learned that what kind of meditation cushions you use are super important. In order to sit still for an hour, you need some comfortable cushions! I especially liked the combination of the Carolina Morning Peace Bench with the Zabuton sitting mat. The sitting mats in the meditation hall were much thinner than my Zabuton was, but unfortunately the Zabuton would take up too much space to use in the hall, so I left it in my room to use when we were allowed meditate in there.
It had been more challenging than I expected, but I am so grateful that I was able to attend the course.
“What would it be like to be raised on gratitude, to speak to the natural world as a member of the democracy of species, to raise a pledge of interdependence? No declarations of political loyalty are required, just a response to a repeated question: ‘Can we agree to be grateful for all this is given?'”.
Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass
Is is a common belief among Native American traditions that humans do not dominate this planet but instead we are students of the ancient plant and animal elders. For instance, the Onondaga tribe have a particularly strong tradition of expressing gratitude called the Thanksgiving Address. There are multiple versions of the address. Some are lengthy while others are condensed.
Onondaga children are taught to recite the Thanksgiving Address in grade school and it is spoken out loud at the beginning of gatherings and meetings. The Thanksgiving Address is meant to unify people as a way of agreeing on the common denominator that connects us all – our beautiful Earth. Unlike Americans, who grow up to memorize and recite the Pledge of Allegiance (to a flag), tribe members grow up learning to recite a pledge of gratitude to the natural world.
Today we have gathered and we see that the cycles of life continue. We have been given the duty to live in balance and harmony with each other and all living things. So now, we bring our minds together as one as we give greetings and thanks to each other as people.
Now our minds are one.
The Earth Mother
We are all thankful to our Mother, the Earth, for she gives us all that we need for life. She supports our feet as we walk about upon her. It gives us joy that she continues to care for us as she has from the beginning of time. To our mother, we send greetings and thanks.
Now our minds are one.
We give thanks to all the waters of the world for quenching our thirst and providing us with strength. Water is life. We know its power in many forms‐ waterfalls and rain, mists and streams, rivers and oceans. With one mind, we send greetings and thanks to the spirit of Water.
Now our minds are one.
We turn our minds to the all the Fish life in the water. They were instructed to cleanse and purify the water. They also give themselves to us as food. We are grateful that we can still find pure water. So, we turn now to the Fish and send our greetings and thanks.
Now our minds are one.
Now we turn toward the vast fields of Plant life. As far as the eye can see, the Plants grow, working many wonders. They sustain many life forms. With our minds gathered together, we give thanks and look forward to seeing Plant life for many generations to come.
Now our minds are one.
The Food Plants
With one mind, we turn to honor and thank all the Food Plants we harvest from the garden. Since the beginning of time, the grains, vegetables, beans and berries have helped the people survive. Many other living things draw strength from them too. We gather all the Plant Foods together as one and send them a greeting of thanks.
Now our minds are one.
The Medicine Herbs
Now we turn to all the Medicine herbs of the world. From the beginning they were instructed to take away sickness. They are always waiting and ready to heal us. We are happy there are still among us those special few who remember how to use these plants for healing. With one mind, we send greetings and thanks to the Medicines and to the keepers of the Medicines.
Now our minds are one.
We gather our minds together to send greetings and thanks to all the Animal life in the world. They have many things to teach us as people. We are honored by them when they give up their lives so we may use their bodies as food for our people. We see them near our homes and in the deep forests. We are glad they are still here and we hope that it will always be so.
Now our minds are one.
We now turn our thoughts to the Trees. The Earth has many families of Trees who have their own instructions and uses. Some provide us with shelter and shade, others with fruit, beauty and other useful things. Many people of the world use a Tree as a symbol of peace and strength. With one mind, we greet and thank the Tree life.
Now our minds are one.
We put our minds together as one and thank all the Birds who move and fly about over our heads. The Creator gave them beautiful songs. Each day they remind us to enjoy and appreciate life. The Eagle was chosen to be their leader. To all the Birds‐from the smallest to the largest‐we send our joyful greetings and thanks.
Now our minds are one.
The Four Winds
We are all thankful to the powers we know as the Four Winds. We hear their voices in the moving air as they refresh us and purify the air we breathe. They help us to bring the change of seasons. From the four directions they come, bringing us messages and giving us strength. With one mind, we send our greetings and thanks to the Four Winds.
Now our minds are one.
Now we turn to the west where our grandfathers, the Thunder Beings, live. With lightning and thundering voices, they bring with them the water that renews life. We are thankful that they keep those evil things made by Okwiseres underground. We bring our minds together as one to send greetings and thanks to our Grandfathers, the Thunderers.
Now our minds are one.
We now send greetings and thanks to our eldest Brother, the Sun. Each day without fail he travels the sky from east to west, bringing the light of a new day. He is the source of all the fires of life. With one mind, we send greetings and thanks to our Brother, the Sun.
Now our minds are one.
We put our minds together to give thanks to our oldest Grandmother, the Moon, who lights the night‐time sky. She is the leader of woman all over the world, and she governs the movement of the ocean tides. By her changing face we measure time, and it is the Moon who watches over the arrival of children here on Earth. With one mind, we send greetings and thanks to our Grandmother, the Moon.
Now our minds are one.
We give thanks to the Stars who are spread across the sky like jewelry. We see them in the night, helping the Moon to light the darkness and bringing dew to the gardens and growing things. When we travel at night, they guide us home. With our minds gathered together as one, we send greetings and thanks to the Stars.
Now our minds are one.
The Enlightened Teachers
We gather our minds to greet and thank the enlightened Teachers who have come to help throughout the ages. When we forget how to live in harmony, they remind us of the way we were instructed to live as people. With one mind, we send greetings and thanks to these caring teachers.
Now our minds are one.
Now we turn our thoughts to the creator, or Great Spirit, and send greetings and thanks for all the gifts of Creation. Everything we need to live a good life is here on this Mother Earth. For all the love that is still around us, we gather our minds together as one and send our choicest words of greetings and thanks to the Creator.
Now our minds are one.
We have now arrived at the place where we end our words. Of all the things we have named, it was not our intention to leave anything out. If something was forgotten, we leave it to each individual to send such greetings and thanks in their own way.
As you may know, Carolina Morning is located in the Southern Appalachian Mountains at the base of Mount Mitchell and the Black Mountains Range. The region is considered a temperate rain forest with one of the most bio-diverse eco-systems in the world. This summer, in particular, has felt very damp. We have received an abundance of rain. The high humidity levels have been a common source of conversation among folks in our parts.
Perhaps some of you are experiencing a similar weather pattern. Has your region experienced an unusually wet summer? Do you live in a home without air conditioning? We thought it would be helpful to discuss proper ways to care for your toxic-free, all-natural products.
A warm and humid environment creates a perfect scenario for mold growth. It can grow on almost any surface – paper, wood, stone, fabric, etc. For this reason, to best protect all of your Carolina Morning products, moisture management is a must. Meditation cushions, yoga props, and organic bedding (futons, paleo pads, and sleeping pillows) are all susceptible to mold because of their soft qualities. But even wood based products, because they are natural, can be susceptible to excess humidity. These include Eco Squares, Eco Backrests, and Peace and Sky Benches, and Tilt Seats.
Kapok Zafu Meditation Cushions
Mold thrives in moist, damp environments with poor air circulation. As a result, the first preventative measure to mold growth is reducing the indoor moisture level. Optimum humidity levels in a home should be in the range of 30-60%. A dehumidifier or an air conditioner can help remedy high moisture levels. Either may show the humidity level, or you can buy a humidity gauge for under $15 to track it. You also want to make sure that laundry dryers and stoves are properly vented out of the house and that plumbing pipes are not leaking. If you do not have an air conditioner or dehumidifier, keep indoor air circulating by opening windows or running fans.
Though our products are created with mold resistant materials such as wool and kapok, their effectiveness can be compromised if they are kept in environments that harbor excessive moisture. Since mold grows on dust, keeping the dust level low in you home will be beneficial as well. If your pillow or futon begins to smell musty, it is important to act quickly. A great natural approach is to wash the pillow protector or futon cover in cold water (since heat shrinks cotton). Hang the covers to dry or put in the dryer on “air”, no heat. If you have an outdoor space, on a dry, sunny day, sprinkle baking soda on the surface of your cushion or pillows, and sun them outside. Flip the cushions to allow each side a chance to absorb the sun’s rays. The sunshine will kill the mold spores and the baking soda will absorb the odors. Repeat this process for a few days, if possible. If you live in an urban area or do not have access to an outdoor space, you can still sprinkle the cushions with baking soda and let them air out with the help of a dehumidifier.
Gently spot clean your cushion if it gets dirty from day to day use without a protective cover. With a damp cloth and a little soap, you can rub areas of the cotton clean. Do not soak the fabric as this will result in wet kapok that can become susceptible to mold. After spot cleaning, please allow your cushion to dry completely, preferably in the sun.
Economy Floor Couch with Restorative Yoga Mat
Another important protective measure to consider is a removable cover. If your product doesn’t come with one, it can be purchased separately. The removable covers come in an assortment of colors and are easy to take on and off to wash. They will work to preserve the life of your pillow or cushion by offering another layer of protection from the elements. Here, at Carolina Morning, your products are made using only the highest quality, earth-friendly materials. If they are taken care of properly, they can last for years.
When I was in highschool I got rid of the furniture in my bedroom and starting sitting and sleeping on the floor. I was exploring ways of arranging my space and using my body that felt more grounded and natural. Even now, I’m reluctant to sit on furniture. People say “there’s a couch”, as if they feel sorry for me, perhaps are thinking I’m depriving myself, or I somehow didn’t notice. Likewise, I will be out walking and people will offer me a ride or they will ask, “Don’t you have a car?”
Solution 1: ACTIVE SITTING at a standard desk using the Tilt Seat as the chair and the Peace Bench as the laptop podium.
There is a dominant paradigm orientation in western culture that believes it is better to drive than to walk, and it is better to sit on a couch than on the floor. Americans spend an average of 9.1 hours per day sitting. The fitness industry probably arose as a search for some way to remedy this sedentary lifestyle instigated by the Industrial Revolution that moved people from farming to sitting. By making life so easy using technology to take physical work (healthy movement) out of the picture…we have destroyed a critical factor in health. Recent research from a variety of places has confirmed my own instinctual minimalist orientation. Dr. Verticos, NASA scientist and author of Sitting Kills, says, “Exercise is no remedy for chronic sitting. Our body needs perpetual motion….The key to lifelong health is to rediscover a lifestyle of constant, natural, low intensity, non-exercise movement that uses the gravity vector throughout the day.”
What she means by the gravity vector is the act of going from the floor to standing, or from a chair to standing and back. This is extremely beneficial. The gravity vector is also used when walking up or down stairs or jumping or anything that is moving from up to down or back down. Her point is that when we sit in a chair for long periods we are in a similar state as astronauts in space who are away from the beneficial effects of gravity. One of the main reasons astronauts age rapidly is due to lack of gravity. Modern conveniences deliver whatever we need with no work. Furniture which raises off the floor, like beds and chairs, deprives us of the opportunity to bend over or get up off the ground.
Another researcher, Katy Bowman has turned up startling research that further supports the “sitting is bad for you” hypothesis. Her book Move Your DNA, spells out in detail the catastrophe of the modern sit down lifestyle. She says movement is more important than exercise. And exercise is not movement. Exercise, the kind of thing you do once a day because it is good for you, does not replace what is more important, and is missing from our lives–constant movement in a variety of directions all day long. Without it the body breaks down on every level, including the DNA. You can’t get around it…the effects of sitting for hours per day cannot be undone by an exercise session at another time. Katy coined the term “Movement Nutrition” to describe her concept. Exercise is too much of too few movements.
Solution 2 FLOOR SITTING using three props: Peace Bench™ for kneeling, Sky Bench™ for keyboard holder, and Tilt Seat™ for laptop desk. This is the most ideal position where the keyboard and screen are closest to ideal levels.
Moving the same way over and over in the same way for too long as in treadmills, bicycles, and other exercise equipment actually causes its own problems. It is better than sedentary alone, but it does not lead to optimal health. The solution is to do a variety of movements such as squatting and kneeling on the floor, bending over to pick things up or gather berries, climbing trees, running and jumping on logs and rocks. The body has been shaped by years of using it in a way that leads to a progressive humping of the back and jutting forward of the head. This comes with several names such as “upper-crossed syndrome”, “front loading,” “c-shaped slump”. What starts out as an imperceptible reshaping of the body often leads to:
Chronic and debilitating pain (80% of Americans will experience chair-related back pain in their lifetime.)
Herniated and bulging disks in the lower back
The muscles needed to do things like bend and sit are atrophied
The muscles which hold us in the right angled seated position are tight and locked into place.
An individual often cannot just suddenly make the transition to healthy movement without some guidance. Carolina Morning offers a number of products that can gently awaken the innate wisdom of the body. We offer four distinct approaches to customize your own working environment. We encourage shifting your body position periodically so that movement and balance become the everyday norm of computer work.
Stand Up Desk Tilt Seat Peace Bench
Solution 3: The TIlt Seat is used to hold the laptop screen and the Peace Bench is used for the keyboard. The mouse is placed on the lower shelf of the Tilt Seat.
Floor Lounging Eco Backrest
Solution 4: This is another way to use the Tilt Seat/ Eco Backrest combination which works better for getting up and down. Who wouldn’t want to lean back like this now and then when you’ve got a project to work on or want to watch a video?
Eco Backrest Laptop Station
Solution 4: A fun way to relax even while you work using Tilt Seat as laptop desk and EcoBackrest for superb comfort.
Co working Standup Desks
Solution 3: Staff members Bethany (L) and Linsi (R) using stand up desks at Carolina Morning
Floor Sitting Zen Office Delux
Solution 2: Floor Sitting using three props: Peace Bench for kneeling, Sky Bench for keyboard holder, and Tilt Seat for laptop desk. This is the most ideal position where the keyboard and screen are closest to ideal levels. This position also give a feeling of solidness for power and focus.
Solution 1: Active Sitting at a standard desk using the Tilt Seat™ as the chair and the Peace Bench™ as the laptop podium.
When I go to the acupuncture clinic and lay on the table my therapist says, “Oh yeah, you don’t like pillows…” and moves the pillow out of the way. That pillow makes me uncomfortable. I am the only patient who doesn’t want it. I’m also the only patient who doesn’t sit in a chair. (I stand or use some other position).
I’ve talked with other body workers who agree that the way most people use them, pillows are not good for you. They push us out of alignment, cut off circulation to the head, and block air from entering the lungs. So why in the world do people use them?
This illustrates the point of this article: our body’s are being shaped by our environment. People are front loaded-meaning the muscles in front of the body are tighter than the back muscles and causing the body to hunch forward. So when a person who is tight in the front lays on his or her back on a firm surface, those tight muscles are being stretched. The firm surface doesn’t let the back sink in and bow the way our overstuffed furniture does. Rather the back meets resistance and it must stretch, and that stretch is what is perceived as uncomfortable. So a pillow which pushes the head, neck, and shoulders forward and out of alignment further bows the back, and could be perceived as “comfortable” because there is no stretching and realigning going on.
What I have just said is an understatement! This is a prevailing cultural norm and even many health care practitioners and the medical community in general are unaware of what normal human alignment is.
So how did front loading become the norm? Undoubtedly due to a prevailing cultural lifestyle of sitting. When we are engaged in every day modern culture with soft beds and hunched over seating we don’t notice. But as soon as we lay on a flat firm surface the problem sticks out like a sore thumb. Have you heard the term ‘Straight as an Indian’? Well, the Native American’s didn’t have chairs. And they were known for tall, straight, and elegant posture.
The advent of Stand Up Desks starting a few years ago have brought us one huge step towards a healthier lifestyle. Standing more during the day allows the body to unwind more naturally at night to be able to relax on a firm surface.
The interplay of waking activities and sleep ergonomics is very well illustrated by this brave soul who tried out my ideas (that he found on a Carolina Morning blog post) and reported on his blog. Basically Benjamin Skipper describes the reason most people feel discomfort when first trying out the radical new concepts of The Chair Free Lifestyle and some tips for getting through the initial transitional phase.
“…Once I began changing my life into that of one primarily standing up I noticed my bed became increasingly uncomfortable. My neck, most of all, felt atrocious, as I wanted it to align with my back, but my heavier torso sunk into the mattress while my head was elevated, so not even ditching pillows helped any. Sleeping on my side made me feel like everything was out of whack too. Given my bad experiences with the floor in the past I was hesitant to try it again, but one aggravating night pushed me to try it once more. I slept wonderfully: Without pillows my body felt in harmony when laying flat down, and on my side I found I only need my arm or hand underneath my head for everything to feel perfect. I’ve never enjoyed sleeping on anything less than a hard surface since then….Read Full Account Here
Even corporate offices are looking at these kinds of solutions. The problem has gotten so bad, and in this case taken a toll on productivity, that new ideas are accepted far sooner than times past.
A new concept is being tested by a Dutch design firm in Amsterdam. “We said, what if we could create a work environment which is not based on tables and chairs anymore?” “We wanted to create not just furniture, but new ways of working actively on the scale of the whole working environment.” says Ronald Rietveld, one of the founders of RAAAF, a Dutch design firm that worked on the project with artist Barbara Visser
The firm created a prototype office that re-imagines the office as a dynamic space that engages more of the human body than just the brain. Instead of conventional furniture, the space features a network of rocks and boulders against which one can lean.
It’s great to see others thinking about the future. However, what can we do right NOW?
At Carolina Morning, our own design team has created another solution–the Zen Office™ and Eco Backrest™. These versatile props provide leaning surfaces as well as the ability to be in many other positions during reading, computing, writing, or video viewing activities. In fact these are many of the same positions shown in the above photo. With The Zen Office™ and Eco Backrest™ you can create your own creative space and move around throughout the day as you wish.
Let’s face it—most of the time the office is the last place we would like to be. We associate the office with things like: ‘stifling’, ‘stuffy’, ‘confining’, ‘cramped’, ‘stuck’. Most suicides happen on Monday morning. We like to ‘escape’ from the office. Just like the frustration of sitting in traffic causes ‘road rage’, sitting in the office actually causes ‘office rage’. Much of the anxiety and job dissatisfaction in America could be directly traced to the environment. Studies consistently link optimal learning with comfort, relaxation, happiness. Epidemiological survey data shows that only twenty percent of Americans adults are flourishing. More than half of us feel like we are just going through the motions in our life.[citation needed The Science of Positivity ]
I have discovered that the office can be turned into an incredibly fun place to be. It may not become what we think of as our ‘happy place’—like a field of wildflowers, a sandy beach, or a waterfall—but it has vast untapped potential for bringing us more joy and balance into our lives. When set up with movement and comfort (I mean cozy comfort) built into the design, the office can turn ‘work’ into ‘play’.
My loose set of ideas came together when the laptop computer came into vogue. The changes happening in the work force and the office setting have been phenomenal in the past 10 years. More people are working from home, the laptop is becoming the standard norm even for everyday use.
Stuck at a desk job? So was I. After all those years of compulsory education, then college, I had had my fill of sitting. After college I soon found out there was practically no job that didn’t require hours and hours of sitting at a desk. I kept thinking—is this what life is all about?
After many years of study in anthropology, body mechanics and design, I started tinkering with alternative ideas. I broke objects down into functions. Instead of trying to make a better desk or chair, I asked the question ‘what is a desk/chair and what is it’s function?’
The standard desk is considered a surface upon which to set things like papers, books, and computer. The chair is then necessary as a way to put your body where you can do something with the things you set on the desk. When you break down the function like that, you can then ask the question: is there another way to achieve the same goal? While ergonomics experts myopically focus on the sit down workstation, spending millions of dollars per year to make microscopic improvements in chairs, keyboards, and the angle of the screen–I have abandoned that altogether. Instead of the office as a desk and a chair, I have designed an office that is a set of interactive furniture that allows the body to shift from one position to another without interrupting the work flow. It’s almost like being at a spa. Each different position and the movement in-between simultaneously stretches and tones the body, burns calories, massages, restores energy, and provides a sense of relaxation and well being that leads to maximum motivation and productivity.
Wa La! No more sitting still for me. My office is now a series of props and gadgets that allow freedom of movement all day even while I work.
Sitting down doing paper or computer work is a great way to get stuck in your head. We are a society living outside our bodies. According to Reichien Therapy–energy, vitality, chi, orgon energy, circulation, inspiration—whatever you call it—is the result of being present in the whole body, being in the flow. This can be measured with EEG. How many times were we told, ‘Sit still!’ In other words, sit still, inhibit your innate desire to move, do not express yourself through body language like wiggling and stretching, dampen your enthusiasm, learn how to stuff your feelings and get on with the serious work of becoming a boring adult.
Moving the body activates thought processes in the brain which stimulate the flow of creativity. Why do you always have that great breakthrough when you are either in the shower or riding your bike? It has to do with the breathing and movement and brin waves resulting. Just imagine combining the gym or playground, the spa, and the office into one setting. Relaxing, stimulating, exhilarating, calming, nurturing, empowering, freeing yet promoting the most intense ability to focus.
The Dynamic Office or Health Spa Office is not my creation. I simply observed the way people really behave when they are working at home, the beach, hotel, or in the park, and couldn’t help but see the desk was not where it was at. People like to lay in bed and surf the net, just the way they like to watch TV. They lay flat on their stomachs on the floor. They stand at the counter. My contribution is 1) to design furniture which puts the body in a more aligned position than anything else out there and 2) to put this furniture which allows these relaxing and natural positions into the standard office. Just build them right in and treat it as normal. No guilt for looking lazy or being different. It’s sort of like the time someone suggested the Earth wasn’t flat. Well, neither is the office.
Stress is so prevalent in today’s world it is almost considered a given. If you go around with a smile on your face relaxed and at ease, you will probably stand out in a crowd. Stress and breathing are intimately linked. When we feel stress, we hold our breath or breathe shallowly. It is a vicious cycle. The shallow breath creates fear and panic. And panic and fear create shallow breathing. Stress can be consciously controlled through the breathing process. Breathing can be used to change the body’s response to stress. Today’s modern lifestyle of sitting in an office, sitting in a car, and sitting in meetings contributes to the problem. Chair sitting hampers the breathing process by collapsing the chest and lungs and immobilizing the body for long periods of time.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Movement is freeing and relaxing, exhilarating and releasing, therapeutic and calming at the same time. These are the types of things we normally think of getting at the yoga studio, the spa or at the psychotherapists office. In this way, the office can actually become a powerful tool for breaking out of the vicious cycle of stress and confined movement built into our society.
In this new paradigm, the whole room is the desk. Various props support you and your materials so you engage in a dynamic interactive process. You are encouraged to move into different positions. Instead of placing things in a way that causes the least movement, they are placed to encourage movement. Not the kind that is wasted and repetitive, but the kind that feels good and provides relief from one static position.
Of course the Dynamic Office is not going to solve all your problems. And you may be skeptical about the claims made here. Until you’ve tried it, you won’t appreciate just what this design concept can do for your comfort, productivity and well being. And most people squirm when I mention standing up at their desk. The reason this system is so rejuvenating is that while standing up takes physical effort, especially when one feels weak or tired, it plays off of the other positions. When too tired to stand, any of the three other positions can restore energy. When one feels rested, one is naturally inclined to use one of the more active positions such as standing. I have found that if I remain in the more passive positions (such as reclining or lying face down) past the point I am feeling restored, it becomes uncomfortable. So transferring from active to passive and back again, as needed is the essence of the Dynamic Office. This is what provides body and mind with what it needs at any particular time. It also creates a sense of relaxation just knowing that you have options, and you can control your environment at a whim. You aren’t ‘stuck’ at a desk, which creates stress on the body. On the other hand, using the lounge position actually provides many of the benefits of taking a nap. It puts the body in such a state of relaxation that you can actually work and restore energy at the same time.
Depending on your mood, state of energy, and current project at hand, each position offers an optimal opportunity to bring out your best at that time. For unknown reasons, I find that I am drawn to one of the four positions which allows either the stimulation or relaxation I need at that time. Personally, I tend to use the stand up position by default, as it provides a workout and the most ability to move around while working. If I am feeling not quite up to that, I use the Active Sitting position (in my case the Zen Office™. I can be practically comatose from either a late night or having just got back from a long bike ride–I use the lounge position. It looks like I’m being lazy (and feels that way), but the funny thing is I’m still working. The lying face down position is also great when feeling extremely tired, especially for things like reading in bed. I NEVER sit at a table to read (unless it’s a short period or time.) For me, serious reading is a reclining activity. I use every means I know of to restore my energy so I feel better and so I can get more things done.
Here are some guidelines for turning your office into a health spa:
1) Set up your space so you can utilize the four basic positions:
standing, dynamic sitting, lounging, lying down.
2) Engage the process of body awareness and mindfulness. Take some training in the somatic arts such as yoga, The Alexander Technique, Feldenkrais, dance or whatever. There are many online resources and videos such as on U-tube to help you get started and find practitioners in your area. The idea is to wake up parts of our bodies and psyches that have become dormant or asleep.
3) Make the floor a nice place to hang out. This is best done by providing a clean surface. Something inviting—not a synthetic carpet or cold tiles. Tatami mats are real nice for this. Use the floor for things like spreading out papers where you need more room than the minimalistic eco-shelf allows. Of course if you have limited flexibility or other issues the floor may not be an option. Then create an adaptive setting. For instance, a flat platform (like a platform bed) at the height of a couch would provide a floor like surface that is raised.
4) Take off your shoes. Part of this office is putting the body in natural alignment. Shoes are confining and don’t allow the floor sitting and other movements. Use a Footsie Roller to improve the alignment of your feet. If the feet and legs get tired or achey, simply switch positions. Gradual toning and fitness will result. “Flat Feet” do not get in the way of making this concept work. In fact, this can alleviate the “flat feet’ issue altogether. A very therapeutic ‘mat’ for problem feet is to build a small sandbox to stand in while using the Eco-shelf™ stand-up-computer-desk.
5) As much as possible, move and stretch in-between other activities. Pacing is very good for reducing tension. Use floor activities as times to get some stretching in.
6) Equip your office with toys such as yoga props, mini trampoline, dumb bells, stationary bike, Om Gym, etc. When you are in between thoughts, talking on your speaker phone or waiting for a website to download, go to one of your favorite activities instead of just sitting motionless waiting. When you are trying to get just the right phrase for your story, do one of these activities until you have that ‘Wa la’ moment.
7) Personalize your office. Consider a calming environment that invokes a feeling of peace and serenity. Wall hangings, fountains, objects from nature, mirrors. Play calming music and sounds of nature. Of course, this is a suggestion only. Whatever fits your tastes works.
8) Set aside some time each day or each week to maintain the orderliness and improve the functionality and aesthetics of your space.
9) Use natural lighting whenever possible and otherwise incandescent lighting. Fluorescent light disrupts the body’s circadian rhythms. There is ongoing debate about which is best for the environment. But as far as health, fluorescent lights zap energy and rob us of needed nutrients which natural daylight provides.
10) Whenever possible, take meetings or conversations while walking (outside the office).
11) If privacy allows, use a speaker phone. It allows maximum movement while talking and holding the handset to the ear is hard on arm and shoulders.
The bed’s primary purpose is to serve an ESSENTIAL BIOLOGICAL FUNCTION which will influence our failure or success and our health and well being and how long we live and our quality of life.
Many people take the bed for granted, seeing it mostly as an object. Advertisers have little to say about it other than whether it is soft or stain resistant. It’s not that people don’t appreciate beds by any means, but we treat them like an automobile or wrench or some other machine or static tool.
Our bodies interact with the bed. The bed is a vehicle for rest, an instrument of peace and quiet, a place to ‘recharge our batteries’. The bed is a hang out for some of our favorite activities, a launching pad for nightly sleep and dreams, a place to recuperate from illness. When you think about it, life kind of begins and ends on a bed.
Like a bicycle which helps get us somewhere, the bed helps us stay somewhere. Designers have been overlooking the biological element for decades. What bed design would maximize the body’s restorative capabilities using knowledge of biology and particularly how to restore cellular energy and help us tap into our natural circadian rhythms? Technology has NOT improved the bed but actually hurt it by leaving out the primary purpose. (see The Ergonomics of Sleep)
The New Biology is a recent development that recognizes the cell as a microcosm of the organism. The cell is practically a living organism in many ways with it’s own life-force. Whatever hurts or helps the cell does the same for the organism in which the cell lives. The cell operates on a subtle electrical system, which becomes disrupted by synthetic materials. See the groundbreaking article ‘Naked Beneath Your Clothing”.
A mattress construction that promotes air flow and allows perspiration to evaporate helps our bodies cool or warm themselves and maintain homeostasis. This enhances the sleep cycles so we stay in the deeper Delta waves longer which provides maximum rejuvenation. Our bodies tune into natural circadian rhythms when presented with the right environment. This is where optimal rest and vitality can occur.
A simple pallet on the floor, if it is non-synthetic, is far better than the fanciest big fluffy synthetic bed you can find.
This is my list of aspects of a comfortable bed based on these principles:
Firm as possible to facilitate optimal circulation and alignment.
Breathable: air circulation from above and below. Natural fibers.
Not a dust collector. Dust hampers sleep and health. Easy to move to get at dust if necessary.
Easy to make up. Since you do it every day. Process should be streamlined. Bedding articles should be simplified. The duvet is a great invention.
Size matters. Not too big or too little. You don’t want to feel cramped but you don’t want to use extra floor space.
One day I decided I needed some extra space in my house and wondered if I should add on. Then I discovered a remarkable solution. I found a little corner which is the entryway/living room area. No-one was doing anything with it at night–save for maybe ghosts–and it was an exquisite sleeping spot, featuring full picture windows to the night sky and fresh air from the open door. To my surprise it was far better than my current bedroom. So with a little creativity and adaptability I was now proud owner of a larger house, in essence, even though I couldn’t really convince anyone of that.
My new bedroom was like Cinderella, it disappeared at a certain hour. But since it only takes three minutes to get out and make up, no problem–no longer than it took to make the bed anyway and leave it free standing.
Foor sleeping is a concept difficult for most Americans to grasp. So here are my thoughts on the subject.
There’s nothing wrong with filling up a room with a bed. It is such an important aspect of our lives, it deserves its own room. It creates the atmosphere of rest and is always ready for you to plop yourself down at a whim. Also, a true platform bed can be used as a couch or lounge chair, so it’s not exactly just taking up the space if it’s thought of in this way. It could be considered simply a raised floor, where you might sit to read or watch a video.
And of course there is the fold-away bed. But I have never found one that is comfortable as either a couch or a bed.
To the minimalist there is a problem with wasted space under the bed. This is easily solved by turning that area into a storage space. Something as simple as cardboard boxes can be very effective for storing clothes, books, or whatever (see photo). A more permanent solution would be wooden drawers or boxes.
However, if space is limited, the put-away, disappearing bed can have huge advantages. I have thoroughly tested the simple platform bed with underneath storage and the put-away, disappearing bed over many years thinking about which one I like the best. I personally think the put-away bed has huge overlooked advantages that most people don’t realize because they haven’t had the time or opportunity to try it.
Here are some advantages:
You gain an ENTIRE extra room. That could be thousands of dollars depending on where you live. If you downright can’t afford an extra room then you have just upped your standard of living and quality of life exponentially–like getting a raise or promotion at work.
Dust management extraordinaire. You don’t even KNOW how much dust can accumulate under a bed until you check every day. It only takes one day for a bed to collect dust underneath. Now some of us just don’t have those standards and it’s no big deal. But if you like to keep things clean, the put-away, disappearing bed is the ultimate. Carpets are dust’s best friend. They hide dust, dust mites, fleas, mold, etc. Not even the best vacuum cleaner and shampoo can deal effectively with carpets. All you have to do is look under one after a thorough cleaning to see what I mean. Carpets have got to be the worst design of the century. They trap dirt–and you can’t get to it. We are now finding that trapped dirt is a serious health hazard. They represent luxury but they are filthy. The put-away bed works best with a “shoes” free room or area. You will want to do a little dust mopping as part of the bed making ritual.
Speed and ease of making the bed. I have analyzed this process with the eye of an engineer for several years now, listing each step of pulling the covers back, putting the pillows aside, brushing the sheets with the hands, assembling the sheets back to their proper neat and tight places and then the blankets, etc. It definitely helps to have a duvet/comforter instead of a pile of odd blankets. But the surprising discovery is that the average queen sized bed on frame takes no longer to make than the put-away, disappearing bed (that is, when each particular bed is optimized with the right bedding pieces.). The put-away disappearing bed has what seems like more steps. You have to put it away, and then take it out and make it. However, putting it away takes a matter of seconds. The futon and sheets and blankets go in a closet and the frame (modern tatami mat adaptation) leans up in two pieces against the wall. Total time averages around 2 minutes to break it apart and put it away, and about 3 minutes to get it out and put it together. That’s about the time to make the average bed. This is the biggest fear preventing people from adopting this method. The trick is to have the bed storage near where the bed will be located.
One big advantage of the disappearing bed is the sheets get thoroughly shaken every day. With the standard western bed one typically brushes the sheets with the hands. This takes longer and isn’t nearly as effective as shaking in the air. Since dust does have to go somewhere – as anyone with out carpeting can plainly see – I highly recommend either a window or a high quality carbon air filter. This could clean the air of a small room within an hour. Other alternatives are–fresh air through the window (negative ions act like an air filter), spraying EM-1™ in the air with a squirt bottle, or burning a beeswax candle for about an hour in a small room (beeswax candles purify the air of dust and other toxins by emitting negative ions that react with the positively charged ions of dust). This may sound like overkill but keeping the dust level down will enhance sleep quality. If you do use a bed-frame, a dust skirt will certainly help. However, the anti-dust mite folks say not to have any cloth touching the floor so the dust mites can’t climb up.
Air circulation above and beneath. That can be a drawback with sleeping on the floor. I have thoroughly tested different platforms and I personally notice a huge difference in sleep quality when air can go beneath the mattress/pad. The body respires, meaning it exchanges gasses with the environment. The skin is the largest organ of the body. It needs access to free flowing air to perform it’s job. Many people have told me they notice a huge improvement when switching from synthetic to natural mattresses and blankets/pillows. There is a feeling of warmth in the winter and coolness in the summer. (Synthetic, think plastic). But what about beneath the mattress/futon? That’s where the slatted bed-frame comes in for the western decorators, or the tatami mats for an Asian approach. A tatami mat is a thick, stiff reed mat about one inch thick. The futon goes on top of it and Wa La! you now have air circulation without a bed-frame. However, the traditional tatami mat has a major drawback–it collects dust and dust mites. You can’t wash it. So here is the solution–make a tatami mat out of wood–like a slatted futon frame but without the legs. The problem with this is that putting it away is a challenge. It is big and heavy which is why we need moving companies. So imagine that same frame is in two parts which are 30″ x 40″ each. Welcome to the EcoSquare™ which can be used with legs for a Platform Bedframe or withOUT legs for a modern tatami mat (or pallet on the floor)! Now there is no big thing to move and the two halves can be placed either on hooks or behind some other piece of furniture when not in use. (Note my solution–use the two halves as backrests for the Tilt Seats™ in the living room.)
Durng the night: the EcoSquares™ and Wool/kapok Futon are laid out and curtain pulled. Usable floor space is 4' x 9'
EcoSquares™-- modular slatted bed-frames act like tatami mats to create underneath ventilation.
This is what it looks like on the other side of the curtain.
During the day, the bedroom becomes a living room. EcoSquares™ act like modern tatami mats or slatted bedframes at night when placed on the floor, and by day become backrests when tucked behind the Tilt Seats™. These 'tatami mats' are really the platform bedframe minus the legs which comes in two pieces for ease of moving.
Japanese men making traditional tatami Mats around 1900.
To most of us, a small dwelling normally brings up negative images such as: compromise, cramped, ghetto, low income, anti-social, and utilitarian. Isn’t this the land of the free, where bigger is better?
The current offerings on the market for space-saving furniture are usually simply the same icons (the couch, chair, table, and bed) in a smaller size or having fewer of them in an abode, studio or office. This is not a system upgrade or redesign, but merely ‘re-arranging the furniture’. This is just living smaller in a smaller space.
A small or tiny home is far more capable of providing comfort, convenience, and elegance than most designers and architects realize. The fact that a building is designed around the furniture it holds must be looked at first before this hypothesis can be understood—that is, before one can start thinking outside the nine dots.
American furniture is archaic. Although it is called ‘modern’ if it has smooth lines, rounded curves, and stacks; it is structurally and functionally hardly changed from medieval times.
American furniture has not evolved to keep up with the uses for which it is intended. While computers have in only a few years gone from behemoths to nymphs, in order to keep up with the trend towards compact, efficient, and mobile–furniture has seen little fundamental change in the past two hundred years.
For instance, the couch or den is intended as a social hangout for the house, as well as seating for television and video watching. The couch symbolizes and is intended as ultimate relaxation, where the user is not working, but kicking back. The couch fails miserably in this function. It is overstuffed to the point of being too soft and unsupportive. The back has a way of hitting you in just the wrong spot. One can neither lay back and relax, nor sit upright comfortably. The plush upholstery is a magnet for dust, with no practical way of cleaning. If it’s not organic, it will off gas flame retardant chemicals for it’s entire lifespan. And getting rid of the behemoths is yet another challenge–it will most likely remain in a landfill for hundreds of years. (It takes plastic about 500 years to decompose).
On the other end take the office desk/chair arrangement. This is intended to provide the most productive, alert position for computer work, paper work and other functions. From a somatic perspective, the modern office could better be described as a torture chamber. You are expected to think clearly, yet the circulation to the brain is hampered by inactivity and compression of the lower back. You are expected to pay attention for long periods of time, yet the lack of movement shortens attention span. You are expected to read, write or type, yet the neck must be bent at a sharp angle to see the work surface, further hampering circulation. You could be burning calories and toning muscles even during this ‘sedentary’ work, yet the design puts you in a ‘straight jacket’ where movement is not possible. (See www.brainrules.net/) The arrangement takes up a large footprint of available floor space, when vertical space could be used to reduce the footprint by 50-75%.
Here is my own set of criteria and solutions for designing healthy, functioning, minimalist living spaces:
1) First do no harm. No chemical paints, finishes or flame retardants. This is the first place to start and the most difficult for designers to grapple with. Indoor air pollution or ‘toxic building syndrome ‘ is the plague of modern civilization. The reason it is so difficult to deal with is that non-toxic finishes cost a lot more. How many ‘green’ hotels have organic mattresses and hardwood floors—or even simply organic sheets or pillows for that matter? I haven’t been able to find even one. ‘Sick building syndrome’ effects almost every house and building in the U.S., even if it is not at levels considered immediately dangerous. Yes, you can get by without factoring this into your design, but the price may be paid with the occupant’s health. For more info on the effects of these chemicals and an alternative using non-toxic paints and wood finishes, click here. www.earthpaint.net/
Another way to create healthy indoor air quality is by using EM Ceramics in your chemical-laden toxic paint. This is hard to believe, but one teaspoon per gallon will actually stop off-gassing of not only the paint but the glues, etc. that are in the wall material. Check out this revolutionary new technology: www.emamerica.com/
Flame retardant chemicals are extremely detrimental to human health and our bodies ‘eat’ or ‘absorb’ them when we spend time in a modern living space. Also, the manufacture of these conventional textiles is resource intensive and polluting. Indoor air quality is effected by these textiles as well as paints and finishes. Overall, indoor air quality has become a national concern in the past ten years. However, the contribution of conventional textile to this problem has had very little discussion. Although Americans have been going green for some time, you will rarely set foot in a house which isn’t contaminated with these chemicals. Since organic, non-toxic textiles cost more (due mostly to the current scale of production), a small space lends itself well to this criteria because not as much is needed. For many it comes down to a decision between size and quality.
Fire safety could be considered from a different standpoint. Instead of filling a home with thick upholstered furniture (chairs, couches, mattresses), use furniture with bare wood or removable padding where needed. This also helps with dust mite protection and dust control in general. When the padding needs replaced, one doesn’t need to throw out the whole piece of furniture.
2) Live in close proximity to employment, goods and services. This means either the inner city or a small town. This reduces dependency on the auto and builds community and local economy. It increases quality of life because you spend more time walking, biking and enjoying your community. This makes the small house or apartment especially needed, because compact houses actually creates the population density needed for this lifestyle.
3) Design furniture around the human body, instead of around established status icons. This should take into consideration fitness, movement, and body mechanics. Who wants to become a ‘couch potato’? Couches make us all look like potatoes, because there’s no way to sit on one without slouching. We can design furniture and dwellings to put us in comfortable and healthy positions. This will increase quality of life by keeping us flexible, fit, and offer more relaxing positions than conventional furniture that encourages collapse of the body.
4) Use light-weight, knock down and stackable furniture so spaces can be emptied for other activities. If putting the furniture away and getting it out is considered an inconvenience, perhaps a re-framing would be helpful. The alternatives are: spend more time working to provide a bigger dwelling, spend more time in a car so you can afford a house in the suburb, have less discretionary income for travel and pleasure or giving. Also, just moving the furniture in and out encourages beneficial movement for flexibility.
Of course, there needs to be a comfortable balance between built in design and that which can be rearranged. A lot of small spaces tend to have minimal open floor space, as a result of putting in the furniture. This is what gives small spaces a bad image. This is one of the reasons we need to rethink our furniture—how can it be more fluid, utilize more vertical space instead of horizontal, disappear when floor space is needed?
The Traditional Japanese Futon placed in a closet during the day is the simplest and cheapest solution. Fancier ones are beds which fold into the wall during the day or the ingenious “Bed Up” which raises to the ceiling. Fold up Futon Frames and Couch Beds are an option, but these are still in the way during the day, albeit a bit smaller.
5) Think of the floor as a piece of furniture. This means the floor should be non-toxic, not too hard, easy to clean, and shoes not allowed. Throw rugs are better than carpet, easy to clean and replace. Japanese Tatami mats also make a nice surface. Although the floor is usually considered only for walking, it is used by many cultures as a surface for sitting or lying. Instead of doing yoga only in the studio during a class, this allows yoga and stretching to be practiced in small doses at any time of the day. You can also integrate floor space with platform furniture which is raised but not upholstered.
6) Employ clutter clearing ideas into the design. Not accumulating objects which aren’t needed or used is a key requirement for living BIG in a SMALL space. Every item should have a home and there should be a closet, box or drawer for stuff on its way out. You will need an impeccable filing system to manage paper clutter, which ends up lying on surfaces when it’s not got a good place to live. These practices allow the small space to be spacious. This also increases quality of life by encouraging us to spend less time sorting, cleaning, and getting rid of stuff that was never needed in the first place. When people realize you live in a small space, they sometimes think twice about buying you gifts you don’t need. When you see something you like, you have to ask yourself where you are going to put it. There is a freedom in not being able to accumulate.
Great resources for clutter clearing and personal organizing:
7) Containerize belongings. This means to put belongings away in a closet, drawer, cabinet, or box. This encourages a high level of organization and uses vertical space which is often overlooked. It also makes dust control easier with less surfaces for dust to land on.
8) Use light colors, mirrors and strategically arranged furniture and objects to optimize the Fung Shui. What we are aiming for with design is invoking feeling or mood. You want to be cozy, but not cramped. Textures (of walls, cabinetry, textiles), colors, and shapes can be played with to find auspicious and pleasing results. For instance, a painting of an outdoor scene can be used where you wished you had a window. A fountain can be used where it would be nice to have a mountain stream. If you have a window, highlight it as a focal point by arranging seating to face toward it.
9) Use vertical space every chance you can. Hang things from the ceiling such as bicycles, pots and pans. Frames can be built from lightweight materials (2×2’s, bamboo, dowel rods) to support such objects where harming the walls and ceiling is a concern. Open closets can be constructed this way for inexpensive and portable remodeling.
10) Have fun. Be creative. How about an indoor hammock in place of the couch? Or an Om Gym (inversion swing) to break the monotony of standing upright? Have meals on the floor picnic style when you have guests, or using a low table.
My own personal experience has shaped the designs and inventions of Carolina Morning Designs, Inc. now produces such as the Eco Backrest™, simple mini-futon, Zen Office™ and Eco-desk (stand up computer work station with vertical orientation).
If we really looked at the elements and assumptions of modern home design (eg: desk work means a table and chair, the floor is only for the feet, beds must have their own room), we would be shocked at the waste and inefficiency that could be easily solved by looking at the issue from a wider perspective.
We don’t have to go far to find real life examples of alternatives to modern furniture and interior design. There are examples from numerous cultures: The Japanese with their tatami mats, the Brazilians with their hammocks. The trick is finding ways to integrate these ideas into our modern settings.
Consider this: The Tipi was one of the most comfortable homes of all the Native American tribes. It’s design was the state of the art given available resources and even today is more comfortable than many modern homes. It was capable of withstanding gale force winds, and yet used less materials than any other structure of it’s size. It was warm in winter, cool in summer, portable, and an aesthetic masterpiece. If you have never slept a night in one, you will never appreciate the melding of nature with architecture that a good design can provide. well worked out architectural icons in human history.
I’m not suggesting the tipi would be appropriate in the modern world, but simply that cultures who lived in small spaces had engineered their furniture, belongings, and dwellings in a different way than we do today. There are elements from these designs that ARE applicable and that an archetect that hasn’t lived in a small space would probably never think about.
It has taken me 10 years of living in a small space and working within the limits a small dwelling posses to finally figure out how to make it really work. Now that it works, it ROCKS!.
For those of us who are downscaling our lifestyle, going green, getting rid of toxins, and buying organic, a small abode and office has a lot to offer.
When I was in highschool I was inspired by Henry David Thoreau who lived in a 10’x10′ cabin as an experiment in self awareness and personal independence from herd mentality. Ever since, I had the ideal that living in a small space would be beautiful and simple.
A small space offers a form of resistance or a boundary for me that feels safe and comforting. A small space helps me focus and inspires creativity. A small space has all the things I want: hassle-free, flexible, organized, easy to maintain, easy to move.
However, it has taken many years to organize myself to fit easily into a 9’x12′ bedroom and I want to share part of my journey here. If I could find a way to thrive and peacefully exist in a small space, I would be more satisfied because I would focus more on the few things I enjoy the most and not keep getting distracted. I found that the space would actually shape me and make me get my act together.
Perhaps my design process started when I was a child exploring nature. I would find a cool places to hang out. I would climb a tree and sit on a limb for hours. I would build primitive shelters from sticks, leaves, bark and grass and go inside to dream or lay outside watching the clouds. Certain austere settings brought out a whole new dimension in my state of mind. I spent many summers sleeping in the yard in a tent. I took my book, drawing materials, or toys with me, because it was so much more fun than playing inside.
Most indoor spaces seemed clunky, boring, dead, and too serious so I was constantly wandering. Nothing INSIDE a building could compare to the wild outdoors. Later I got into design and I worked on making indoor environments into the inspiring, stimulating places I found in nature.
North View of my Tiny Bedroom/Home Office Modular EcoSquares™ and 2 Organic 1/2 Queen Futons make this Queen Bed. Underbed storage is essential since there are no closets. Multi-purpose stools used here as bedstands.
What I found went way beyond interior design. The process took me on a journey of inner exploration and discovery, which has been an adventure and a challenge.
This was no small matter. To go small meant re-inventing my lifestyle into something other than what people around me were doing and what was presented on the media. This design process was way bigger than merely drawing lines on paper and putting building materials together in certain ways. Designing a living space went hand in hand with designing a life for myself that felt right. I had not heard of the word ‘minimalism’ because I was too young to understand that. It was a relief to later find I wasn’t the only one thinking like this. Now I felt legitimate–I belonged somewhere.
The trick was to downscale my life to a point that felt spacious and not cramped. But just HOW small a space would fit? How small could I go without feeling limited and stifled?
I started seeing a dynamic–almost everything, I mean EVERYTHING, is a give and take. You have to give up wall space if you want more windows. You have to give up belongings if you want to be more simple and clutter free. You have to give up stability if you want to travel and explore.
We each tend to want it all. We like the windows, but we demand the wall space. We want to be simple, organized, and clutter-free, but we want our stuff and have a hard time letting go.
I have been constantly re-arranging the furniture for years trying out different ideas. Usually when I present a new idea to someone, the first reaction starts with the word ‘but…’ Something like, ‘But you have just broken a design rule.’ For example, “But the room is too small. You should just add on rather than try to make something work that is doomed for failure.’ “I like the window but I could never live in that small a space.”
Or “I do yoga on the floor, but I don’t want to sleep or sit on the floor’, or “But I need more stuff in my life to feel comfortable and settled.” Or ‘When I am working out, I don’t mind exercise. But I don’t want to stand up WHILE I am in the office. When I am at home relaxing I would love a lounge chair, but I don’t want to sit like that and relax WHILE I work. I would appear weak, lazy, or I would fall asleep.
These reactions were very important feedback that I had to work with until I found a place where there were no more ‘buts’. If an idea gets rejected I go back to the drawing board and work on it some more.
For instance, some people didn’t like or could not get down to the floor. So I designed a platform (EcoSquare™) that all the floor seats could be placed on to put them at standard heights.
Improving a design by bringing it to it’s smallest common denominator is more difficult than improving a design by adding something else to it. My design process is like alchemy. The solution lies in getting the right arrangement which then creates a synergistic dynamic that is more than the sum of the parts. The solution lies in the harmonious interactions of the components in the space and how it effects the body/mind/spirit.
Minimalism had been an integral part of the Japanese lifestyle and culture for centuries. I call it the ‘Island Philosophy’. I realized I was working in a culture (America) that had a different set of values and aesthetics. Mine were so aligned with the Japanese and other traditional cultures that I sometimes wondered why I was even bothering to try to convince Americans that my ways were valid. They would be immediately recognized in Japan, but I wasn’t there. I was seriously considering finding another profession when a new trend appeared.
The aesthetic of simplicity and minimalism and creating sanctuary in the home found a new foothold in America over the past few years. The ‘Island’ philosophy of Japan that caused them to value minimalism and small because they recognized tangible limits was finally maybe for the first time settling into America. Also the ‘Nomadic’ philosophy where minimalism is the easiest way to live due to frequent uprooting was coming into play.
“The 100 Thing Challenge is about getting out of jail — the prison of American-style consumerism. It’s about breaking free from the shackles of always feeling like we need to get more stuff in order to get to the dream life. (Ever notice how we just keep getting and getting stuff, but we never arrive at the dream life? What a mess!)” www.guynameddave.com
I started seeing the Japanese koan concept in everything. The design process brings up the issue of paradox and paradox is where the rubber meets the road between ideals and reality. There is some kind of powerful sublime gift in the process of carefully considering two opposing factors for a period of time–like the issue of finding enough wall space with enough window space. By contemplating and holding the question in mind with enough intensity until clarity and insight finally arrive, there is a place where logic let’s go of its grip and a solution appears automatically.
So here is this beautiful bedroom which has incredible light, view and charm and feels like you’re outside. But it appears there is actually not enough room to live in. How can you fit a queen bed AND clothes and personal belongings, INCLUDING office, inside a 9’x12′ space? There are no closets, but there is an exceptionally tall ceiling of 11 feet. I wanted some floor space to do yoga.
I have rearranged my 9’x12’ bedroom many times over the past several years and developed an entire line of furniture until I finally came up with an arrangement that not only works—but ROCKS. 9’x12’ is not a lot of space to work with. That is the ENTIRE space. Plus there are so many windows wall space is virtually non-existant. So how do you store all your belongings, sleep, play and work in that small of a space?
The way you do it is design new furniture that doesn’t currently exist. The limits or the design criteria are forcing some new ideas to emerge to solve the problem. A design ‘crisis’ is a design ‘opportunity’. Go UP if you can’t go OUT (use verticle space). Use underbed storage. Big windows with natural light makes the room feel more spacious than a huge room with less windows. Get rid of some stuff. Set aside time to stay organized. Use lightweight items that can be rearranged for multi-purpose. Question your assumtions about why you really need more space. Adapt to the situation. See what peace and beauty might come out of accepting things, not just your room, as they are.
One really huge discovery is the idea of using verticle space for desk and counter use. The stacking EcoShelfs™ are partly used for storage but also for desk use and as a place to set things down. This takes some getting use to but is actually perfectly as workable as a standard desk which uses 300% more floor space. The concept of A home for ‘Everything And Everything in its home’ becomes essential. Just one or two things set on the floor or bed and suddenly there’s a mess.
Another discovery is the concept of changing into different positions and work stations throughout the day instead of just sitting at a desk. This I call the ‘Body Friendly Office™’. It is an idea borrowed from the hunter-gatherers and research that showed the human body is designed for walking and movment.
Another concept, borrowed from the Japanese, is using one room for more than one purpose. The bedroom becomes a living room, office, or whatever simply by rearranging the furniture. We so take for granted that each room needs a unique purpose. Yes, to have the luxury to have a nice room set aside for each activity is nice, but it’s not the only way to enjoy a highly functional, clutter free, and inspiring space. If you are lucky enough to have enough money to do it all, you may not be interested in this whole idea of living in a small space. However, if you are trading a bigger house and mortgage or rent payment for traveling or doing other fun things you like to do, this just might fit into your paradigm.
I built a house the opposite of the accepted Architectural pattern where the house is built around the furniture. I was actually building furniture around a house. The reason was to inspire new possibilities not before thought of in furniture and space arrangement. Ancient Japanese had some great ideas, but didn’t accomodate many modern needs like using a computer for instance. So how can one adapt ancient design principles which considered the body/mind/spirit into the modern setting? The need was huge because the modern setting does not consider the body. It puts the body into a zombie-like state of contortion which fuels the medical establishment including chiropractors and makes us into bent over ‘couch potatoes’.
I wanted a house that was a sanctuary, soothing, and interactive, that reflected serenity, open space, simplicity, and looked somehow more vernacular than modern. But vernacular to what? Perhaps vernacular to any culture that had a good idea about small space design. Also, I was creating a new vernacular based on body friendly design. That is why, ten years later, neither the house nor furniture are finished yet.
This was my list of ideals: non toxic, full of natural light, passive solar, minimalist, containing body friendly furniture.
This house that didn’t exist yet but was only loosely formed in my imagination, was more perfect than I was. It had figured out how to manage clutter and solve the problems of heating and cooling without using fossil fuels. It had figured out how to keep dust to a minimum and put everything away in neat drawers or shelves. It had figured out how one couple could live comfortably and have sufficient space without the extra room that seemed to be missing from the plan.
To make this small of a space work for two people, there would need to be some intense and focused engineering and inventiveness. There were no models to go by. I could borrow some ideas from the Japanese, the Plains Indians, The Pueblo Indians and other cultures who had learned to live in small dwellings. And of course there are plenty of small space dwellers in modern high rise apartments across the world. But our house was yet to be invented. The empty space which was roughly 12’x36′ with two small lofts was virtually empty. The furniture hadn’t even arrived.
We loved the Japanese use of floor and put away furniture. But we found there were some improvements that could be made on this. For instance, ancient Japanese didn’t have laptop computers. So we had to figure out a good way to sit on the floor and type. Also, we love the idea of tatami mats. We ended up using them in the living room. But we found a platform bed to be better at ventilation and offered extra storage space underneath. The platform bed creates a firm surface mimicking the floor.
This is a Japanese office so to speak. We call it a "Dynamic Office™" because you can either sit as shown, move the laptop to the top shelf and stand, or do some yoga stretching while you wait on something to download.
The dining table is 35" tall which makes is great for an extra food-prep surface. It is long and narrow which keeps it out of the walkway, but the fold out leaf comes out when there is company. Tilt Seats™ are used in various places in the house but gathered for company.
One approach to the living room. This didn't work as well but was a fun experiment. Floor beds become the back of the chair during the day.
This shows the ladder to loft. Ladder is movable. Photo below shows dining room with ladder taken out for guests.
One approach to the living room. Nothing is set in stone here. All furniture is lightweight and moveable and interchangable. Top photo is a floor based living room using folded zabutons and zafus and an early prototype of the Eco Backrest™. Bottom photo is Tilt Seat™ with wooden tatami mats which serve as backrests during day and sleeping platform at night.
Queen Sized bed is a platform frame with wool/kapok futon and organic cotton blankets. Bed barely fits in a 9'x12' room. Long, shallow boxes create a nice under-bed storage solution.
Interior designs of modern apartments often seemed cramped and over furnished. The spaces are designed around the table and chair sit down lifestyle with overstuffed couches. There is very little room to move around and often no empty floor space to speak of. But even these examples of small space living had some really good storage solutions we could borrow from, such as the storage-under-the-bed technique mentioned above.
You can design a house on paper and then build according to the blueprint. Or you can design as you build by making a rough sketch, living in it awhile, building some more, and so on. We did the later, because we had not figured out all the details. And we now know that a Harvard educated architect could not have done it any better. You cannot sit down and figure these things out on paper when you are reinventing some of the rules. Plus we were not designing for visual only. We were designing for a body friendly, interactive environment. It would involve a lot of field testing.
We started with stark minimalist. Our only furniture was roll up futons on the floor, crates full of papers, books and clothes, zafus, and a kitchen table with two stools. It felt great. We had a blank slate. We had plenty of floor to sit, sleep and do yoga.
Our early interior design issues were:
We wanted to stand while working on the computer.
2. We wanted to sit on a forward tilted seat with no back support.
3. We needed a small desk at proper height for working on the floor at the computer.
4. We wanted a place to put everything away.
5. We needed two ‘offices’ complete with phones and computer work stations and there was only one extra room beside the kitchen and bedroom.
6. We needed a ‘living room’ where several people could comfortably lounge and visit. This would have to be a floor-based design for reasons stated below.
Most designers would have looked at the situation and said the solution was to ‘add on’. But one of the basic principles of a good design, in fact, THE GUIDING PRINCIPLE is to design the simplest possible to achieve the desired results. That is why architect students start out with a toothpick project. That is why the Plains Indian Tipi is probably the best building ever to be invented. And that is why having space limitations was one of the best things that could have happened to us. It forced us to come up with a solutions.
These seemingly contradictory issues seemed at times unsolvable. Somehow each one magically received a solution. In fact, the solutions came out of the very contradictions that were creating them in the first place. In other words, the contradictions and problems worked together to solve themselves. This is a classic case of ‘re-framing’, looking at a problem from another angle, or thinking outside the box. Our ideal interior design plan came together in unexpected ways which were created by the synergy of the challenges.
For instance we would design a piece of furniture and then find that it not only worked for it’s intended purpose but something else as well.
Example 1: The Tilt Seat was first designed as a seat for sitting at a table or desk. It turned out to also work well as a desk while sitting on the floor. That solved part of the space issue because only one object would be needed instead of two. And it looks like a cross between Japanese and Shaker–two cultures focused on minimalist and simplicity.
Example 2: The Stand Up Desk worked great for the purpose of a work station. But it also reduced the amount of floor space needed for a desk by 75%. The reason it saves this amount of space is because it uses vertical space similar to the way sky scrapers do. When you can’t go ‘out’ you go ‘up’. This allowed us to find two offices in a house that only had one spare room. Since the Stand Up Desk uses such a small amount of space, it created an office work station in a small corner of the bedroom. This also solved the issue of clutter clearing and dust control. There is nowhere to put clutter so it just does not accumulate. Well, I will qualify this. The lack of space to put clutter forces a change in habits so stuff gets put away or you can’t walk.
As we solved one issue at a time with pieces of furniture that were prototypes, we would put the furniture design into production so other people could benefit from our discoveries.
The Living Room
One long standing problem that had not been satisfactorily solved was how to make an attractive living room area on the floor–that is: without the traditional couch and upholstered chairs. What we wanted was a place people could gravitate to for relaxing and socializing, reading or playing music. Chairs and couch would not work because this was our only floor space which we needed for the floor culture aspect of our house. And we would need to clear everything out of the way if we wanted a large group of about eight people. This was NOT a compromise. We were not doing this out of a limitation. We WANTED to be on the floor part of the time for several reasons:
1–It was playful.
2–It allowed stretching and yoga.
3–It allowed multiple uses of the room.
4–It created the feeling of serenity and spaciousness.
5–We didn’t want to block the windows which brought in heat and light.
6–It allowed more comfortable lounging positions with minimal space.
7–It allowed more space for people instead of furniture. Thus more people could be there.
However, we hadn’t figured out a good design for a lounge chair type device that would make it all work. Everyone knows how uncomfortable couches are—you can neither sit up straight, nor lean back without cramping your back. We wanted something better. We tried various camp chairs and floor lounge chairs on the market, but none of them were comfortable.
Then I remembered the Plains Indian Tipi Chair that I had attempted to construct when I was in high school. This is a simple backrest made of willow reeds which are tied together to form a mat. This mat is then placed against a tripod of sticks which give it support. Wa La! You can now lean back and relax. During my juvenile attempts to figure it out, I could not get enough of the reeds to start the project. Now I was compelled to revisit the project.
There are a couple of places you can buy one of these. Or you can even make your own. I decided to make my own. But as I thought about it, I started envisioning a new way of making the thing so it would fit in with modern homes. For the next Two Years ˆi worked with my team of designers to develop what is now our EcoBackrest™.
While warehouses are stockpiled with clunky, modern furniture, we have been busy figuring out how to make lcompact, lightweight furniture out of earth friendly ingredients for people who want to downscale their lifestyles and live within their means in the new economy.
Part of the solution lies in looking at USES instead of ROOMS and intermingling elements of each type of room together when necessary.
Part of the solution lies in getting very organized and getting rid of unneeded belongings.
Part of the solution is making a commitment to the Green Lifestyle.
The photos in this article show part of the interior of our house as it is at around 75% completed. Stay tuned for Part Three which will show other parts of the house.
Camping in a tent next to a pile of lumber, recycled windows, and boxes full of our entire household belongings, Linsi and I had a task ahead of us: build a house and move into it before winter. It was at that time mid November of the year 1987.
Okay, the house was really only a cabin or trail shelter, the dimensions: 10 feet by 10 feet with a loft. But we had never done carpentry before and we were attempting to build this thing from a book.
We had to leave our previous house suddenly. Some good friends with some land in the mountains offered for us to build there.
Okay, we may have been crazy, but what prompted us to move before we had a place to move into was that we were allergic to just about any house that was available for rent. Green building was a brand new concept, and we were going to be one of the first. This chance to start all over and build something that would let us live allergy-free was the best plan we could come up with. We had spent the past 2 years sleeping in the loft of a barn as a way to get out of the house that was making us sick.
We were both excited about the prospect of designing and building our own living space. There was even something attractive about getting rid of almost everything we owned in order to squeeze into our house and live simply. Perhaps our habit of accumulating stuff had gotten to us. The prospect of needing to relocate with such short notice really pointed out how many unnecessary belongings we had accumulated over many years of dumpster diving, yard sales, and receiving useless gifts. What a hassle to deal with all that stuff. This new life would be a forced march into really thinking about what is important in life and cutting out the extraneous–a fresh start.
About that time we chanced upon a little book called Clear Your Clutter with Fung Shui by Karen Kingston. This book was a step by step instruction manual that preached the fact that clutter–belongings which are uneccessary and not used–actually hurts us in non-material ways. Fung Shui–the art and science of placement–starts with the premise that strategic design enhances vitality, health, and success. The antithesis of auspicious placement, it follows, is clutter. Clutter includes things you are saving in case you might some day use them. It also includes things you use but don’t have an orderly way to store. What we keep, why we keep it, where we keep it has far reaching ramifications in one’s personal life, according to Kingston. This book gave us the determination that we could do it, and in the process become empowered.
Another book that had influenced our decision was Tiny Houses. We had spent three years studying this book and had even gone so far as to buy some lumber and tin roofing for one of the knockdown modular designs. The plan was to build a little studio or get-away to hang out in. The house was never constructed, and now the prospect of actually living in the thing started us thinking about the design in a different way.
We tried to imagine what it would be like living in such a small space.
Okay, it took more than a weekend to build. We were ‘dried in’ in a month, and the rest of the year found us house sitting in different friend’s houses much of the time. We stayed in our unfinished house in-between housesitting gigs, moving often to where there was access to running water and electricity.
If you wonder what it was like to sleep in the shell of the house before insulation, water, power, and heat–just imagine sleeping under a gong or cymbal during a parade. The slightest wind would send our tin roof banging and crashing. We were sleeping in the loft, with plastic taped over the openings where the window would some day go. Oh how we dreaded thunderstorms at night!
Eventually we bought land nearby and moved the house, all the while living in it. Then we proceeded to build a house around that initial cabin, which we live in today.
The six years of living in our little trail shelter allowed us to save up enough money to buy land. It also had a hidden benefit and probably the most valuable. We started thinking outside the nine dots about design for small spaces.
Whether it’s a condo in the city, a garage apartment, or a cabin in the forest, small spaces have a lot to offer. It was this challenging and sometimes terrifying experience that we came to learn how to live in and love a small space. This experience prompted several years of inquiry, research and study about the art and science of small space living.
A Room of One’s Own
The biggest flaw in our 10×10 house was that neither of us could differentiate our belongings, our energy fields, and our lives. At first it was novel and fun, but there came a time when it just didn’t work anymore. We came to see the importance–indeed necessity–of each person having a room of her/his own.
It took about two years to complete our 432 square foot house (12 feet wide by 36 feet long). We lived in our 10×10 the whole time besides the last month. The new house literally engulfed and dissolved the original cabin. Each board and window and piece of roofing of the original was taken apart and applied somewhere else in the larger design until the only thing remaining of the original is the floor and front wall.
When our new house was completed we felt like we moved into a mansion. It felt weird to actually walk across a room to get to the phone. Even though most people would consider 432 square feet cramped–to us it was a long awaited opportunity. Now we could start testing out our ideas for Japanese design and furnish our house with the products our business makes. Most people would call what we had an ‘efficiency’ and furnish it with a table, couch, and bed–thus completely covering up the beautiful empty floor space. But to us, that floor was our new frontier. Spacious, simple, uncluttered–a blank canvas. How would we organize our belongings based on principles of Body Friendly Furniture and the New Ergonomics?
I spent 30 years wondering what to sleep on for optimal sleep and health. When I finally realized through personal experimentation and research that the best mattress is no mattress, I could never look at the world the same. We are asleep when it comes to which bed is the best bed.
A Gebusi woman in New Guinea, decked out in her dance costume, catches a few winks on a woodpile during a male initiation ceremony. (Eileen Knauft) From “Slumber’s Unexplored Landscape” cited below.
I discovered that the mattress is creating and/or masking the body’s current structural imbalances, impeding circulation and hampering the body from realigning itself during sleep. Sleeping on a hard surface can reshape the back and realign the body. A firm sleep surface helps the body’s relationship with gravity, with the earth. This is a therapeutic practice available to all of us, which works while we sleep.
The bedding industry relies on bold claims that one mattress or pillow will outperform another. Some of the claims are tempting, promising a good night’s sleep like you’ve never had before–for only a few thousand dollars.
Where are ‘they’ getting this information? Sleep and health are intricately related. There is no scientific definition of ‘comfort.’ Sleep and especially deep sleep with theta and delta brain waves is known to restore health. How does the actual bed or surface upon which one sleeps affect the quality of sleep?
When I researched for months trying to find an intelligent, scientific article on what type of bed will provide deep, rejuvenating sleep, I could not find it. None of the research seems to know specifically anything about this. The statements are not definitive and claims are not backed up, or are backed up with dubious studies. Even the terms ‘comfort,’ ‘soft,’ and ‘healthy’ are not defined. No studies measure the important health indicators, like pulse, heart rate, levels of stress hormones as related to the type of surface being used.
Side sleeping on a firm surface is comfortable using the technique shown–hips slightly rotated forward, head supported by firm pillow to expand shoulders. See Pillow Therapy for more comfortable tips.
Most ‘authorities’ seem confused and baffled. For instance the Mayo Clinic says: “If you have chronic low back pain, you may benefit from sleeping on a medium-firm mattress. Consider trying out a medium-firm mattress before you buy. However, you may find your back pain is reduced with a softer mattress.” (1)
There is no stated cause of low back pain. If the cause is unknown, then the cure must be too. Second, the terms ‘medium firm’ and density are not defined. How can the Mayo Clinic be satisfied with this recommendation, based on absolutely nothing?
I found other statements such as: “a bed shouldn’t be too hard or too soft” or “What works for some people doesn’t work for others.” Sleep science research seems to have completely left out the body and how it interacts with the sleep environment.
What is the specific density of a ‘medium-firm’ mattress, or any other mattress for that matter? Why–in physiological terms–does one surface have a different effect on the body than another surface? What about respiration and air flow through the mattress? Or synthetic vs. non-synthetic? But even more fundamentally: Do we need a mattress at all?I had some hunches–pardon the expression–which started the whole search in the first place. From restorative yoga I got the paradigm that certain positions could induce specific calming responses, relaxing the autonomic nervous system. The New Ergonomics believes the bones need to have some resistance (i.e. a hard surface). From science I knew about the different stages of sleep and how rejuvenating sleep happens during the third and fourth stages. From nutrition I knew that certain vitamins and minerals were needed for the best sleep, and heavy metals in the body can disrupt deeper stages of sleep. Yet the truth of what specific mattress would be optimal for comfort and rejuvenation remained unanswered.
One thing I knew, everyone is dealing with the same thing. Hardly a day passes that I don’t overhear some conversation about sleep, and generally the problem with getting a good night’s sleep.
Typical American beds, complete with decorative pillows.
I am skeptical of technological fixes, which are usually touted as the answer to society’s sleeping problems. The extent to the complexity of the bedding industry has become absurd. It is not uncommon for a couple to spend thousands of dollars on the ‘perfect’ mattress system. If this really worked, it would seem that by now, most people at least in America would have solved the sleeping problem and be wide-eye-and-bushy-tailed ready to start the day. But this isn’t the case at all, as anyone who picks up a magazine or watches a few minutes of TV will soon see, with advertisements for sleep aids, sleep drugs, better mattresses, orthopedic pillows, and stimulant drugs.
The assumed paradigm is that a mattress is essential to good sleep just like a chair is essential to sitting. But why did mattresses become mainstream? When did the buffalo robe and pile of leaves go out of fashion? Could a good night’s sleep be had if, for instance, we slept on a sandy beach or the equivalent? Why did ‘they’ start saying a firm bed is best, and still provide a two to three foot thick ‘system’ of mattresses just to get you to that ‘firm bed’ effect?
A traditional Japanese Futon ready for sleeping.
Some of the questions came up as I experimented napping and sleeping on different surfaces, including beaches, boulders by the river, grass, and just the bare ground. My conclusion was that almost anything seemed to work, and the best surfaces were those most removed from the modern box-spring bed, the waterbed, or the memory foam bed.
Finally I started turning up some information. A former Japanese health pioneer Katsuzo Nishi published a book in 1927 detailing a system of exercises and practices which include sleeping on a hard surface such as a board, to help with spinal alignment and circulation. Here is an excerpt from the Nishi website.
His theories are characterized by the idea that, in spite of the fact that the human bone structure and positioning of the internal organs are basically the same as those evolved for the mammalian species that ambulate on four legs, human beings’ upright, two-legged life style places certain structural strains on the human bone structure, resulting in problems like obstruction of the flow of food through the intestines (constipation) due to the unnatural (vertical) positioning of the organs. As methods to compensate for these structural defects, Nishi conceived and encouraged the use of treatment through exercises such as the goldfish (movement) style spinal column rectification exercise and the Nishi-shiki health fortifying technique( (lateral vibration exercise know as the “Haifuku Undo”).
The Paleo Pad™ is a 1/2″ thick wool felt sleeping mat.
Furthermore, based on the structure of the human network of arteries and veins, Nishi refuted the heart-driven blood circulation theory of William Harvey, proposing instead a theory that the capillaries provided the true driving force of the circulatory system. And, in order to compensate for the obstruction of circulation in the four limbs resulting from the human species’ vertical posture, he proposed the Capillary Action- Inducing exercise (Mokan Undo), which involves lying on the back, raising the arms and legs and applying a slight vibrating motion.
Besides these exercises, Nishi also recommended methods making use of implements like a hard, half –cylinder pillow, design to keep the cerebral vertebrae in the ideal position from a structural standpoint and a flat sleeping platform (flat board) designed to do the same for the vertebrae of the spinal column. (2)
This is at least anecdotal evidence that mattresses in general are bad for our health from a structural and metabolic perspective. Whether they are brand new or worn out makes no difference. My hypothesis is that mattresses insulate us from our experience of our body. They do not allow the resistance that we need to keep us in alignment and optimize breathing and circulation. When it comes to a mattress, more is not better. Less is better.
The whole concept of a mattress, a deep, soft place to rest our tired bones, is mistaken. More rejuvenation comes from less fluff. It doesn’t take something two feet thick to provide the hardness of a simple cot or a pallet on the floor. The traditional Japanese had it right with their sitting as well as their sleeping. Their mattresses (futons) are about the thickness of a typical quilt. No doubt, Nishi’s recommendations had something to do with the reason that some Japanese people still use traditional Japanese sleeping habits, even though Western furniture is available.
Japanese men making traditional tatami Mats around 1900.
Yet again I was experimenting–this time sleeping on a thin cotton blanket folded in half. I could hardly believe it. After all these years of troubling over having a good bed, even what was considered a hard bed, to my surprise, I actually slept at least as well on practically nothing. I’m not saying it felt luxurious or soft, but I slept well and felt even better upon awakening. I could see what Nishi was saying about improved circulation to the extremities. When the surface is very firm like a board, there is nothing to push up against the muscles. The bones take the brunt of the pressure so the muscles with arteries and veins and free. I also wonder if perhaps this resistance against the bones might encourage bone density while we sleep, and soft mattresses therefore might influence bone loss. This would make a great study but I can’t find any already performed.
Here is a travel log written by a recent traveler to Japan
Although many Japanese sleep in beds these days, it is still common to sleep on a futon mattress spread on the floor. Westerners call the small couch which turns into a bed a futon, but that is very different from the traditional Japanese futon. A traditional Japanese futon set includes shikibuton (under futon), kakebuton (comforters), and makura (pillow)… Shikibuton is usually stuffed with cotton batting and is wrapped in shikifu (sheets). Japanese uses different types of futon, depending on the season, such as light ones in summer and heavy ones in winter. Futon made from down feathers is light and comfortable but is most expensive. Kakebuton is covered by kakebuton cover. The traditional Japanese pillow (makura) is filled with red beans or buckwheat chaff… Futon is usually put away during the day in the closet called oshiire. The oshiire closet has sliding doors and usually divided into two shelves. It is best to keep the futon on the upper shelf. Japanese houses are usually small and do not have many rooms, so a room is used for dual purposes. During the day, a room can be used as workroom or guestroom after futon is stored in the oshiire. It is very convenient… It is important to sometimes dry futon under direct sunshine. You may ruin your futon if you keep them in the closet or spread on the floor all the time. Remember that Japan is very humid especially in rainy season. There is a product called futon kansouki (futon dryer) in Japan. Just place the dryer between kakebuton and shikibuton while it is spread on the floor. Airing your futon really helps you sleep well… Also, it is commonly said that sleeping on futon is better for the back than sleeping on a soft bed. The hardness of the floor seems to be good for people who have back problems.
In an article in Science News called “Slumber’s Unexplored Landscape: People in Traditional Societies Sleep in Eye-opening Ways,” Bruce Bower explains why I have had such a hard time finding real information on sleep patterns, behavior, and biology—because—according to Bruce Bower–it has been an ’embarrassingly’ overlooked area of anthropology.
“Adult sleepers in traditional societies recline on skins, mats, wooden platforms, the ground, or just about anything except a thick, springy mattress. Pillows or head supports are rare, and people doze in whatever they happen to be wearing. Virtually no one, including children, keeps a regular bedtime. Individuals tend to slip in and out of slumber several times during the night. In these unplugged worlds, darkness greatly limits activity and determines the time allotted to sleep. Folks there frequently complain of getting too much sleep, not too little.” (3)
My instigating hypothesis that modern beds (mattresses) are not needed and possibly counter-productive was starting to prove plausible. The article also says that a single stint of total sleep–that is the accepted norm by today’s sleep ‘experts’–was not normal for pre-industrial societies and that the advent of artificial lighting has altered the body’s natural circadian rhythms. From reading the few studies conducted on native people’s sleep patterns, one can easily surmise we are barking up the wrong tree when we think a NASA designed mattress will solve our sleep problems.
According to an article on WebMD, there are no independent studies showing any bed or mattress has healing powers. “Consumers shouldn’t be lured by claims of therapeutic benefits for beds,” says Charles Cefalu, MD, spokesman for the American Geriatrics Society. He says that “the only beds that can claim to be therapeutic are prescribed by physicians for home use and have the same technology as therapeutic beds used in hospitals to treat burn victims.”
This article goes on to say that firm surfaces may be problematic, especially for older sleepers or those with arthritis. It does say, however, that most of these problems can be alleviated with propping and bolstering pillows– especially a pillow under the back of the knees when sleeping on the back.
A mattress in any true sense of the word causes the hips to sink in and the lower back to collapse, which interrupts natural alignment. Ironically, this is the same effect that chair sitting has on the body. When the back collapses in on itself, whether sitting or lying down, the lungs cannot hold as much oxygen and breathing is immediately hampered. When the body does not get its optimal amount of oxygen, the parasympathetic nervous system which induces relaxation is impeded. When breathing is shallow, the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol are overproduced–which keeps the body from fully relaxing.
The viewpoint of followers of the New Ergonomics is that chair sitting causes ‘front loading’ of the body (see Challenges to Natural Sitting). Since the muscles are tighter in front, the body feels better hunched over to some degree. Likewise, sleeping on a modern mattress causes slumping. Then when we lie down on a firm surface, tight muscles are stretched, which feels uncomfortable. Therefore, we have gotten dependent on a soft bed to maintain the out-of-alignment position, or posture of flexion. It may feel better and even help some people sleep better, because they aren’t being distracted by the body’s attempt to stretch and realign itself. But without the feedback a hard surface offers, deeper problems develop and we don’t reach our full potential.
If the mattress does play some role in improving sleep, the best mattress is not a mattress at all, but something more like a pad or a pallet on the floor–something that comes the closest to mimicking the very ground from which humans evolved.
How to Sleep on a Firm or Hard Surface
Of course when first lying down and sleeping on a hard surface, you are probably going to feel uncomfortable. And what is meant by a ‘hard’ surface?I have personally tested various beds, futons, and natural surfaces over several decades and have come to the conclusion that what mattress manufacturers call ‘firm’ or ‘hard’ does not even come close to the traditional Japanese futon. What describes this quality best is a thick quilt on a floor or board. That bit of padding (about one to two inches of compressed padding) won’t let the hips sink in to mis-align the spine, yet it buffers the body somewhat.
From my own experimenting and interviewing people, I have come to the conclusion that this amount of firmness is what works for most Americans who are changing their lifestyle and sleeping habits.You will need to experiment for yourself to see what works. You can start with napping and later try sleeping this way. It may take more than one night to get used to it. You can gradually go to a harder surface and compare the results.
The modular platform bed the author designed using a blend of traditional Japanese with modest western touches.
The interesting thing I have found upon informally interviewing people who have tried sleeping on firm surfaces is that they complain about it being hard and less comfortable, and yet they sleep very well and feel refreshed upon awakening.You can sleep on a ‘platform bed’ or the floor. A ‘platform bed” is a simple raised surface where your mat goes, but does not have a true mattress. The platform bed is best for those who don’t want to get down to the floor level. It’s disadvantage is it can’t be put away during the day.
The Japanese use a tatami mat under the futon. This provides ventilation underneath which helps regulate body temperature as well as keep the futon from becoming damp with the body’s persperation. It also keeps the futon, blanets, and pillows off the floor which might be dirty and drafty. This is a great invention, but is expensive and doesn’t always fit in with a person’s interior design. A simple tatami mat imitation can be easily handmade from lumber. All that is needed is a slatted surface raised a few inches off the floor. Or the platform bed can serve as a tatami mat if it has a slatted surface.
People with health issues such as arthritis, scoliosis, rheumatism, or weak capillaries will need to use common sense and not go to as hard a surface as healthier individuals.What you are aiming for is a ‘spine-neutral’ position. Neutral spine is the natural position of the spine when all 3 curves of the spine — cervical (neck), thoracic (middle) and lumbar (lower) — are present and in good alignment.
The type of comfort one feels on a hard surface is more of an acquired taste. It is similar to the difference between Wonder Bread and old fashioned sourdough bread. One is soft and empty, one is solid and wholesome. You will feel your hips and shoulders rubbing against the surface and you won’t sink in as before. Unfamiliarity is not comfortable. It is comforting in the way it helps you breathe more fully, the way it grounds your body, the way it reassures you that there is something solid somewhere in life that you can always count on.
At first you may feel like it’s impossible to relax, because it contradicts all your ideas about relaxation. You are feeling your life energy, the place your body comes up against the earth. You will know where you are out of alignment. Give it some time. Common sense and a spirit of adventure go a long way.
Sleeping in this way resembles restorative yoga, and props can be used in much the same way. The goal is to position the body so it is relaxed and comfortable. There are several supports, bolsters, and pillows which can be propped in any number of ways depending on individual needs. For instance, for lower back pain, place a small support under the lower back (when lying on your back). A rolled up sock will work, but a flax seed eye pillow is the ultimate size and shapes just the right amount. Or alternatively, place a bolster behind the knees.
When side sleeping, hug a large pillow and put a pillow between your knees–or use a body pillow. Also, make sure your head pillow is tall enough. It should be about 5 inches (for most people) when compressed–your head should not be pushed up or down but paralell with the bed.
I believe the reason mattresses have become ubiquitus is mainly due to these reasons:
1–The perceived comfort is an adaptive response. The body becomes ‘front-loaded’ due to facters such as chair sitting and mattresses. When the body stretches and lengthens on a firm surface, those tight muscles and ligaments are stretched and noticed, causing discomfort.
2–The psychosomatic aspect of a mattress: It looks thick and plush, therefore it MUST be comfortable.
3–Since mattresses have been around for so long, no-one even questions their usefulness. Therefore no studies are performed.
4–The propaganda of a century of advertising.In reality that mattress is creating and/or masking the body’s current structural imbalances, impeding circulation and hampering the body from realigning itself during sleep. Sleeping on a hard surface can reshape the back and realign the body. A firm sleep surface helps the body’s relationship with gravity, with the earth. This is a therapeutic practice available to all of us, which works while we sleep.
(1) The Mayo Clinic’s recommendations on buying a mattress http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/buying-a-mattress/AN01641 (As of 07/29/09 the article appears to have been removed. Sorry for the searing critque.)They now have a nice article on tips for better sleep here.
(2) Nishi Hard Surface
When the body is placed this flat on a hard leveled bed, the weight is most equitably distributed, the muscles are given he maximum relaxation; and any subluxation or deflexure of the spine caused by the upright posture during the daytime is easily corrected; furthermore, the very hardness of the bed secures the functional activities of the skin and prevents the liver from becoming sluggish and moreover stimulates the veins distributed superficially all over he body so as to promote the return of the blood towards the heart. This in turn leads to the inversing activity of the liver, with the result that all the waste matter which have been deposited during the daytime will be swept away from the body and the motor nerves will be kept from any undue pressure or strain. Moreover the intestines will be secured against constipation or stasis. This you will be sure to get a good sleep and awake the next morning quite refreshed mentally or physically.
Hard Half Cylindar Pillow
When using the solid pillow you should lie flat and place the neck on the pillow so that the third or fourth cervical vertebra may be properly rested on it. Needless to say that one who is not accustomed to such a pillow would find it painful. In that case, a towel or some other soft piece of cloth may be laid over it. It is to be remembered that you should, however, take the piece of cloth off now and then and try to gradually accustom yourself to he hardness. Thus you would in time become accustomed to it and sleep comfortably without using any such softener. Effects: The use of the solid pillow has the beneficial effect of preventing or correcting any subluxation of the cervical vertebrae and helping to prevent headaches, meningitis, as wall as diseases of the ear, nose and throat. Moreover it keeps the brain and spinal cord in a normal tone necessary for their proper function and thus keeps off any sluggish or paralytic disorder in the body, especially in the nerves and limbs.
How to get started? Click here for part Two of Sweet Dreams on a Hard Surface
(2) Nishi Hard Surface When the body is placed this flat on a hard leveled bed, the weight is most equitably distributed, the muscles are given he maximum relaxation; and any subluxation or deflexure of the spine caused by the upright posture during the daytime is easily corrected; furthermore, the very hardness of the bed secures the functional activities of the skin and prevents the liver from becoming sluggish and moreover stimulates the veins distributed superficially all over he body so as to promote the return of the blood towards the heart. This in turn leads to the inversing activity of the liver, with the result that all the waste matter which have been deposited during the daytime will be swept away from the body and the motor nerves will be kept from any undue pressure or strain. Moreover the intestines will be secured against constipation or stasis. This you will be sure to get a good sleep and awake the next morning quite refreshed mentally or physically.Hard Half Cylindar Pillow When using the solid pillow you should lie flat and place the neck on the pillow so that the third or fourth cervical vertebra may be properly rested on it. Needless to say that one who is not accustomed to such a pillow would find it painful. In that case, a towel or some other soft piece of cloth may be laid over it. It is to be remembered that you should, however, take the piece of cloth off now and then and try to gradually accustom yourself to he hardness. Thus you would in time become accustomed to it and sleep comfortably without using any such softener. Effects: The use of the solid pillow has the beneficial effect of preventing or correcting any subluxation of the cervical vertebrae and helping to prevent headaches, meningitis, as wall as diseases of the ear, nose and throat. Moreover it keeps the brain and spinal cord in a normal tone necessary for their proper function and thus keeps off any sluggish or paralytic disorder in the body, especially in the nerves and limbs. Click here to visit the Nishi Wiki page.
(3) Here is the link to the Bruce Bower’s article: Slumber’s Unexplored Landscape:
*The statements on this website have not been evaluated by the FDA. These statements and the suggestions mentioned are not intended to diagnose, prescribe for, treat or claim to prevent, mitigate or cure any human disease. As always, please consult a trusted and knowledgable health care provider before beginning any new activity.
One characteristic shared by practically all the ‘modern’ or ‘neolithic’ diseases like obesity, diabetes, hypo thyroidism, sleep apnea, etc.– is poor quality sleep. Whether this is causative or indicative has been a question. The reality is more complex. The cause and effect interact with each other. For instance, the poor sleep adds to the problem but is also a symptom of the problem. And our quest has been searching for ONE thing–like diet OR the right bed or hormone supplement.
Just looking at the human organism won’t do it. The human organism is intricately connected to the earth and cosmos which includes things we have taken for granted and disregarded as unimportant and not related. The cycles of the seasons, timing of sunrise and sunset, temperature, diet, and the Earth’s Magnetic Field are completely left out in the search for a better sleep. Recent rock solid (pardon the pun) breakthroughs in science are now revealing beyond a shadow of a doubt, the missing key to optimum functioning lies in re-linking our own internal Circadian Clocks with the environmental triggers that keep it running ‘on time’.
It should not be hard to relate to this. We know that computers of any sort have a ‘chip’ that is akin to the DNA of an organism. The chip sets the rules. Everything must fall into alignment or ‘synch up’ with the program on the chip. Even a car needs proper timing or it will ‘mis-fire’.
Our Circadian Clocks are currently interrupted by manmade obstacles–ironically what we call ‘conveniences’ and ‘improvements’ that have been introduced mostly in the past 100 years. While technology has ‘advanced’, sleep and health has gotten worse for the majority of modern humans. And we keep looking for a technological fix as if the human body could be ‘re-programmed’ to adapt to the modern world and industrial agriculture.
A new group or ‘camp’ of scientists is trying to match the environment to the DNA. What preserves cellular energy, coherence, homeostasis, genetic integrity, also creates the most generative sleep possible. Quality of sleep is both an indicator as well as a generator of health.
According to Dr. Ray Peat:
The ability to sleep deeply decreases in old age, as a generalized inflammatory, excitatory state of stress develops. With progressive weakening of restorative cellular relaxation (inhibition), cells become more susceptible to disintegration. (“sarcopenia”) of aging is also probably a process that occurs mostly during the night. Mediators of inflammation are at their highest during the night. (2)
The question has been, what are the significant aspects of the natural environment that make a difference. Or put another way: what IS the original blueprint for homo sapiens? Or “where is the fountain of youth?” In a nutshell, modern humans are out of synch with genetic code or the ryhthms that establish calm, homeostasis, cellular energy, brain power, metabolism, and strong immune function.
A circadian rhythm ( /s-r-ke-di-n/) is any biological process that displays an endogenous, entrainable oscillation of about 24 hours. These rhythms are driven by a circadian clock, and rhythms have been widely observed in plants, animals, fungi and cyanobacteria.
It is now known that the molecular circadian clock can function within a single cell; i.e., it is cell-autonomous. At the same time, different cells may communicate with each other resulting in a synchronized output of electrical signaling. These may interface with endocrine glands of the brain to result in periodic release of hormones. The receptors for these hormones may be located far across the body and synchronize the peripheral clocks of various organs. Thus, the information of the time of the day as relayed by the eyes travels to the clock in the brain, and, through that, clocks in the rest of the body may be synchronized. This is how the timing of, for example, sleep/wake, body temperature, thirst, and appetite are coordinately controlled by the biological clock.
Mark Sisson of the Primal Blueprint says,
Tens of thousands of anthropologists, evolutionary biologists, paleontologists, geneticists and others have worked for over 100 years to piece together a fairly detailed picture of all the elements that helped influence our development as a species. Ironically though, when we examine all of the many environmental influences and behaviors that shaped our genome, we arrive at a very simple list of general things our early ancestors did to become what and who they were and which allowed them to pass 99.9% of those genes down to us. In essence, this list is the original “Primal Blueprint” since it provided the only set of behaviors they knew – the exact behaviors that enabled then to shape their bodies into healthy, robust, happy beings…( 3)
Optimal sleep is achieved when the body’s circadian rhythms (preprogrammed DNA–or genetics) are synchronized with the environment (epigenetics). This is an example of where structure and function are intricately co-dependent. Metabolism has to be set right for the circadian rhythms of the organism to synchronize with the natural cycles of the sun (both the day cycles and the season/climate cycles). But metabolism itself is determined by these very natural phenomenon. So a metabolism out of whack will mess with sleep and regeneration, and yet sleep and regeneration are part of what sets metabolism.
There isn’t JUST ONE thing that resets the human circadian clock. Rather, there are FOUR primary factors–or dimensions–that need to be in place all at the same time. Let’s look at the significant factors that will match our environment to our DNA to supercharge our sleep and vitality.
1—EXPOSURE TO SHUMANN’S RESONANCE (Earth’s Electromagnetic Field)
2–LIGHT (TIMING of DAILY ACTIVITIES corresponding with sunrise and sunset) of sleeping, eating and exercising) and exposure to natural light.
3–TEMPERATURE (stay close to what is happening outside).
4–DIET (type of food, basically food which allows the optimal sensing of the master hormone leptin which regulates temperature, cellular energy, and metabolism),
The advent of the laptop computer has revolutionized the table-and-desk-sit-down office work station. With the laptop, people are free to lie on the floor or bed, lean back on a couch in the hotel lobby or against a tree, or even stand up. No sooner did an opportunity arise to get rid of sitting in an uncomfortable chair, than did people take advantage of the opportunity. To the trained observer, this proves Dr. Galen Cranz’s hypothesis (author of The Chair) that chairs–even ‘ergonomic’ chairs–are uncomfortable and the body wants to be in another position.
The problem: Ergonomics researchers are unanimous in agreeing the laptop is the worst position for computer use. NO POSITION WORKS! This is best illustrated by this drawing:
1—When placed on a desk or table so as to raise the screen so you can see it (A), the hands/wrists are raised too high, thus leading to carpal tunnel and other problems with shoulders and arms.
2–When used in the primary ‘laptop’ position (B)—on the lap–the user has to stoop to see the screen.
3–When placed on desk/table (C) there is an all-around compromise with neck and arms.
In other words, the laptop is a compromise no matter how you slice it, and mainstream ergonomics warns people to not use it as their primary computer.
The same Eco Backrest™, as above, but this shows the lie down desk position–another unique laptop ergonomic work station..
Lying on the floor in the manner depicted by the media does little to solve the problem, and is only wishful thinking. You’ve got the screen where you can see it, but you’ll kill your neck and shoulders. Maybe you can pay a bill or balance your checkbook, but other than that it is a deceptive image.
A docking station will solve the problem. This is where you use you’re laptop as your hard drive only, and connect it to a separate screen, keyboard and mouse. You place each of these externals in the most suitable ergonomic position: middle of screen at eye level, keyboard and mouse about waist high. Now you are sitting at what mainstream ergonomic would say is as good as it gets, especially if you have an ‘ergonomic’ chair.
However, even these experts will agree the computer work station has problems of it’s own. Rolfer’s, Chiropractors, Massage Therapists, and Yoga Instructors will attest to this. The human body tends to be shaped by the activities performed, and the computer work station keeps them in business. Even the best mainstream workstation pushes the user into a slump, hampers breathing, circulation, and is the main cause of America’s $4 billion back pain epidemic.
I think of my office–and my home–as something like a gymnasium/yoga studio/playground. This new way of doing things can make the most boring work palatable, and can make other work fun, stimulating, inspiring and more productive.
Resting the back completely with the EcoBackrest™.
So ingrained in our culture is sitting that to suggest otherwise is practically heretical. First off, most people have never heard of the idea that chairs are bad for you. It is such a shock to hear this that the usual reaction is disbelief and defensiveness. “You mean everything around me is wrong?” Second, people wouldn’t know where to start to change if they wanted to. Because of this it is best to make small changes in one’s personal life and personal spaces. Since many more of us are practicing ‘telecommuting’ from our home offices, there couldn’t be a better opportunity for making these changes.
The Dynamic Office™ and Body Friendly Furniture™ a complete line of furniture and props that allows one to work in at least four positions:
1–Dynamic Sitting (also called ‘active sitting’)
Within each of these positions there is much room for movement and variations of positions.
is used by physical therapists for patients with coordination/ concentration issues and hyperactivity. If it works for special needs people it must work for other people too, to enhance clarity of thinking and attention span. It has been found that engaging the body in the sitting process like this enhances learning comprehension and retention. Have you ever noticed how you have a lot of your best inspirations while walking or in the shower? The same principle applies here. When the body is engaged in some form of movement the brain is activated. This is also called sensory awareness. This is what causes active sitting or other movement to stimulate the brain. And another factor is, this position lets more oxygen into the lungs which in turn increases brain power.
For this sitting process to work at a laptop or standard computer work station, the computer or desk must be at the right height and angle so the neck is not bent too far looking down. This is usually somewhat higher than an average desk, because the seat is usually higher. Actually, a drafting table can be the perfect work surface, as long as you have a way to stabalize your laptop from sliding downward. A small piece of a yoga sticky mat seems to do just the trick (available from Carolina Morning Designs). One can sit on any of the varieties of saddle seats, ball chairs and kneeling chairs on the market, including our own Tilt Seat™.
Before we had to worry about laptop ergonomics,
Thomas Jefferson is known for his stand up desk, and German students traditionally stood at podiums in the classroom. However, standing isn’t for everyone. It burns calories and tones muscles at a gradual pace which is safe and effective. It is for the office warrior who wants the maximum fitness from an otherwise sedentary job.
The keyboard is out of sight because it is so far from the screen. The challenge is touch typing when the keyboard is completely out of view. This takes some getting used to but gets easy with practice.
3—Lying Face Down
This is the position I blasted earlier for its poor ergonomics. However, we have a prop that solves the problems and makes it the most restorative and relaxing of all other positions. Our Eco Backrest™ solves the problem and many people have been jumping for joy since they discovered this. You have to try it to believe how amazing it is. The line of sight is perfect so there is no bending of the neck to see the screen. See illustration.
This is what we try for when sitting in bed propped against the headboard or putting a bunch of throw pillows together. However that doesn’t work because the back and neck are crunched. What is needed is the ‘spine neutral’ effect—like being in an airplane cockpit or spaceship. Now with the Eco Backrest™–no more worries.
One of these positions alone will not do what they all do synergistically. Sometimes we need to wake up, so standing works best. Sometimes we are tired so lying down or lounging works best. The point is, no longer is the office seen as a static thing. In the Dynamic Office™, the furniture is designed around the human body, not the other way around.
This is one of many ways to practice meditation. This is particularly effective in quietening the mind and grounding the body.
Once you have assumed a comfortable sitting position, take the first few moments to sweep through the body with the intention to relax. Soften and let go around areas of tightness and contraction.
Kneeling for meditation on a Peace Bench with Zabuton sitting mats
Let all the senses be awake…aware of physical sensations, mood, sounds and space in all directions.
Then, become aware in a very soft yet clear way of the movement of the breath. Your awareness can rest in the breath wherever the sensations of breathing are most predominant. For most people, this is either the inflow and outflow at the nose, or the rising and falling movement at the chest or abdomen.
Once you decide where to be with the breath, let this be an anchor, the place you return to again and again. Bring a full mindfulness to the breath: making no effort to control the breath, discover what it is actually like, moment to moment. If the attention gets too tight or tense, relax your body again, soften back into the breath. If the attention becomes spacy, difficult to focus, then intend to bring a real precision and clarity to the awareness of the breath.
The purpose of meditation practice is to bring a mindful attention to the changing flow of life, without either clinging to experience or resisting what is happening. Let your attention rest mindfully in the breath.
When a strong emotion or sensation arises let go of the breath as a primary area of attention and open the awareness to include the waves of experience that are arising. Notice what they are like as sensations in the body, feelings in the body/mind…and notice how they change. Let your intention be to neither resist what is painful or grasp at pleasure. Rather, bring an unconditional caring presence that allows life to unfold without interference.
Crescent Zafu/Smile cushion on Zabuton sitting mats
To be truly present means to be aware of thinking, not lost in trains of thought. Typically the mind will contract and move off into thought forms repeatedly. This is natural, and when it occurs, simply recognize that thinking is happening by mentally noting “thinking, thinking”. Without any judgement, open out of thoughts and relax back into the breath. Often our thoughts are repetitive and strongly driven by emotions. When this happens, rather than returning to the breath, recognize and note the thinking and then open the awareness into the body and heart to sense what is asking for attention.
Often there is fear or longing that needs to be included in awareness. Until we touch this directly, the mind will keep contracting off into thought forms and disconnecting from the present moment.
A Few More Tips
For many people, noting or naming what is happening can be helpful in connecting the awareness directly with moment to moment experience. For instance, when a strong sensation arises you might note “tension”, “tightness”, “hot”, “cold”, “pressure”, “ache”, “tingling”…and if there is much pain or pleasure…”unpleasant” or “pleasant”. Similarly emotions can be labeled: “sadness”, “happiness”, “fear”, “grief”, etc. Let the noting be soft and in the background, with most of your attention directly experiencing what is happening.
The quality of care or friendliness (metta) towards our experience is an essential foundation for mindfulness. Kindness allows us to open, de conditioning the tendency of our minds to resist and contract away from life. It is helpful to reflect on the intention of relating to experience in a gentle and kind way at the beginning of each sitting (and day!)
For some people, listening to sounds is a useful alternative to using the breath as an anchor. Open the awareness to include the space within which sounds arise, and listen without controlling anything. Simply let sounds happen, noticing how they arise, change, dissolve. While you may find it valuable to use sounds as an anchor for attention in this way, it is important to also learn to concentrate and develop mindfulness around the breath.
So after the attention has opened and relaxed by resting in the awareness of sounds once again practice by being with the breath.
Remember that we can start our meditation fresh at any moment. Simply take a few conscious breaths, open out of thoughts, relax the body, and come back to rest in the breath or in listening to sounds. We all have preconceived notions and preferences regarding “good meditations”. It helps to recognize that this is a liberating but challenging path: Our nature is to be lost in thought, be reactive to our experience, get restless, sleepy, doubtful…Try not to judge you experience. Rather, trust that you are truly an awakening, loving being. Practice love by accepting whatever arises. Gradually the practice of mindfulness and compassion will free you to express your true nature and live each moment fully. A lotus bud for you!
Thanks to Tara Brach and the Insight Meditation Community of Washington for reprinting this guided meditation. Click here to find out about their weekly sittings in the Washington D.C. area and meditation retreats.
The iconic “Meditation Posture” seen in many publications is often misleading as a guide to real-life sitting for meditation. In advertising photographs the head is thrown back with neck jutting forward. The spine is sometimes shown as rigid. This position is neither healthy, nor sustainable. Sitting this way might be appropriate for a briefly-held Yoga pose, but should not represent the right posture for meditation. It takes so much effort to hold this pose that it won’t last much longer than the time it takes to click the shutter. This popularized image of what meditation is supposed to look like is conceived by those who have neither practiced meditation nor plan to.
Typical deceptive advertising showing sitting flat on floor. It is impossible to hold this pose for long unless you have grown up sitting this way.
Models are often shown sitting directly on the floor, though sitting in meditation on a flat surface is almost worse than sitting on a chair for work or a sofa. The musculature of the front torso has to strain to keep the body from collapsing backward. For meditation, we need to strive to sit as effortlessly as possible in order to increase the power of concentration, lower heart rate, decrease blood pressure, deepen breathing, and stimulate the ‘relaxation response.’
“Good posture” is not the military tightening of the shoulders with an erect back. In fact, ‘posture’ isn’t even the word to describe the activity of meditation. (Note that the Lotus Pose in Yoga is used for meditation by advanced Yoga practitioners. It can be done on a flat surface because the true Lotus tilts the pelvis mechanically by extreme force when the legs are stretched under the calves and the feet rest on top of the thighs. There are relatively few people who can achieve the true lotus without injury and even fewer who can maintain the pose comfortably for the purpose of meditation.)
Meditation is an activity rather than a static ‘holding’ of the body. In fact, holding the body creates a sensation of having ‘body armor,’ which is just what we are trying to dissolve with meditation. Meditation is a ‘neutral’ state.’ It is a state of repose, looseness, relaxation, melting, zero, reset. The goal in sitting is to provide a place for the physical body to ‘let go’ so the mind and spirit, or emotions, can work on whatever they have to, without being hindered or blocked by the body.
The Kneeling Position (a.k.a. VIJRASASA and SEIZA) on a Peace Bench™
The SKY POSITION on a
The SKY POSITION on a
Sitting on Tilt Seat with feet in front.
Sitting on Tilt Seat™ with feet in back ankles resting on lower bar.
There is a koan or dichotomy using proper sitting techniques. By settling down the body in this consciously controlled way, the mind is freed from its constant distractedness. It now has to face itself. By stopping the body’s outward movement, the mind is now able to find new levels of awareness, which is a form of movement. The reason “posture” isn’t the best word to describe meditation is because there is very much movement inside the sitting. The body is in a state of “tonus” which means there is an equal balance of work between complimentary and opposing muscle groups. The muscles involved from the front are working with those of the back. There is a constant interchange.
When the weight of the body is balanced evenly front and back, there is very little work left to do, and so the body does not become tired quickly The only way these muscles can be balanced between the front and the back is by either standing, or by mimicking the angle of the spine by sitting on a sloped surface. This sloped surface tilts the pelvis almost as it would be when standing.
There are several obstacles to finding this state of perfect repose.
Improper technique or knowledge of how the body works.
The body may be out of alignment.
Muscles needed for proper sitting have weakened from years of sitting in chairs. Strengthen muscles by starting autonomous sitting in small bits and work your way to longer sits as you can. Practice plenty of stretching in-between sitting.
Your sitting equipment may not fit you or have some other technical issue.
Here is a very good video demonstrating the ideas in this article.
Read this website, read the books offered on this website, and find qualified instructors of the Feldenkrais Method. Yoga is very complimentary to a healthy back and can enhance meditation. Unfortunately, even yoga instructors usually do not understand the problems with chairs and the principles of wise body movement. They even use unhealthy backrests in the yoga classes for students to lean back on. These canvas floor seats are actually worse than chairs!
Alignment means the bones, joints and muscles are working smoothly together with symmetry and balance. It would be amazing if a person beginning this way of sitting wasn’t out of alignment. Our physical environment and the way we interact with it shapes our bodies. Chair sitting creates a condition known as “adaptive slumped posture” or “front loading”. The muscles in the front (shoulders, chest, abdominals) work harder than those in back, and sculpt a body that tends to pull itself unnaturally forward. This can then lead to problems in other areas of the body, like a domino effect. These problems can become severe and lead to joint degeneration from uneven wear. We have become adapted to chairs. Chairs support the status quo of a “front loaded” body. That’s why at first they may seem more comfortable and relaxing than autonomous sitting. It takes an open mind and a desire for balance, health, and the benefits of meditation for a person to want to change. The transition is not always easy. In order to make it work, other practices should be considered for increasing flexibility, balance and symmetry, such as yoga, chiropractic, rolfing, massage, craniosacral therapy, the Alexander Technique. Also, there are many self-therapies that are very useful, such as the Ma Rollerª, Miracle Ballsª, therapy balls. and others.
The seat must fit. If a seat is too tall, it may cut off circulation where the seat meets the thighs. If it’s too short, the pelvis isn’t tilted sufficiently and there will be slumping. In general, the wider the sitting surface, the easier it will be to sit, because the weight of the body is spread across more surface area to prevent bruising and circulation blocks. If your legs tingle and fall asleep, try another seat.
The principles of comfortable, healthy sitting can be applied to sitting in a chair. If the seat of a chair is tilted somehow, either by placing one inch blocks underneath the rear legs, or by placing a ‘wedge cushion’ (Tilt Seat™ cushion with stuffing pushed to the rear) on the seat, it becomes effective for autonomous sitting.
The floor cushions and benches have a few advantages–lower center of gravity, simple, easy for a large group, humble and ‘down to earth’– but some people have trouble getting up and down or assuming the positions which take greater flexibility. For this group, and others, we have created the Tilt Seat™. Also, somewhere between a Tilt Seat™ and a Zafu or Peace Bench is the “sky position”. The sitter is not as high as a chair or tilt seatª but not as low as a zafu or kneeling bench. The knees are lower than the hips, but still not touching the mat or floor. There is minimal stretch in the thighs and no pressure on the knees. Many have found the answer with this position, which can be achieved with either an extra large bench or a smile cushion or zafu with a support cushion under it.
“Wise Use” of the body starts with the head. The head should be positioned “forward and up”. That means the chin should be parallel with the floor, so you can easily look down at a 45 degree angle to the floor. (Many people make the mistake of bending the neck up. This throws the whole back out of alignment.) Correct positioning of the head should help you naturally align you back.
You should feel a slight arch in your lower back. Play with the balance until you find a place that feels comfortable. Do not strain. When done properly this way of sitting is comfortable and effortless. Your ears and your shoulders should be on one vertical line. Relax your shoulders, and push up towards the ceiling with the back of your head. Also to gain strength in your posture, press your diaphragm down towards your hara, or lower abdomen. This will help you maintain physical and mental balance.
Arms & Hands
You can place your hands on your thighs or on a small pillow on your lap. Hold your elbows freely and easily, and slightly away from your body. This helps keep your shoulders from slouching.
Dust mites are microscopic insects, found living in soft furnishings throughout the home, which feed on dead skin cells. In fact, an incredible one million dust mites can happily feed on the amount of skin shed daily by an average adult!
While these tiny home invaders aren’t harmful in small numbers, larger mite populations can cause problems for some people.
We have the illusion that clothes and bedding made from synthetic fibers are safe, but the materials are in fact full of invisible chemicals the clothing/furniture industry prefers we don’t think about. A hundred years ago, bedding and clothing was made of natural fibers like cotton, flax, wool, and silk. In the early 1900s synthetics were developed. Although rayon was introduced in 1924, the first truly synthetic fiber was nylon, made by DuPont from the petro-molecule, toluene. Nylon became a popular material for women’s panty hose.
Other synthetics followed: Acrylic (1950), aka, “wash-and-wear” fabrics – a “revolutionary time-saving leap” for homemakers. Polyester (1953) are “wrinkle free” fabrics developed from xylene and ethylene. Spandex and olefin (1959), became the mainstay of sportswear, swim suits, and thermal underwear. Olefin is produced by “cracking” petroleum molecules into propylene and ethylene gases. Today’s clothing (a $7 trillion/year industry) is manufactured using an astounding 8,000 synthetic chemicals.
Nowadays, clothes also contain toxins like formaldehyde, brominated flame retardants, and perfluorinated chemicals (Teflon) to provide “non-iron” and “non-wrinkle” qualities. Insecticides are even applied in the name of good health! For half a century, skin and chemicals have been interacting and creating problems like infertility, respiratory diseases, contact dermatitis, and cancer. The more synthetic clothing you wear, the greater your risk of absorbing toxic chemicals that harm your health. When toxins are absorbed through your skin – your largest organ – they bypass your liver, the organ responsible for removing toxins. You also may not realize that your skin keeps you healthy by venting toxins up to a pound per day.
Petrochemical fibers restrict and suffocate your skin – shutting down toxic release. Meanwhile, they contribute to your total toxic burden and may become the “tipping point” for triggering the onset of disease. Two contributing factors are:
(1) Toxic buildup in your body
(2) Multiple chemicals that interact together to create even worse problems than the individual chemicals by themselves.
Skin rashes, nausea, fatigue, burning, itching, headaches, and difficulty breathing are all associated with chemical sensitivity. If you have mysterious health symptoms that you can’t seem to get control over, it’s worth checking out whether your clothes could be the problem. The Chemicals You Wear Every Day. With a “mere” 8,000 chemicals used in clothing manufacture, it’s a sure bet you’re wearing many as you read this. Let’s highlight some of the worst. These kinds of fabric finishes “scream” chemicals…
Water Repellent — Fluoropolymers (as in Teflon) are used to repel oil and water
Bacterial and fungicidal chemicals –Triclosan and nano-particles are used for this.
Formaldehyde is linked to a 30% increase in lung cancer, plus skin/lung irritation and contact dermatitis. It is found in fabrics claiming to be: Anti-cling, anti-static, anti-shrink Waterproof Perspiration-proof Moth-proof and mildew resistant Chorine resistant It’s also used in dyes and printing to fix the design and prevent “running”.
Most governments restrict formaldehyde levels in clothing, but not the U.S. One of the worst offenders is China. Beware of “Made in China” labels. Use of formaldehyde in clothing is extremely widespread. There have even been lawsuits alleging high levels of it in Victoria’s Secret bras.
High temps and humidity make “poison clothes” even worse — they open your pores and increase chemical absorption. And you absorb formaldehyde from multiple sources daily, so don’t be fooled by manufacturers’ reassurances. Disperse Blue Dyes may look gorgeous — even regal — but they put you at high risk for contact dermatitis especially dark blue, brown, and black synthetic clothing.
It’s important to note — laundering does not reverse that risk. Worse, Disperse Blue 1 is classified as a human carcinogen due to high malignant tumor levels in lab animals. Incidentally, you might be interested to know that this dye also shows up in cosmetics and semi-permanent hair dyes.
Fire and burn hazards: The Marine Corps now prohibits troops in Iraq from wearing synthetic clothing while off baseÉ after too many unfortunate burns from soldiers wearing polyester, acrylic, and nylon , which readily melts in high heat and fuses to the skin. (Dudes, what did you expect? The stuff is a first cousin to plastic. Both are products of the oil industry.) Of course, that begs the question of whether flame retardants are safer.
Flame Retardant use began in 1971, when government required children’s sleepwear to be self-extinguishing. The solution was to add brominated Tris. Studies measuring urine samples showed that this chemical is readily absorbed. Brominated Tris is a mutagen, and causes cancer and sterility in animals. (Mutagens cause inheritable mutations by damaging DNA.) They also cause testicular atrophy and sterility.
Tris was banned in children’s clothing in 1977 (but lives on in upholstered furniture foam, baby carriers, and bassinets). Today most synthetic fabrics contain a new generation of flame retardants bonded into the fabric, which must survive 50+ washings. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s National Burn Center, only 36 children a year suffer serious injuries from sleepwear catching fire.
Is the toxic contamination of millions of children worth protecting 36 children per year from burns? This sort of regulation is a product of the “precautionary principle” Ñ the notion that there should be no limit to the amount of money spent or the amount of inconvenience inflicted on millions of people when it comes to preventing rare dangers that affect a tiny number of people. The mania for making our society risk-proof and accident-proof actually increases danger in many cases.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission exempts certain sleepwear from flammability standards. Two companies selling kids’ sleepwear without flame retardants are L.L. Bean and Lands’ End. But it’s not just children’s sleepwearÉ Demand is high for fire-retardant uniforms and civilian clothing. Lab studies show that flame retardants (PBDEs) can cause a slew of health issues, thyroid problems, brain damage, ADHD symptoms, and fertility problems. The insecticide permethrin is now in civilian outdoor wear and military uniforms even though no long-term studies have assessed its safety.
Silver nanoparticles in name-brand clothing create anti-odor, anti-wrinkle, and anti-stain clothes. “Nano” means “really tiny”, super-microscopic. Nano-particles in clothing can create easily absorbed toxins that, due to their minuscule size, are transported into all your organs, including your brain, consequences unknown. Other scary toxins include sulfuric acid, urea resin, sulfonamides, halogens, and sodium hydroxide.
The Health Hazards of Built-Up Electrical Charges, Electrostatic charges accumulate in synthetic clothing. There are stories of shocking mini-explosions from mixing layers of synthetic clothing with synthetic carpeting. And get this: synthetic undergarments contribute to infertility in men.
A24-month study of male dogs wearing either loose-fitting polyester underpants or loose-fitting cotton ones showed that wearing polyester created significant decreases in sperm count and degeneration of the testes. The animals wearing cotton suffered no side effects.
Scientists think polyester traps body heat, encourages chemical absorption, and creates electrostatic build-up, which all affect sperm count.
Hazard Number Two–EMF’s ( Electromagnetic Fields, a.k.a ‘electrosmog’) :
These are really just another form of toxin.External sources (outside your home) of non-thermal electromagnetic radiation (EMR) are ubiquitous: microwave towers, high-power lines, electrical transfer/relay stations, Smart Meters, cell phones and Smart Phones. (Smart Phones are especially noxious because microwave towers use phones that are not powered off as relay devices for their signals, regardless of whether the phone is in use placing or conducting a call).
It is vital to note that the above sources of EMR are non-thermal: they do not generate heat, and therefore provide you with no early warning, no physiological means by which most people can recognize that they are causing harm at a biological and metabolic level.
Because there are no government standards (in North America) that establish safe human exposure limits for non-thermal radiation a person can not assess their exposure level without specialized equipment.
Furthermore, while telecommunications companies insist that the levels of EMR their products and towers radiate fall well within government limits, they are referring of course only to the limits for thermal radiation.
There are three forms of electromagnetic radiation that emanate from manmade devices: static electric and magnetic fields, AC electric and AC magnetic fields, and radio frequency radiation. The potential risks they pose to human health vary in accordance with field, field strength, voltage, current, charge, grounding, frequency, wavelength, and power density.
There are countless scientific studies that portray the ability of EMR to adversely affect humans (as well as plants and animals) at the cellular level, studies that show they diminish the ability of cells to defend themselves, and disrupt a cell’s natural ability to produce healthy new cells. Cellphones, for example, when carried in immediate proximity to the body, have been shown to result in the production of ineffectual sperm cells and impenetrable ovum, catalyze rogue cells in breast tissue, and cross the blood-brain barrier.
Fortunately, standards that set limits for acceptable levels (there is no such thing as safe levels) of human exposure to non-thermal radiation do exist. And there are ways to mitigate personal exposure, without sacrificing the conveniences of modern communication – many of them are free and easy to incorporate into daily habits.
We also address Sick Building Syndrome or Indoor Air Pollution. Flame Retardant Chemicals (PBDE’s) leach out of furniture into house dust and we breath these in. Watch this video explaining the dangers. Health begins at the cellular level and we offer a major step in detoxifying your home and creating a sanctuary. This branch of building science is the place where body, culture and design intersect.
Flame retardant chemicals are in almost everything: Not only in our TV’s, clothing, furniture, carpets and electronic equipment; they are also in our air, water, food and our own bodies. Their levels are especially high in our babies and children, because children eat, drink and breathe more than adults. These chemicals disrupt our thyroid function, immune systems, brain development and can possibly cause cancers. Human blood and tissue levels of these toxins have been doubling every two and a half years in the USA. What are these chemicals and what can you do to protect yourself and your family from their effects?The manufacturers aren’t required to put the fire retardant chemicals on the label. The most commonly used chemicals, and their health hazards are:
* Boric acid – Inhaling the dust can cause headaches, coughing, dizziness or difficulty breathing. Prolong contact may cause skin sensitization.
* PBDE’s – are prohibited in the European Union after high levels were found in breast milk. California has decided to phase out the use of two of these, penta and octa PBDE by 2008. PBDEs accumulate in the body tissues and cause thyroid hormone disruption, permanent learning and memory impairment, decreased sperm count, fetal malformations, behavioral changes, hearing deficiencies and possibly cancer. U.S. women have levels in their body tissues 50 times more than European women. (For more eye-opening information, click on the link at the end of this report to “Our Stolen Future” Website containing results of a study of PBDEs).
* Formaldehyde – the U.S. Consumer Product and Safety Commission states in a report on urethane insulation, “Many health complaints, including irritation of the eyes, nose, throat, and skin, headaches and shortness of breath, have been reported to CPSC over the last several years by consumers who have had UFFI in their homes. Less frequently reported symptoms include chest pain, diarrhea, nausea, fatigue, and sleep disturbance. Studies have shown that formaldehyde in liquid solution (and possibly formaldehyde gas) can, through repeated exposure, cause sensitization in certain individuals. When exposed to formaldehyde gas, sensitized individuals may exhibit allergic dermatitis or mild-to-severe asthmatic reactions.” This was talking about formaldehyde outgassing from insulation. The same effects would occur from exposure to formaldehyde outgassing while you are sleeping in your bed. CPSC considers formaldehyde to be a potential human carcinogen.
* Decabromodipheyl Oxide – is a developmental toxicant. Exposing mothers to it during pregnancy can cause the death of or disrupt the development of the fetus. It causes birth defects and low birth weight. Behavioral or psychological problems can appear as the child grows.
* Melamine – is a reproductive toxicant, which can cause premature menopause, decreases in male and female fertility, onset of puberty, and changes in menstruation, gestation time, and lactation. It is a development toxicant with all of the hazards of Decabromodiphyl Oxide mentioned above. It is a cardiovascular and blood toxicant. This affects the ability of red blood cells to carry oxygen, white blood cells to fight disease, abnormal heartbeat, decreased blood flow, and elevated blood pressure.
* Antimony – The Australian Government Department of Environment and Heritage says of antimony,” Antimony compounds show toxic properties similar to those of arsenic. This depends on how much antimony a person has been exposed to, for how long, and current state of health. Exposure to high levels of antimony can result in a variety of adverse health effects. Breathing high levels for a long time can irritate eyes and lungs and can cause heart and lung problems, stomach pain, diarrhea, vomiting, and stomach ulcers. Ingesting large doses of antimony can cause vomiting. When eaten by mold or mildew, antimony releases a poisonous gas called stibine. This gas has caused epidemics of deaths in the past. These are a few of the chemicals used as fire retardants. Polyols, toluene diisocyante, amines, siloxanes, styrene, limonene, benzene and many others are also used. If you find any chemicals listed on your mattress label, you can search the web for more information. Write the chemical in the search box adding a comma, then write “health hazard.” But you can’t trust the label, because by law therre is no requirement to list any or all of the ingredients. Click here for more information on the chemical hazards of modern mattresses.
If you’ve had a big day and you need some time to unwind and read a book or watch a movie–chances are it’s not going to be sitting at a desk or table. Who doesn’t love to cuddle with an interesting book and cup of tea on the bed or couch? And chances are you haven’t really found a comfortable position. You can prop yourself with pillows all you want, but at best, some part of your body–neck, back, arms–is crunched and you can’t really relax 100%. At the worst, you can develop injuries from repetitive strain.
I found an interesting struggle happening on a reading blog, where serious readers were talking about their favorite positions
1–propping oneself in a sort of lounge position with pillows against the wall or headboard
2–on the side
3–on the back (a–holding the book straight up with arms or b–propping head forward with pillow, bending knees and putting book on knees)
4–on the tummy(a–with elbows propping head up or b–with head hanging over edge of bed and book on floor)
Not a ONE of them felt like they had found it.
I have discovered outside-the-box solutions for this age-old dilimna, by incorporating principles from restorative yoga, Alexander Technique and other modalities. It often looks like I’m not working when I’m busy on the computer, writing, or reading something because I am SO COMFORTABLE.I find myself apologizing sometimes, but there’s no reason why anyone can’t adopt these life changing habits which bring relief and make reading and writing, and using the laptop more fun.
The blog I reviewed had dozens of comments from frustrated people who could not find a comfortable position for reading in bed. The dozens of comments can pretty much be summed up in this one:
“I read for long periods, so I suppose it’s natural I do a combination of all the positions mentioned above. I lie on my stomach first until my lower back begins to hurt, then gingerly roll onto my right side until my arm hurts, then on my back until my hands get sore from holding the book up, then onto my left side. By that point, I’m usually numb enough to fall asleep.”
The fact that this person is changing positions is a good thing. But the fact that he is changing positions because not ONE of the positions allows and promotes good alignment, circulation, breathing and comfort is an issue.
F.M. Alexander–in his book Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual–gives primary reading directions.
I wish to free my neck so that
my head can go forward and up
so that my torso can lengthen and
my legs can move away from my torso
and my shoulders can release out the sides.
Mark Josefsberg-Alexander Technique Teacher in NYC further explains:
“When you look down, think of pivoting your head from the top of the spine, which ishigher up than we usually imagine. Think of a rod going through your head at the level of you ear holes, and pivot your head down and up from there, without collapsing your neck forward. Don’t forget to use your eyes to look down.
An Alexander teacher will help you understand these, both intellectually and kinesthetically.
Reading and using the laptop for more than a few minutes, while laying down or reclining, can create problems for our bodies. The media loves to promote images of people doing so without props, however, the truth is: props are necessary to prevent damage to the body. These props can be simple or more complex, but the difference is like night and day.