By Patrick Clark

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.