The Ultimate Guide to Kneeling While Working (and Fixing Your Back Pain)
- Kneeling is one of six main floor poses and their variations; the others are sitting cross-legged, squatting, pigeon pose, pike pose, and cobra pose.
- Cultures that value kneeling (e.g., called seiza and wariza in Japan and vajrasana and virasana in Sanskrit) typically enjoy more mobility and less back pain than their US counterparts.
- The physical advantages of kneeling are increased ankle mobility, a more open core, and relieved lower back pressure.
4 Reasons You Should Be Kneeling Every Day
As with all the main seated floor poses, there are four huge reasons you should be kneeling every day.
First, kneeling is intuitive to children. Anyone who hangs around kids long enough is familiar with how much they move around. In the space of a few minutes, they're sitting on a chair, then sprawled across it like a monkey, then kneeling on it, then crouching on the floor, then running around . . . there's no keeping up. However, the enviable physical freedom of children is not lost to you forever!
Second, kneeling is normal in other cultures. This picture is of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi sitting with former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in 2014 during a tea ceremony in Tokyo. The Japanese refer to this mode of sitting as seiza, and it is central to both Japanese courtesy and many martial arts. As you can see, these men are entirely comfortable in this natural human pose!
Third, kneeling was second nature to our forager ancestors. Even to this day, kneeling on the ground is quite common in pre-industrialized parts of the world, such as the Hadza tribe in Tanzania (pictured below), where it is much more common than sitting in chairs.
Fourth, kneeling relieves back pain! While you are subject to Earth's gravity, every single posture is simply a choice about how to distribute your body weight.
Most western adults spend their days sitting in chairs and couches, which deactivates the musculature designed to support our body weight, degrading cardiovascular and mental health, and distributes body weight to the spine, basically compressing a natural S-shape or J-shape into an unnatural C-shape (whether via lumbar compression or hunching or both).
In contrast, kneeling activates your core muscles and relieves pressure on your spine.
It can feel magical how your spine automatically pops up like an unloaded spring. There’s a reason it’s considered a meditation or resting pose in both Yoga and many martial arts—once you get used to it, it’s actually quite comfortable!
How to Kneel While Working
As with all of the main floor poses, if you are unfamiliar with kneeling but fling yourself into it without a plan, you will probably end up hurting yourself. (Trust me, take it from someone who did just that!) The advantages of kneeling are real, but like any physical skill worth recovering, it requires physical acclimation, the right physical aids, and the right desk setup.
Physically Acclimating to Kneeling
The problem is that such an unfamiliar pose can be intimidating and, indeed, dangerous if not approached properly. So how can you get started?
Let's start with the ideal form of seiza:
Notice a few things:
- The toes are touching.
- The sit bones are resting on the heels.
- The knees are spread like a truss to distribute weight.
Unlike chair sitting, this distributes weight to the knees and ankles, which pushes your ankle joints into extension, relieves pressure on your lower back, and activates your hip extensors, which are the muscles responsible for straightening your body.
If this form feels unapproachable, try easing backwards into the pose on all fours. Do this on a comfortable surface, like a rug or bed, for a few minutes a day until it feels more comfortable. You can also try
- Kneeling on one knee instead of two
- Placing your toes on the ground instead of your ankles
- Sitting in a Z-shape (the traditional female variant of seiza in Japan)
Setting Up Your Space for Kneeling
If you just kneel on the floor without any setup, I guarantee you are going to be uncomfortable. It's important to use mats, cushions, and blankets to make kneeling as approachable as possible.
I highly encourage trying one or more of the approaches below to make kneeling a lot more fun and comfortable!
- Kneel on a comfortable surface, such as mats (e.g., a tatami floor), a cushion (e.g., a zabuton), or a blanket.
- Place a rolled-up blanket or cushion under your ankles to relieve pressure on them.
- Place a Yoga prop or tiny stool under your buttocks to relieve pressure on your legs.
Setting Up Your Desk for Kneeling
If you’ve ever tried kneeling on the ground to work on your laptop, you’ve quickly realized that it's a non-starter. It’s impossible to maintain an erect posture while working on a floor-bound laptop. You have to hunch or crouch over the laptop to see the screen and type on the keyboard.
We humbly believe that the most elegant solution to working on the floor is our product, the Lunadesk, which we designed specifically to convert any surface into an ergonomically viable workplace:
However, you can also set up a low coffee table or tray. For example, this is my coffee table setup with an early prototype of the Lunadesk:
And you can even use whatever you have lying around, like stools or cardboard boxes!
If you have any ideas or questions about kneeling while working, please don't hesitate to contact us at email@example.com, and please sign up for our newsletter for more content like this in your inbox every week!