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Is Sitting Cross-Legged (Indian Style) At Your Desk Harmful?

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Ergonomics and maintaining good posture have rightly been a topic that has gained a lot of attention in recent years. 

The fever surrounding quick fixes to bad posture has resulted in massive online advertising campaigns that ended up touching almost every corner of the internet. 

You might know what I’m talking about. Marketers feigning sore backs before exuding the benefits of posture correcting shoulder braces to halt slouching, or advocating a training programme of floor exercises intended to have you standing straight and tall in no time! 

Ergonomic office furniture in particular has become popular amongst employees and occupational health departments alike. 

Not least for reasons that the business can become more sustainable through caring for the wellbeing of their employees.

One pose said to improve posture and concentration more than most is sitting cross legged at your desk.  

Working in front of the computer whilst in this distinctly ‘unbusinesslike’ position, and contorting your legs into shapes seemingly reserved for yogi masters might seem a little far fetched, maybe even potentially harmful. 

But is there actually anything to be worried about by sitting ‘Indian style’?

I mean, humans have been sitting cross legged for centuries, (admittedly not at office desks, but at home, markets and religious gatherings) and they’ve never had any health problems as a result have they? Have they…???

What does sitting ‘Indian style’ mean? 

Sitting ‘Indian style’ is one name given to the seated position that involves crossing both of your legs in front of you. It’s often compared to Sukhasana or the ‘easy pose’ so frequently used in meditation practices and yoga. 

If the story is to be believed, the term ‘Indian style’ was coined when first settlers to North America observed the practices of Indigenous Americans during communal gatherings. 

Whilst the etymology of the phrase will likely never be proven, it’s equally unlikely that the source of sitting cross-legged can be traced to any one particular people. I mean sitting on the ground is the de facto place to go when there aren’t any chairs to sit upon.

Here in the UK the position attributed to American Indians is plainly called ‘sitting cross legged’, whilst in Eastern European countries it is best known as the ‘Turkish sit’.

Regardless of the its origin, sitting in Sukhasana is intended to provide a means to improve comfort when sitting for long periods of time. 

Photo by bongkarn thanyakij from Pexels
Photo by bongkarn thanyakij from Pexels

Is it bad to sit Indian style in a chair?

We spend so many hours of each day sitting down (about 6.5hrs) that it’s becoming more than a fringe contributor to many negative health conditions.

We now spend more time sitting in vehicles and more time sitting in front of screens than ever before, so the topic of biomechanics and how to sit correctly (or at least in a manner that preserves our joints and skeleton) is a popular one. 

For those of us who are keen to look into taking better care of our posture, turning to ‘Indian style’ sitting is thought to bring about several benefits. 

  • It promotes suppleness and natural flexibility in the ankles, knees and hips
  • It encourages core muscle development
  • Indirectly, the restriction of movement brought on by chairs with fixed backs and arm supports is removed

Despite the apparent upsides there are however a few negatives associated with sitting Indian style in a chair, but rest assured they’re nowhere near as scary as the risks of sitting on a cheap office chair with a pressurised gas cannister beneath you. 

  • Firstly, it can feel unpleasant initially if you’re not used to sitting fully cross-legged, or find it hard to bend your legs into that position. The muscle groups and joints responsible for supporting your body whilst sitting like this might not have been worked for a long time. Like any new habit it’s going to take time to get used to. 
  • If you’re inflexible to start with, a cross-legged position will place strain on your hip flexors unless aided by supports (such as blocks or bands). It’s not a form that you’ll be able to hold for long….initially at least.
  • And until you become practiced at sitting cross legged at a desk and know how your body will respond, it’s likely ‘Indian style’ sitting will be a cause of distraction to your work. Certainly to yourself, but also potentially your colleagues. No one wants to be sitting next to the noisy neighbour who shuffles about constantly! 
  • When comparing sitting ‘Indian style’ in a chair versus sitting on a floor mat  (balancing on a less stable surface; difficult to use support blocks or bands)
  • And speaking of chairs, your likely going to have to stump up for one that is large enough to accommodate crossed legs. More on that later…
 

If you find holding the position challenging due to stiffness or pain, there are a few tricks that you could try to alleviate the discomfort.

Initially the aim would be to train the muscles in and around your legs by simply moving in and out of the cross legged position. 

Is there such a thing as a crossed-legged office chair?

Sitting cross legged during office hours has been explored as a means to improve productivity and wellbeing amongst workers. 

Of course sitting in this manner will only be possible in a chair that is wide enough for you to lift your legs off the ground and cross them in front of you.

The Ikaria Design Company have taken it upon themselves to design an active sitting chair that allows you to cross your legs whilst raised off the ground.

The Soul Seat is a US made chair that consists of an extra wide platform on which to sit and cross your legs, with a smaller raised podium (similar to a yoga block) where you park your backside. 

Psst. A budget cross legged kneeling chair with a very similar design is also readily available on Amazon. 

Having multiple adjustable levels makes it easier to change posture and move in and out of various positions. Moving frequently not only places less strain on joints which aren’t familiar with being contorted but helps work various muscle groups to strengthen your core. 

All other features of the Soul Seat are similar to those of traditional office chairs with adjustable height and roller caster options.

Crucially it doesn’t include a back support so lounging isn’t an option but this feature makes it easier work from different positions ultimately reducing muscle tiredness and tension normally experienced at the end of the work day. 

Sitting Indian style should not to be confused with sitting in a chair with one leg crossed over another that remains in contact with the ground. Crossing your legs in this manner can bring on peroneal palsy through putting pressure on the back of your knee.

The direct pressure on the peroneal nerve causes reduced sensation to your foot and toes, and whilst not harmful isn’t physiologically a form that you can maintain comfortably for a long time.

Final Thoughts

Whilst appearances wise sitting cross-legged at work might seem a little ‘new-age’ it’s a strikingly effective and simple way to combat office fatigue.

To that end when weighing up all of the pros and cons it seems that if you’re willing to put in even a little time training your muscles to sitting in this traditional manner then the benefits reaped by your work will be well worth the investment. 

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