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In September 2020, I posted about How I Set Up a Japanese-Inspired Floor Desk, but I actually had it set up in early July, so I wanted to do a follow-up post to talk about how I like sitting on the floor, what I would change, and how my knees and back have handled sitting on the floor to work at a computer.
I’ll be honest with you: The first few months were rough. As I mentioned in that first post about my Japanese-inspired low desk, I discovered that my body was not really up for it immediately. I spent a few weeks of worrying that my American knees were just not able to adapt.
But I did leg exercises specifically to strengthen the muscles that support the knees, took a lot of breaks, and adjusted positions often. This helped immensely during that initial adjustment period. I want to emphasize that if these techniques did not work or if I had reason for concern, I would have contacted my healthcare professional for guidance. I’d say that the exercise was crucial for my adjustment, and I’m excited to report that my body is now accustomed to sitting at my low desk.
I spend up to 4 hours at my writing desk at a time, though on Saturdays, I will sometimes sit at my floor desk for an entire day. In addition to what I mentioned above, here are my techniques I use to keep my body happy when I sit at my low desk.
I get up and move around at least every hour when I’m at my floor desk. Whether I get up to go to the bathroom or get some water, I make sure to stand up for at least a few minutes to give my body a break and stretch.
When I sit at my floor desk, I also make sure to shift my position often — I listen really closely to my body and make sure to move before I start having pain. This is nice because it keeps me connected to my body and mindful.
If you get absorbed in your work and need help remembering to get up or switch positions, here are some methods you can try.
- Set a timer on your phone to remind you.
- If you do work that has a certain cadence or routine, associate getting up and switching positions with something that’s related to your work process. For example, every time you have a meeting, stand for the duration of the meeting, or get up after each meeting to take a break and stretch.
- If you listen to music while you work, get up at each commercial break or after a certain number of songs.
2. Sit at the right height.
At my writing desk, I type at a computer and I write in physical journals. YMMV, but I need to be at different heights to do these different tasks. When I write in a journal or my Hobonichi Techo Cousin planner, I like to sit directly on the floor instead of on the cushion. This allows me to stretch out my legs a bit and brings my writing closer to me so I don’t have to hunch over or wear my glasses. I’m still hunched over a bit, but not nearly as much as I would be if I were sitting on a cushion.
When I am typing on my computer, though, I always make sure that my elbows are level with or slightly higher than the keyboard. I know this is the right position for me because I typed without the cushion for a long time, and my shoulders and arms ached afterwards.
One thing I forgot to note in my original Japanese-inspired floor desk setup guide was my zabuton. I can’t believe I forgot to mention it because I adore it and could not imagine using my low desk without it.
I’m using a zabuton by Sun and Moon Originals, and I would definitely get this again if I ever needed to replace it. I think mine is the deluxe version, though I’m not sure since it was a hand-me-down. The cover washes really well, and it is soft but supportive. I’ve had it for at least 4 years, and it was well-loved even before it was given to me. It fits perfectly underneath the desk and fills up most of the space between the desk legs.
I did try the Gaiam Meditation Cushion Zabuton recently; I bought it for meditation and thought I’d try it at my floor desk too. It’s nice, but you can’t machine wash the cover, and after 3 weeks of use under my desk, it doesn’t seem like it will stand up to heavy use. This cushion has a zipper so you can adjust the stuffing, so it could be an option if you want to keep it plush. It does feel great to sit on by itself if I’m not using any other cushions.
This zabuton is not as expensive as the Sun and Moon Originals zabuton, but if you have to replace it or continually add stuffing, it may end up being more expensive.
Overall, for the convenience of a washable cover and longevity, I prefer the Sun and Moon Originals zabuton.
3. Make sure your cushion or prop is the right height.
One change that made a huge difference for my body was using a shorter cushion. I had started with this Brentwood yoga bolster, but that turned out to be too high to sit with my legs curled up in front of me. It may work for you depending on your height and a few other factors, but for me, I really needed the smaller oval cushion which was lower and actually ended up being a better shape for my body too.
Unfortunately I figured this out too late to return the bolster, but that’s why I wrote my guide on How I Set Up a Japanese-Inspired Floor Desk — so others could learn from my experiences without having to spend money on the wrong things and either go through the hassle of returning or missing the return window and end up with something they didn’t need. Of course you’ll still have some level of trial and error since everyone’s body is different, but hopefully it’s a good starting point.
4. Don’t wear tight pants.
I know this sounds crazy, but I found that wearing tight pants when I sit on the floor actually makes my knees ache. Fabric that doesn’t stretch with me adds a lot of pressure on my knees and makes them hurt no matter what position I’m in, even if it’s just for a short time. Now whenever I sit on the floor, I always wear loose clothes or stretchy pants (or no pants). This allows my body the space it needs to do what it needs to do for the position I want to use in that moment.
When I sit on the couch or in other places, I try to make sure I can stretch out my legs instead of keeping them folded up since that’s how I tend to sit on the floor.
Since I have a standing desk in my work-from-home office setup, I stand up during every meeting and take the opportunity to do some donkey kicks and other stretches. I also do a bunch of stretches for my upper and lower body while I watch TV in the evenings to make sure my body doesn’t get too tight.
I waited until September to post about my desk even though I started to set up in July because I usually take a long time to settle into a space, but I’m pleased to say that not much has changed since my initial post.
Full disclosure: I’m not 100% pain free since a variety of factors might cause pain or discomfort. For example, I still sit at a another desk and work for my day job for at least 40 hours per week, and my posture there is not ideal. For my own body, I’ve found that the more consistent I am with exercise, the better my body handles the sedentary work.
Because I’m prioritizing my knees and had so much trouble adjusting to the floor desk at first, I still get a little paranoid about hurting them, but that helps me take better care of them by reminding me to switch positions often.
Again, I’m not on the floor 40 hours per week since this setup isn’t for my day job. I don’t know if a low desk would work for a full-time job, but this floor desk setup works really well for me for all my activities outside of work, and I’m happy with it.
I enjoy settling into this space, and I feel nourished by the time I spend at my writing desk. That’s not just about what I do and the energy I bring into the space, but it’s also about feeling comfortable and having the right tools and equipment to support what I’m trying to accomplish each time I sit here.
But uh… sitting on the floor still has that one drawback I mentioned before…