The concept of kneeling chairs and how they work
The concept of sitting in a kneeling-like position is nothing new, it can be traced back centuries, to ancient Buddhist traditions or to the traditional Japanese seiza style of sitting. The concept of modern kneeling chairs as we know them today, however, was first introduced in Norway during the last half of the 1970s. Join us as we take a deep dive into the origin of kneeling chairs and explore the benefits the kneeling posture has to offer.
In 1976, Hans Christian Mengshoel initiated a study that set out to answer how we could sit in more balanced ways. Through observation and research, Mengshoel found that a seat that was tilted slightly forward encouraged a natural posture that provided greater mobility and relieved unwanted pressure while seated. The idea of shin support was introduced to keep the user from sliding off the seat while simultaneously maintaining an open hip angle. With this, the balans concept was conceived and the concept of the kneeling chair introduced, setting the mark for a truly experimental time in Norwegian design history.
The balans concept
Mengshoel invited designers Oddvin Rykken, Peter Opsvik, and Svein Gusrud to design chairs based on the novel balans concept. The collaboration resulted in several original designs, where stereotypical views of sitting and seating were abandoned. A collection of balans prototypes were displayed at the 1979 Scandinavian Furniture Fair in Copenhagen, where they received significant attention. Designer Peter Opsvik’s contribution was Variable™, a truly iconic design that has been inviting people all over the world to move as they sit ever since.
The benefits of a kneeling chair
A chair without a backrest, two curved wooden runners, a downward sloping seat, and a set of shin cushions. Piece all these elements together and you definitely have an eye-catching piece of furniture, but what good does it actually do? There are several upsides to taking a more unconventional approach to sitting. We have listed some key points below.
Relieves unwanted pressure
When you are seated on a traditional chair your body is formed like an “h” and your hips are at a closed angle of 90° or less. In comparison, a kneeling chair with a downward sloping seat allows the hips to rest in an open angled position of about 110°. This allows the spine to adopt the natural curve it has when we stand upright, also while seated. Instead of hunching over your desk, you simply shift your weight by leaning forward and the chair follows – without adding unnecessary strain on your spine. It is not only your back that benefits from an open-angle sitting posture, it is also beneficial for the neck and shoulders. It provides complete freedom of movement for the arms, and more space for the stomach and internal organs, which in turn ensures easier and deeper breathing.
A kneeling chair encourages an active sitting posture, which prompts us to strengthen the back and abdominal muscles. It is the muscles, rather than the spine, that bear the weight of the upper body. Not only does this aid the strain on our back while seated, but it can also contribute to a more balanced every day. Our core acts as a central link in all movements we carry out, they either originate there or move through it. Although it might take some time and effort to build - a strong, balanced core can help us carry out both mundane and fun everyday tasks with greater ease.
Our legs and feet have the primary responsibility for moving us in most situations, so why isn’t this considered also while we sit? With traditional chairs, the feet are often left out of the equation, and we are left sitting cross-legged or frantically searching for a suitable place to put them. A kneeling chair, on the other hand, invites the whole body to participate. The curvature of the wooden runners prompts us to find and keep our balance, and any shift of weight or placement of the feet will provide movement to a new angle. This causes the feet to change position constantly. This frequent and dynamic use of the leg muscles facilitates blood flow to the brain, which can positively affect energy levels, ability to concentrate, and overall sense of well-being.
The next position is always the best
Our bodies are happiest when we can switch between various positions, and it is unnatural for us to stay put in the same position for any length of time. This general need for variety also applies to the act of sitting. Like all other body postures, kneeling also feels wrong after a while. The best way to avoid discomfort while seated is to frequently shift position. It is therefore of primary importance that the chair we are seated on allows movement and variation. This is what sets Variable™ and its predecessors apart from the crowd. As its name suggests, Variable™ allows for variation between a wide range of positions, where the kneeling posture is just one of many.
Are you curious about the benefits a kneeling chair has to offer, but feel unsure about which one is right for you? Be sure to check out this article where we help you identify the kneeling chair that best suits your needs.