What is the Best Chair for You? Or is that the Wrong Question?
Roger Federer is quite precise about his tennis racquets. According to, he has nine racquets prepared for each match, with “three racquets to be strung at twenty-six kilos, five at 26.5, and one at twenty-seven.” And he likes “natural gut for the sixteen main strings and polyester for the nineteen cross strings”. Federer knows how to get the most out of a racquet. He has thought and practised a lot, to be able to use his body and the racquet as effectively as he can. Obviously it’s not just the racquet which gives him his incredible tennis game. If I were to pick up one of his racquets, it wouldn’t make me a better player, and I’m pretty sure the same applies to you too.
There is no perfect chair
Sitting is much the same. There is no chair that is going to make you sit well just by using it. The chair alone will not make anyone sit well, whatever the brand and whatever the cost. As with a tennis racquet, it depends on the ability of the person using it. So sitting is something we can practise and improve at. Just as you can have tennis lessons, you can learn to sit well too, and this is one thing Alexander Technique teachers help with.
Alexander wrote about this many years ago regarding children in schools. He said: “I am continually being asked...for my opinion concerning the correct type of chair, stool, desk, or table to be used in order to prevent the bad habits which these pieces of furniture are supposed to have caused in schools. In my replies I have tried to demonstrate that the problem is being attacked from the wrong standpoint....What we need to do is not to educate our school furniture, but to educate our children. Give a child the ability to adapt himself...to his environment, and he will not suffer discomfort, nor develop bad physical habits, whatever chair or form you give him to sit upon.”
It's not all about the chair
When we know how to use our bodies well, we can adapt to the furniture around us. We will certainly have a preferred chair, which will help us be at our best, and we will choose this chair when we can. But we should be able to use all furniture without suffering discomfort or developing bad physical habits. Similarly, while Federer has his preferred racquet which he chooses when he can, I’m pretty sure he could play great tennis with my old Yonex racquet, whatever state it’s now in after fifteen years in the garage.
Alexander went on to say: “Let us waste no valuable time, thought, or invention in designing furniture, when by a smaller expenditure of those three gifts we may train the child to...rise superior to any probable limitations imposed by ordinary school fittings.”
Sitting is a physical activity, not an inert position
We don’t expect to be able to play tennis well simply because we have a racquet in our hand. We know it’s our ability to use the racquet that matters. What about sitting? Do we expect to be able to sit well simply because we have a chair beneath us? Do you think of sitting as an ability, as something you do, or rather as something that happens when there’s a chair around? So perhaps, rather than looking for the right chair for you, you should be thinking about the right ‘you’ for your chair.
The quotes above are taken from "Man's Supreme Inheritance" by F.M. Alexander, Part 1 Chapter 7. First published 1910.
Bradley Newman teaches the Alexander Technique in Sydney. For more information see firstname.lastname@example.org .or email Bradley on