Going furniture free isn't as 'far out' as it sounds, says Yellowknife yoga instructor

Jennifer Skelton is a Yellowknife yoga instructor who promotes getting low for better health and longevity.

It started with a climbing wall, next came indoor monkey bars, and then beds were replaced with mats

Jordi Casas and Dylan Skelton on the sleeping mats that have replaced their conventional beds as part of Jennifer Skeleton's and Marc Casas' move towards a mobility friendly, furniture free home in Yellowknife. (CBC)

It's no secret that we lose mobility as we age, but Jennifer Skelton says it doesn't have to be that way.

Skelton is a registered yoga teacher and restorative exercise specialist who runs Repose Studio in Yellowknife.

She and her family are making changes at home to encourage a movement-focused lifestyle for health and well-being.

The changes can appear a little unconventional.

When you walk into Skelton's home, the first thing you notice is a climbing wall and a set of overhead monkey bars her partner Marc Casas built. Their young children, Jordi, 7, and Dylan, 4, are literally hanging around the house.

Marc Casas, Jordi Casas, Jennifer Skelton and Dylan Skelton - on the climbing wall - have made active living a part of every day life in Yellowknife. (CBC)

It's all part of preserving healthy mobility, everyday, all day long.

"We often think of movement as exercise, as doing your job and the things you normally do in your life and then an hour of exercise at the gym or going for a run," Skelton said.

"But then for the rest of the 23 hours of the day… we tend not to think so much about how we're moving."

Skelton points to the relatively sedentary lifestyle many are forced to live, thanks to jobs that mean sitting down for most of the day.

Jennifer Skelton demonstrates the kind of low seated position that requires hip and skeletal muscular strength to get up out of. She says incorporating movement like that in a person's daily life can have health benefits. (CBC)

"There's nothing inherently wrong with sitting in chairs," Skelton said. "But we tend to find ourselves in that position of sitting at a chair for many hours of the day… whether in a car, or behind a desk, or sitting at a table.

"Lots of people as they get older, even in their fifties, they have great difficulty getting down and up from the floor," she said.

"It's a skill we lose because we don't do it."

Skelton said losing flexibility and mobility is more than just an inconvenience or an embarrassment, it can be an indicator of one's overall health.

"A study was made that correlated how many extra points of contact a person needs to get up off the floor with lifespan," she said.

"The optimal being just getting up without any hands. I can get up without using my hands. Some people have to use one hand. Some people have to use two hands, and maybe a knee to get back up."

Furniture-free movement-focused lifestyle

Working movement into a person's daily life can be difficult when it's a matter of adding more activity to already busy days.

Skelton says a way around this is to modify one's surroundings and furnishings so a full range of motion is worked into everyday activities.

Instead of sitting on a chair at a regular height table for meals, a person could lower their table and sit on cushions; instead of sleeping on elevated beds, a person could sleep on a low-platform frame that means getting up from a crouched position at least once a day.

This works your joints through their full range of motion, and preserves flexibility and strength.

Skelton says her children love their movement focused life, even when they lost their conventional beds earlier this month.

They now use roll-up mats for sleeping.

Jordi and Dylan both agree the mats are firmer than their beds were, but they say they like their new sleeping mats better.

"I like when you roll them up you get more space to play," Jordi said.

Jordi Casas hangs around on a set of indoor monkey bars Marc Casas and partner Jennifer Skelton have built in their Yellowknife home to help keep the family mobile and healthy through everyday activity. (Walter Strong/CBC)

Skelton said the plan is to slowly phase out conventional furniture throughout the house and replace it with low-rise options. For example, a large coffee table will eventually replace the dining room table for daily meals.

If you're concerned about your own mobility, the good news is, you can start small, she said.

"For some people this is so far out," she said.  "But if this is something people are interested in, if you're not ready for a big step, there's ways to transition."

A person can start small by taking the cushions off a couch and sitting on them while watching television, for example.

"A good place to start for some people [who] can't get all the way down to the floor is you can lower your bed, you can put your mattress on the floor, you can take your box spring out."

"You don't have to remove all your furniture."


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