The surprising benefits of sitting still for hours on end on vacation

Christie Matherne and Robby Silk sitting at sunrise

“It’s noon?” I asked Robby Silk, the inventor of a strange new vacation activity called “extreme sitting,” which involves simply putting your ass in a chair from sunrise to sunset. The sun was just above my head. It felt like we were on this smooth slab of rock in the untamed Colorado landscape, watching the sun cast shifting shadows on the canyons around us, for at least six hours. Silk looked up at the sky. “No,” he said. “It’s probably closer to 9 am.”

Silk, the creator and world champion of “extremely competitive sitting” says the activity can bring a sense of wonder, gratitude and calm to a journey. I voluntarily left the comfort of my bed at 4:30 am on a holiday weekend to join him for an extended session in the desert of western Colorado. “I think everyone can benefit from stillness,” says Silk.

The idea came in 1995, during Silk’s trip to Israel. He was inspired by a character in his holiday book The Haj by Leon Uris, which describes a man sitting in the desert waiting for a delivery. “He doesn’t know when or if the person should show up, but he just sits there and waits because he has nothing else to do,” explained Silk. “It made me think about what would happen, what would I do, if I didn’t have a schedule.”

Since that trip, Silk has sat for varying periods under the strict rules he invented (more on that later) in places like Joshua Tree National Park, Sedona, and Antarctica. He considers each session an opportunity to observe and reconnect with the rhythm of the day, and to get the soul out of the ticking clock of our modern day-to-day schedules.

Today, at the start of our session, we sat in a pair of camp chairs on an intriguing outcrop of smooth, weathered sandstone as the sun rose over Grand Junction. Silk explained the rules of his new sport: “Only light snacks and water are allowed.” This is the first rule I broke. In my jar is a whole pot of coffee, because I’m not a monk and 5 am is not my best time.

Desert landscapes like Colorado are ideal places - Martina Birnbaum / EyeEm/EyeEm

Desert landscapes like Colorado are ideal places – Martina Birnbaum / EyeEm/EyeEm

There’s also a ban on phones, watches, or anything powered by batteries or electricity, I soon learned. So there is no way to keep up with Netflix and there are no nature photography sessions. “You can get up to stretch and relieve yourself,” advised Silk. Other than that, I have to stay seated, from sunrise until it passes the horizon, “or as long as I can’t stand up”.

For anyone with an office job like me, it’s hard to understand why Silk considers this style of sitting an activity, let alone a rejuvenating activity to do on vacation. But his enthusiasm is not without merit. People who spend at least two hours a week immersed in nature are much more likely to report better physical, mental and emotional well-being, according to a survey of 20,000 people by the University’s European Center for the Environment and Human Health. from Exeter. . Notably, the research found no significant benefits for shorter time periods. Silk simply takes this concept to the extreme and folds into a sessile requirement.

I was tired when I arrived at 5:25, but no more tired than Silk, who admitted to having regular bouts of insomnia. Lucky for you, the rules set by the Board of Extreme Competitive Sitting (currently made up of one – Robby Silk) allow you to sleep during extreme sitting. I’m sure Silk dozed off once or twice during this 14-hour cook, aided by a book on the racehorse, American Pharoah.

“There’s a discipline to it,” Silk said shortly after giving up on staying awake long enough to read the book. Her words hit home – at that moment, I was feeling pulled into the round sandstone piles just ahead, imagining how fun it would be to jump over them like Mario. Not. No jumping today, just sitting, I told myself.

We spent much of our time in the desert that day talking, reading, and sitting in somewhat awkward silence. At one point, we reflected on an oddly shaped stump in the distance. He thought he was a sleeping donkey.

As a person who prefers not to be on a schedule, but often must be, I was surprised at how often I picked up my phone to check the time out of habit and boredom. This itch has often hijacked my fine motor skills, but tech junkies like me would certainly benefit more from not having information or time at their fingertips for an entire day.

As my sense of time distorted, my brain remained a little busy, taking stock of the things around me – the depth of the cracks in the red rocks, the sounds of birds flying around us, the happy feeling of the sun hitting my skin. . when the clouds parted. I took a sketchbook (allowed) to draw the outlines of the cliffs and canyons around me. As the sun lit up one canyon wall, I noticed a hole in the rock surface with what looked like an entire forest inside it. Time is running out of time – just what I want on vacation.

It didn’t take long for me to start wondering where I should relieve myself. After my fourth descent down a rough sandstone outcrop before Silk even got up to stretch, I understood the reasoning for the water only rule.

Christie and Robby with the Colorado desert in the background

Christie and Robby with the Colorado desert in the background

After five hours, my enthusiasm for sitting waned. I was moody, sunburned, and my body was protesting the pile of almonds I’d fed. But in the spirit of discipline, and understanding what Silk gets out of it, I sat down for another hour and picked up a book I brought with me – About Looking, by John Berger (appropriately titled, I thought the night before). But half a dozen hours later I wanted to throw him off the cliff.

I had reached my mental limit and fully understood the “competitive” part of this peculiar “sport”. It’s not easy to sit for 14 hours straight. I managed six hours and eight minutes and ended up feeling relieved, not refreshed. However, Silk convinced me of the benefit of sitting still for a few hours, and when I left, I promised to keep practicing as he broke his own extreme sitting record that day, with a total time of 14 hours. and 39 minutes.

Those not interested in the competitive part of the extreme session have a world of options. Shorter sessions have many science-backed benefits, suggests Silk — three to six hours — once a month. Most of us already do shorter extreme sessions on vacation of some form, on the beach or on the hotel balcony. All you need to do is leave your phone at home, making it an ideal holiday activity.

While Silk is currently the only competitor in the sport, he longs for the day he will find a worthy opponent. He recently registered Extreme Sitting LLC, which he plans to develop into a larger seated movement, and hopes to start a seated retreat. Until then, Silk is issuing an extreme challenge to anyone interested. He finds a picturesque spot and sits there for at least three hours without electronics, then asks someone else to take a picture of him to post on Instagram with the hashtag #ExtremeSit. Or just sit on the hotel’s lounge chair and take a nap, hashtag-free, if it’s closer to the rhythm of your day.

The extreme session rules

Like other outdoor endurance sports, extreme sitting can be performed as a competitive endeavor or as a less rigorous recreational pastime. In any case, participants must sit for a long time, unplugged, in a panoramic, open-air location.

  • Powered devices of all types are prohibited

  • Water consumption is allowed and encouraged as a precautionary measure for health. So are light snacks. I suggest about a gallon of water for a full summer day.

  • Consumption of alcohol is not allowed

  • Watches are prohibited. You can make a decent estimate of how long you’ve been at this by watching the sun move – as long as the day isn’t too dreary. Starting with sunrise or ending with sunset adds to the experience

  • Resistance assistants should aim to sit from sunrise to sunset. Extreme first-time assistants should start slowly – sit for three or four hours

  • Standing is allowed for self-relief and for occasional, brief stretching sessions. Over the course of 14 hours, for example, I am out of my chair for less than 10 minutes

  • Buy a comfortable, lightweight camping chair, but not one that reclines (not allowed)

  • Wear a wide-brimmed hat, long pants, and a long-sleeved shirt with UV protection, even in hot weather. Bring plenty of strong sunscreen, as sunny days are the most satisfying. And bring extra layers in case the weather team gets it wrong.

  • The nanny should be away from any shade.

Robby Silk

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