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Transitioning to a Minimal Bed

All my friends know about my penchant for things Japanese. I love the stores Muji and SouSou and this song. I love their rain boots and Japanese literature old and new. I love anime movies, Tamagotchi…the list is long.

So when I found an importer of real Japanese Tatami right here in Toronto I was ecstatic! Tatami are rice grass mats, used as flooring in traditional Japanese homes and often in martial arts studios. Apartments and rooms are described by how many mats they hold, for example, a “seven mat room” is approximately 10’x13′. To see pictures and learn more, link here.

There are many importers and makers of mats but the real mats are unique. They are 5.5cm high and no wood filler or styrofoam goes into their making. They are made with rice grass all the way through so they are all natural and smell lovely. They are quite heavy and don’t fold. They are meant to sit on the subfloor and be the wall-to-wall flooring in the room.

The showroom at Tatami Imports (note dining tables - one in back with the legs unfolded, and the one in front legs folded ready to be moved against the wall)
The showroom at Tatami Imports (note dining tables – one in back with the legs unfolded, and the one in front legs folded ready to be moved against the wall)

As well as the mats, Tatami Imports also carries the traditional Shikibuton, or futons. They are different than the futons you get at the futon store. Thinner and stuffed with soft cotton, they are no more than a layer of comfort between you and the floor. They fold up when not in use and can be stored away.

Kitten Soetkin tries out the Shikibuton (futon)
Kitten Soetkin tries out the Shikibuton 

Unlike North American homes with many rooms, each dedicated for a specific purpose, traditional Japanese rooms were multi-purpose. So the dining table legs would fold up, the table leaned against the wall, and out from the cupboard would come the futon and bedding. Thus one room could serve as living room, dining and bedroom. I love that idea – that a room could be devoid of permanent furnishings and could morph into whatever you need. Once you try living in a room that is not filled with “stuff” you quickly realize how wonderful it is to have space around you, and only the things you need at hand, nicely organized.

Of course this fits into the whole Restorative Exercise™ paradigm of natural movement, less furniture, floor dwelling to eat and work and relax. So I was hell bent on getting myself some tatami and a futon and making over my spare bedroom into a room that would be multi-purpose – both a studio for private clients, and a second bedroom.

That dream finally became a reality and I have my peaceful beautiful room. During the day I fold my futon and sheets and store them away and have a big space to do my exercises in or teach clients.

My studio for private or semi-private lessons
My studio for private or semi-private lessons

I started sleeping on the futon as an experiment to see how sleeping on the floor would feel. Readers of Katysays.com will know why. (Read this post for more information.) A mattress is essentially a cast, something that allows you to maintain a position for a long period of time that would not be comfortable otherwise. I tend to sleep on my left side about 95% of the time, since my first pregnancy. The first night on my futon, I woke up sore and turned over uncomfortably to my right side. The fact that I didn’t have 10″ of foam under me meant that I felt the weight of my hips and shoulders on the floor. The mats have more give than hardwood, but they are still harder than a mattress. Then invariably, I would get sore on the right side and flip back to my left. This went on all night and in the morning I was tired, cranky and sore! But I was not about to give up, because the thing was – I moved all night long and didn’t stay stationary on that left side.

Why is being stationary a bad thing? Well think of side lying – your spine is dropped on one side in the lumbar (low back) and cervical (neck) areas, all your weight is compressing one hip, one shoulder is displaced and one arm is pinned and getting less blood flow. Not to mention what’s going on internally (organs and circulation). Often those shoulder and hip pains are so stubborn because you spend so much time in one position all day and night. And I’d been lying on that left side 95% of the time for over TWENTY FIVE YEARS! I was not about to give up after one night!

So I persevered. After a few more nights, I didn’t wake up to turn over, or only slightly so. I woke in the morning with no aches and pains. I started using more sleeping positions that the one or two previously. I slept better and longer. I started really looking forward to going to bed. Maybe it’s memories of sleepovers or camping, but it feels child-like and fun to sleep on the floor. Plus my cat thinks it’s awesome (my husband probably less so but I’m hoping to convert him). There is one surprising thing that I didn’t foresee: getting up in the morning is literally getting UP in the morning – from the floor one must fold one’s creaky old limbs and push yourself up to standing, unlike before when all I had to do was to swing my legs over the edge of the bed to the floor and be half way to standing already. Ah, the benefits of getting up and down from the floor!

My cosy room all made up for bedtime.
My cosy room all made up for bedtime.

Thinking of Airbnb’ing my new room – how much would you pay to sleep on the floor? 😉


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