Reflecting upon the rocking chair


Who on the earth would not be fascinated by rocking chairs? More than curious enough indeed for children and equally fancied by us grownups because of the certain relaxation afforded along the casual movement of them, rocking chairs epitomise comfort in their gentle to and fro motion. A very iconic piece of furniture, even when it might not be one commonly encountered in every household, at least not so often in the drawing room but tucked rather in a nook embalming itself in its very cosiness, upping further the soothing ante entailing from this now dead piece of wood that however manifests itself in all life both in its rhythm as well as in the immense measure of comfort it induces upon the lives mounted on them.

Despite all such steeping in significance, the rocking chair isn’t the earliest and certainly not the only such furniture that makes use of the ‘cathartic’ motion to find its place as an entity driving humans to comfort. Perhaps predated by the prehistoric rocking cradles in its design or the more modern Rocking Horses that originated in the Middle Ages, rocking chairs came into being only sometime in the 18th century. Commonly attributed to Benjamin Franklin as its inventor, the rocking chair though is believed to have existed since some years earlier, invented perhaps by farmers or early cabinetmakers originally for outdoor use. Specifically, those ordinary chairs with attached rockers were meant to be used in gardens even when the purpose that rocking chairs were first intended to serve had been more defined and quite unique at that as well. When they first came to be this rather novel encompassment of an idea not particularly ingenious, sometime during the 1700s, rocking chairs were often designed for two people to suit indeed the use of them. Intended to cater to the many nuanced demands that parenting entailed was what perhaps let the rocking chair to gather momentum, as it indeed is the gentle essence of its inbuilt rhythm that could coax fussy babies into sleep and even lead aged humans to a lull. It however had been in effectively mimicking the universal motion that parents undertook while putting their child to sleep by means of rocking that endowed upon the rocking chair an identity and lineage that would come to characterise its essence and assert its prominence in times to come.

baby in rocking chair
Source: iStock

The first ever of such rocking chairs was designed by tying two ice skates to the bottom of a chair. Although this was a development taking place in the very first decade of the 18th century, in 1710 to be precise, the term rocking chair itself did not make known itself in etymology till more than half a century later. It wasn’t until 1766 that the namesake identity was recorded while more popular sources defer its citing by a further two decades when the Oxford English Dictionary included it in its 1787 edition. This another American invention of a classic found had found expression also in England by 1725, as wicker rocking chairs or wicker rockers reached the zenith of popularity by the mid 18th century. Standout in their display of craftsmanship and manufactured popularly in Windsor by New England artisans, these Windsor rocker chairs took over the world with their ergonomics. Characterised by a hood-shaped back with birdcage-like spindles, this model became even more coveted after the Industrial Revolution of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. So much so that they even spurred the development of another model, the Boston rocker that encompassed as widespread popularity from the 1830s to the 1890s. As the first machine made, mass produced model of the rocking chair, the Boston version once again reiterated the American connection that this item of convenience originally emerged from even when it indeed is another episode in history that made this manifestation more embedded in the American psyche.

Much like one of the Founding Fathers of the United States Benjamin Franklin to whom the invention of the rocking chair is attributed, it also had been another diplomat of the country to whom accrues the distinction of popularising this seating of ultimate comfort. That is a legacy stemming from the 35th president of the nation, John F. Kennedy who had been instrumental in making the rocking chair a mandatory piece of furniture resting in each of the rooms of the White House, not though in his merely fancying the ‘feel’ of the convenient enough item of furniture. It rather had been on account of a condition pertaining to his health that made Kennedy a populariser of sorts of the rocking chair. Prescribed the use of that specific piece of furniture to seek relief from his chronic back problems, Kennedy ended up taking so much of a fancy to his customised rocker that he took it across his travels around the country and the world. Not just that, the quiet a rocker President also gave away many variants of the chair as gifts, in both his personal and diplomatic capacity, asserting himself as one of the most ardent ‘believers’ in the therapeutic essence of comfort that rocking chairs essentially are.

Exploring the world of rocking chairs is essentially a scouring out of comfort along the rigidity of what classifies as a piece of furniture. But in the embalming motion in which it comes to rest in all literary ironies but therapeutic profoundness, this specific mode of affording the rocking benefit is also a case in convenience. The very premise upon which the design of the rocking chair was conceived makes it essentially steeped in the intricate most explorations of the ergonomics. Relaxing undoubtedly in their offering of the to and fro motion that makes for a vision somewhat leisurely and pursued indeed therefore for such daily activities that need a specific something to improvise upon their mundane necessity, think reading a newspaper or knitting a sweater, in such settings that suit your mood, whether it be along the luxurious expanse of your porch or the comforting spot by the fireplace, basking exactly in that specific shade of what appeases your soul, rocking chairs go beyond being just another piece of furniture, somewhat looked down upon in their lifeless existence. That though is an attribute that extends as well to the more nuanced abilities of the rocker in therapy and in medical science. And to such measures that can leave one astounded indeed at the sheer level of the reach they comfortably manage to span, both in their tangible and intangible essence.

The reason why rocking as an activity is performing in the nature of therapy is because it evokes a response from the human brain due to the evolutionary continuation of life. That is indeed why rocking works so effectively in calming down babies or even as an exercise to quieten the mind in times of stress. Not surprisingly therefore, rocking chairs are a great place to begin your quest for that elusive sleep that abandons you altogether in the name of insomnia. As a centuries old technique of putting children to sleep that has persisted well into the modern times, the effectiveness of rocking in its functioning as a sedative almost has been long established. Modern medical researches only exemplifies this point, which however is easily drawable already from the many a time we ourselves have personally experienced the drooping of the eyes in response to a comfortable securing of our place on the inviting seat of the rocking chair.

And while rocking might be an exemplary some driver of sleep, it indeed is exercise as well- a mild form of exercise but exercise nonetheless. And in the true sense of the term as well as this undertaking for and of comfort helps such pursuits that are exclusively physical, even while attending well to many a mental needs. As dubitable as we might sound when we proclaim that merely resting on a rocking chair can burn calories, we surely are not bluffing. This form of mild exercise, that which effectively classifies as a non exercise activity almost, helps in the process of calorie burn by a heat producing process called thermogenesis. Because a rocking chair keeps your body in continuous motion even without you needing to exert any effort yourself, this mode of sitting, even at the utmost experience of leisure leads one on the path of what is one of the most desired of physical goals. Translating also in such aspects of weight management and strengthened muscles or a toned body is the rocking reality that thereby boosts energy as well. And much like Mr. Kennedy helped popularise the notion of it, rocking chairs also are a vital aid to relieving back and neck pain through such workings as enhanced blood circulation and reduced inflammation. Improving body balance, relieving other forms of body pain such as those caused by arthritis or even aiding in post surgery recovery are some of the impeccable benefits attributable to this deceitfully luxurious mode of living.

As concerns the mental aspect of the human, rocking as an activity is no less beneficial. Providing indeed of emotional comfort is the relaxed seating upon one of these beauties that calms down the mind in the same manner as it eases the body. Another interlinked physical and mental benefit that rocking entitles one to is the easing of stress and anxiety through alleviation of symptoms of insomnia. Additionally, the rocking movement also triggers the release of happy endorphins in the brain that further helps with chasing away the mind blues. Ensuring therefore of emotional well being, mental contentment, physical comfort, leisurely bliss and a sitting in peace dawning indeed from the millennia old recognition of its impeccable power in calming and pacifying babies and the elderly and everyone in between harbouring of some semblance of life, this non living entity of a mere furnituristic kind is more potent in its living essence than perhaps anyone of us.