Imagine eating your breakfast, lunch, or dinner whilst squatting. Imagine cooking your meals whilst squatting. Imagine instead of sitting on the toilet, you did your business whilst squatting.
This seems so far removed from how we go about life now (apart from maybe when a public loo is looking really grim) but our ancestors squatted routinely and without thought, for rest time as well as work, and this is actually because our marvellous bodies were built for it.
If you consider a toddler, they have no innate compulsion to sit (though sometimes we may wish they would for 5 minutes together!). They constantly want to move. I also notice when my two-year-old does focus in on a floor-based task such as a puzzle, or her current favourite of filling a little backpack with tiny toys for an adventure into the garden, she does it whilst squatting. All with a deep bend at the hip and at the knee and looking very comfortable with it!
As we get older – and particularly in the West compared to the rest of the world - we take this action less and less, and even though it is a natural human movement, it is no longer a part of our essential daily tasks. This can have a detrimental impact on many things physiological and biomechanical, including how we age.
Our joints require synovial fluid to function at their best and support the connective tissue. For most, this fluid decreases significantly as we get older, often leading to degeneration and a reduction in our range of movement. What we need to do to produce and maintain that synovial fluid, keeping those joints nice and juicy, is both compression and movement. Therefore squatting has a key role to play in helping us do this, and ideally we get that hip flexion beyond 90 degrees on a regular basis.
Haven’t we got enough else to worry about, I hear you cry?? I agree it’s hard. Particularly when much of modern life requires us to sit rather than squat, whether at a desk or in a car. We are also surrounded by comfy chairs, sofas and of course the (bog 😉) standard sit-down toilet – one of the major historical developments responsible for our lack of squatting in the Western World. It wasn’t until the later half of 19th century, with development of a sewer system in London, that fully flushable seated toilets appeared commonly in people’s homes. This saw people no longer required to squat on a regular basis for a bowel movement or bladder function.
But when we sit rather than squat – particularly on a padded surface like a sofa or chair - our core, both front and back, is doing very little. We also likely to slouch. We hear a lot about sedentary lifestyles being a problem as research suggests our increased in time sitting is responsible for back pain (often due to weakened core muscles), constrained blood flow, varicose veins, digestive problems, and even breathing issues due to posture. And this is just a brief snapshot.
So it seems a grim picture, but even without installing yourself a new squat based toilet at home, all is not lost. We can still reinstitute the squat back into our day to day life.
I always say, if in doubt, just squat. It will never be time wasted! Walk into a room and need to remember what you came in for? Squat. Waiting for the kettle to boil? Squat. Set an alarm on your phone a few times a day, and squat.
Step the feet at least hip width apart, put the weight in the heels, and sit down into that invisible chair. Remember to sit the hips down and send them right back, and whether if you want your toes turned out a little or not at all (everyone is different!), just try and ensure your knees track in line with your big toes.
The more we do it, like anything, the more comfortable that squat becomes. And if it’s totally new to you, no need to start by going too deep! Work your way up to it (or down to it, more appropriately).
I don’t think I’ve ever led a class without one, as the squat is such a fundamental move to our very nature. Perhaps a helpful thought to hang on to when you begin to hold one for 30 seconds or more!
So now, in order to put my money where my mouth is, I am now going to see if I can – while squatting - edit, spell check and upload this blog. Reports on how that goes at a later date… 😳