“Hey guys, I’ve got something well-scary to lay on you, ok? So, er... squat down.”
– Neil from The Young Ones, 1984.
Before coming to Vietnam, I’d never thought much about a form of repose favoured by roughly two-thirds of the planet. But squatting – sitting down on your haunches without the aid of a chair – is still common here, and it turns out it’s really good for you.
In Australia, where we come from, it’s rare you see someone squatting, unless you spend time with toddlers and very young children. These little people move easily from a standing position to a squat and back again in a single, fluid motion. By the time they are at kindergarten, though, the instinct – for that’s what it is, humans have been squatting for thousands of years – disappears, superseded by mini-plastic furniture and the constant reinforcement of chair-loving sit-downerers (aka grown-ups).
The health benefits of squatting, though, particularly when it comes to defecating, are extremely well-documented. A cursory google search will produce any number of studies showing how the squatting position aids elimination, protects organs, and prevents incontinence and haemorrhoids.
In Vietnam we’ve found most toilets are Western-style sit-down-jobs. Indeed, in Asian countries in general, squat toilets are stealthily being replaced by the same. Why? The simple answer, it seems, is status.
Before the mid-nineteenth century, sit-down toilets were exclusively used by people with disabilities and royalty. Then modern plumbing came along and, without a thought to the actual pros and cons to human physiology, created a backyard throne for all. Modern technology! Progress!
"Doing lots of squats gives people a juicy booty."
That said, I’m not a squat-toilet convert just yet – old habits die hard. There are moves to redress and retrofit this backward step in human evolution (for example, see this extraordinary commercial for the SquattyPotty) but its unlikely we’ll see the death of upright flush toilets any time soon.
But squatting isn’t number one just for number twos. “When squatting the core is activated which helps to support the lower back,” says Dan Frankel, shiatsu and oriental therapies practitioner with Melbourne Shiatsu and Ofuro. “It helps maintain hip mobility and teaches good balance. If the squats are unweighted then I see no reason why they would be bad for us.”
Furthermore, Frankel says squatting helps us to be more “grounded” by keeping our energy centre (hara) closer to the earth. “It is also a great stretch for our liver channel which controls smooth flow of qi and blood. Go squats! Also, doing lots of squats gives people a juicy booty."
Maybe it's time we started reconnecting with the squat and incorporating it into our everyday routine. At the very least, it's worth some more scrutiny. Right guys?
For more reading, squat down and click these links:
An ode to squatting? Hear it here.