The invention of the chair was really a total game changer in regards to how our bodies function and which parts of the body we are using on a regular basis. The chair took all of that pressure off of our rears and backs, and relieved some of our weight for us. Of course, we always had the option to sit on the ground or perhaps in a tree, but the chair became such a fundamental piece of furniture in our lives that it absolutely changed how our bodies function.
By now, most of us are aware of just how detrimental it can be to our bodies to sit for a prolonged period of time, in fact, some researchers are even going as far as to say that sitting is the new smoking in terms of the potential damage it can cause to our bodies. With so many of us, myself included, working desk jobs on computers this really is important information to be aware of. Sitting is wreaking havoc on our bodies. Luckily, as the awareness grows towards this important health issue, we are seeing many new designs for standing desks, or things like core chairs that are aimed to utilize the muscles in our body and effectively relieve the issues that too much sitting can cause. But is there a much simpler option that humans have forgotten?
How The Forgotten Art Of Squatting Can Help You
Squatting is essentially a position of the body that humans have used for thousands of years, and in many cultures is still being used today. If you practice yoga, you might know this position as a Malasana, which is essentially a deep squat. A yoga instructor once said that a guru told them that “the problem with the west is that they don’t squat.” This is so true, if you aren’t someone who practices yoga or – does squats during a workout, when are you really going to squat? If we feel like taking a rest, we’re definitely choosing the chair or the big comfy couch before squatting down. We eat in chairs, sit in our cars and on the train, sit on the toilet – essentially, we are often only not sitting when we are walking from one chair to the next. In fact, many of us probably couldn’t even squat down to the ground if we tried, not without some serious stretching first at least.
Our lack of squatting has bio-mechanical and physiological implications, but perhaps it is inhibiting us from the grounding force that this posture provides as well. The lack of squatting is actually only really an issue for the westernized civilizations as there are many cultures around the world that are squatting down any chance they get, to eat, to pray, to use the toilet – yes, squatting toilets are the norm in Asia, and actually make way more sense. Squatting, in more undeveloped nations is also the most common way for women to give birth, and again when you really think about it, it also makes much more sense than lying on your back in a hospital bed.
In these “less advanced” cultures, the rich and middle class are not squatting either, as it is generally seen as something that the poor do as it is uncomfortable and actually causes the body to work. Have you ever heard the expression, “If you don’t use it, you lose it”? Well, this can be said in regards to squatting because if you were to give it a try now, you may find it very difficult, especially for a prolonged period of time. But, our bodies are amazing organisms and they can always transform.
According to author and osteopath, Philip Beach, “The game started with squatting,” Beach is known for pioneering the idea of “archetypal postures.” These positions—which, in addition to a deep passive squat with the feet flat on the floor, include sitting cross-legged and kneeling on one’s knees and heels—are not just good for us, but according to beach they are “deeply embedded into the way our bodies are built.”
“You really don’t understand human bodies until you realize how important these postures are,” Beach, who is based in Wellington, New Zealand, tells me. “Here in New Zealand, it’s cold and wet and muddy. Without modern trousers, I wouldn’t want to put my backside in the cold wet mud, so [in absence of a chair] I would spend a lot of time squatting. The same thing with going to the toilet. The whole way your physiology is built is around these postures.”
Why Is Squatting Good For Us?
According to Dr. Bahram Jam, founder of Advanced Physical Therapy Education Institute in Ontario, Canada, “Every joint in our body has synovial fluid in it. This is the oil in our body that provides nutrition to the cartilage,” Jam says. “Two things are required to produce that fluid: movement and compression. So if a joint doesn’t go through its full range—if the hips and knees never go past 90 degrees—the body says ‘I’m not being used’ and starts to degenerate and stops the production of synovial fluid.”
A healthy musculoskeletal system is much more important for our health than just helping us to feel limber, strong and flexible, a study published in 2014 from the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology found that those participants who had a difficult time getting up off the floor without support of hands, elbows or leg remarkably resulted in having a three-year-year shorter life expectancy than those who got up with ease.
So, Why Did We Stop Squatting?
It seems that in the West, we stopped squatting around the same time as the modern seated toilet came into our existence. It might not seem like this alone would be a cause for such a drastic change to our physiology, but as Jam says, “The reason squatting is so uncomfortable because we don’t do it,” Jam says. “But if you go to the restroom once or twice a day for a bowel movement and five times a day for bladder function, that’s five or six times a day you’ve squatted.”
As we sit in our office chairs, staring at our computers in our office attire, for men slacks and dress shirts and often for women pencil skirts and dresses – can you even imagine trying to squat or sit cross-legged? Both of which would be much better for our health than sitting in chairs. It’s interesting how we seem to think we’ve come so far, and that we are much more civilised and advanced, but really we aren’t doing ourselves any favors with this arrogant attitude.
“It’s considered primitive and of low social status to squat somewhere,” says Jam. “When we think of squatting we think of a peasant in India, or an African village tribesman, or an unhygienic city floor. We think we’ve evolved past that—but really we’ve devolved away from it.”
Time To Start Squatting?
If you can, practice squatting down a few times a day. If you can’t, start by stretching your body and getting down as low as you can, if you are very rigid, it may take time, but doing some light stretching or yoga daily can assist you with this process. It is very good for our health! Especially if you are sitting on a chair all day at your place of employment, you might want to consider setting a reminder on your phone to remind you to get up and squat down at least a few times a day.
All the best!