In my early years as a doctor I had the great privilege of working with the indigenous peoples of the Palliar tribes in the lower Palani hills in South India. A simple hunter-gatherer tribe living in thatched bamboo huts deep in the jungle, these wonderful people lived in good health well into their old age aided by a great knowledge of herbs and foods from the forest and the extreme simplicity of their lifestyle. In the years that I lived and worked with them I never once saw a chair or even a stool in their dwellings. They either squatted on the ground or sat cross-legged on the floor. In the evenings as they gathered around a fire to tell stories, sing songs or chat I noted that even the elderly could sit in the squatting position for several hours at length without the slightest semblance of discomfort. I noted that this was an important factor contributing to their astonishing litheness, agility and prowess but it was some years later that I came to a deeper understanding of the many ways in which squatting benefits health. Below is a list.
- Mimics the fetal position. More than any other posture squatting mimics the fetal posture and is an ideal position of rest when one is comfortable in it.
- Stretches the spine. The entire spine is stretched in the squatting position except for the neck, which too can be stretched in this position by simply dropping the head between the knees.
- Opens the pelvis. The lumbosacral and sacro-iliac articulations are eased open while maintaining the tone of the pelvic floor. The squatting position therefore has great advantages in birthing as well.
- Increases intra-abdominal pressure. The abdomen gets a good squeeze in this position, which increases pressure within, aiding elimination.
- Increases pressure on the colon. The thighs come in contact with the abdomen along the flanks and apply pressure to the ascending colon and the descending colon on the right and left side respectively.
- Stretches the Achilles. The area on either side of the Achilles tendon carries important reflex points for the bowels and rectum. Squatting provides a great stretch to the Achilles.
- Stretches the peronei. The peronei are a group of muscles on the outer aspect of the lower legs adjoining the shin. These muscles also carry important reflexes to the bowels and digestive tract.
- Stretches the plantar fascia. The mid-section of the soles of the feet carry important reflexes to the digestive tract and this area gets a beneficial stretch in the squatting position.
- Stimulates reflex points on the chin. Cupping the chin in the hands while in the squatting position stimulates points on the chin that reflex to the bowels.
- Stimulates reflex points in the hands. In the same position the cupped hands also receive the pressure from the chin in the area that reflex to the bowels.
Begin your practice of squatting gently and with caution if you are unfamiliar with it. For those unable to do so it is best begun by leaning back against a wall for support. It is important that the heels rest firmly on the floor to prevent injury to the feet and ankles.
Chronic knee problems such as meniscus tears and arthritis, spine problems as well as ankle issues can be aggravated initially, so it is best to consult your doctor beforehand. In pregnancy, a history of miscarriage and cervical incompetence in particular can be a contraindication and professional opinion must be sought prior to commencing practice.