At the risk of becoming labelled a Quartz fanboy (which I am), a recent “obsession” note from Quartz on squatting has stuck with me. Here are my favorite pieces.
So, why does squatting matter?
According to osteopath and author Phillip Beach, the deep squat is one of a few “archetypal postures” that are not just good for us, but “deeply embedded into the way our bodies are built.” When you look at our evolutionary history, he’s not wrong—our ancient ancestors squatted for a very long time.
To be clear, we’re talking about a deep squat: feet flat, spine lengthened, and bum hovering above the floor. Those squats you do in CrossFit and Pilates aren’t the same thing. That partial, often weight-bearing squat is not one early hominids needed to perform. Walking a mile with wild game on their backs, and then resting in a deep squat by the fire? Sure. Doing repetitive partial squats while holding an antelope? Probs not.
In its natural form, the deep squat is a form of active rest. Hanging out in one briefly a few times a day helps provide the movement and compression that keeps our joints well lubricated with synovial fluid. Otherwise, the body basically doesn’t bother producing this fluid, and our joints dry up. In other words: Use it or lose it.
The deep squat is also about getting grounded. Experts including Beach say that “floor life”—which literally means getting close to the floor, much like you might do in your weekly yoga class—is a key to wellness. The practice creates a sense of physical embodiment that’s increasingly absent from our hyper-intellectualized, screen-dominated lives.
Why do we not squat?
While squatting becomes more uncomfortable as we do less of it,, the West’s aversion to the squat is cultural, too. While squatting or sitting cross legged in an office chair would be great for the hip joint, the modern worker’s wardrobe—not to mention formal office etiquette—generally makes this kind of posture unfeasible. The only time we might expect a Western leader or elected official to hover close to the ground is for a photo-op with cute kindergarteners. Indeed, the people we see squatting on the sidewalk in a city like New York or London tend to be the types of people we blow past in self-important rush.
“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.”
But for those of us who have largely abandoned squatting, Beach says, “you can’t really overdo this stuff.” Beyond this kind of movement improving our joint health and flexibility, Trivedi points out that a growing interest in yoga worldwide is perhaps in part a recognition that “being on the ground helps you physically be grounded in yourself”—something that’s largely missing from our screen-dominated, hyper-intellectualized lives.
Beach agrees that this is not a trend, but an evolutionary impulse. Modern wellness movements are starting to acknowledge that “floor life” is key. He argues that the physical act of grounding ourselves has been nothing short of instrumental to our species’ becoming.
In a sense, squatting is where humans—every single one of us—came from, so it behooves us to revisit it as often as we can.
I need to squat more.