Most people in the exercise world seem to agree that the squat is a very natural or fundamental human movement. Babies and toddlers learn to do it perfectly without instruction.Hunter gatherers squat like champs.
Unfortunately, westerners tend to lose their ability to sit comfortably in a full squat by the time they are adolescents. But people in cultures that sit on the floor retain their squatting ability well into old age. If you travel to certain third world countries like Vietnam, you will notice that people even in their eighties enjoy incredible mobility in a deep squat position. It’s a nice demonstration of the way the human body was designed to work.
I think that the squat is such a huge part of our evolutionary heritage that it is hard for our bodies to function optimally without it. Squatting provides uniquely beneficial education to the brain about how to organize the foot, ankle, knee and hip, torso, etc. I would guess that a toddler who never learned to squat properly would never learn to walk.Squatting also provides a huge amount of signaling to connective tissues, bones and muscles, telling them how strong/elastic, long/short, tense/relaxed, hard/soft they need to be.
Many exercises, such as rowing, can be very beneficial, but they are not essential - they are easily replaced by biking, running, swimming, etc. But movements like walking and squatting are so fundamentally human that they are probably necessary for optimal health. In other words, there is no replacing them.
Fortunately, most of us went through a good squatting education when we were young, and developed the skills and physical structure that comes with that. However, years of neglect will erode the skills we used to have, causing us to forget how to use the feet, ankles, knees and hips in an integrated fashion - as they were designed to be used. Years of neglect will also slowly deform the structure of the lower body, shortening tissues that should be long, softening bones that should be hard, stiffening tendons that should be loose, weakening ligaments that should be strong, etc. As always, the rule with movement is use it or lose it.
With that in mind, I have included a link below to a twenty five minute lesson, based on the Feldenkrais Method, designed to improve your ability to sit in a squat. Most of the lesson takes place in the "four points" position, with the feet and hands on the ground, as displayed in the picture above (actually he's on three points). Although adult humans don’t spend much time in this exact position, it remains very educational to revisit it. We did quite a bit of work here when we were toddlers, because the hands are an integral part of transitioning from sitting to standing. Thus, the natural plan for learning the squat involves significant use of the hands.
One final note. Feldenkrais said that the purpose of his method was to make the impossible possible, the hard easy and the easy elegant. Most Feldenkrais lessons involve making easy movements elegant, but this lesson for many people will be more about making a hard movement easy. So be prepared for some work, and be prepared to rest when necessary!
For part two of this lesson, click here: