Why We Think Sitting is Better Than Squatting (and Why We Might Be Wrong)

Sitting is something we all do. You’re probably sitting right now. But squatting isn’t something we do very often.

If you’ve ever been in China before, you’ve probably noticed that Chinese people still like to adopt the squatting posture as a way to rest (and in order to do other things, but we’ll get to that later). Whether young or old, male or female, rich or poor…everyone here does it.


Photo courtesy of Flickr.com/TLimPhotography

Our Western mindset looks at this posture and thinks it’s kind of unnatural and maybe even a little uncivilized. But when it comes to resting, squatting might actually be the healthiest, most natural posture for our bodies.

When we think about squatting, our mind drifts to Chinese peasants working in the rice fields or to street workers in India. We unconsciously assume squatting is a posture reserved for people in Third World countries. Why have we so blatantly disregarded squatting as a legitimate, daily posture?

Galen Cranz, in The Chair: Rethinking the Culture, Body, and Design, dates our Western attitude against squatting back to the 19th century when Britain still ruled India. Cranz recounts the frustration experienced by one English colonist, who was especially irritated by local workers that squatted while working. He found the posture vastly inferior because it suggested “indolence and inefficiency.”

For this particular Englishman (and for much of Western society at that time), squatting was seen as a primitive posture, whereas sitting on a chair or raised seat was seen as a “natural step to a higher civilization.”

Sitting is now so engrained into our culture that we don’t even think about it anymore. If we’re not moving, we’re probably sitting.

One of the reasons why we like sitting down is because chairs (and all other things you can sit on, like benches and couches) are highly convenient. When in a sitting position, your legs and feet don’t have to carry your body’s full weight. We find it more relaxing because we use less muscles to sit than we would if we were squatting (or standing, for us Westerners).

However, in recent years, research has discovered that extensive periods of sitting can actually be quite unhealthy for our bodies. Some suggest we need to limit the amount of hours we spend sitting, while others have gone as far as suggesting that sitting is as harmful to our health as smoking.

Have you ever been on a flight that lasted more than 4-5 hours? There’s a reason why it’s recommend that you get up and stretch regularly! Sitting on a chair for prolonged hours can lead to reduced mobility, weakened blood circulation and poor body posture. I don’t know about you, but my back often feels pretty sore after sitting for an extensive period of time.

So what’s the big deal about squatting? How can it be better than sitting?

First, there are some major health benefits to squatting, including things like increased ankle mobility, back pain relief, hip strengthening, and posture correction. When performed regularly, doing full squats on a regular basis may even decrease the risk of arthritis. I see so many Chinese men and women in their 60’s and 70’s that have the mobility that you would rarely see in a Western person of similar age.

Second, squatting is a much more natural posture when it comes to using the toilet. Yes, I said it. Contrary to what Western minds may think (that squat toilets are dirty and unhealthy), squat toilets actually promote a much healthier stance when it comes to doing your business. Of course, you might not think this is the case the first time you use one – I know I certainly didn’t!

In the end, it doesn’t really matter whether you prefer to sit or squat. I’m not ashamed to say that I do both. But I think it’s worth opening our minds to the possibility that these global neighbors of ours who adopt “primitive” postures just might in fact be doing what is best for their bodies. That maybe they’ve got something that we don’t.

I know one thing’s for sure. Chinese people sure love to squat! Maybe there’s something we can learn from them.

How many hours a day do you spend sitting in a chair? What do you think of your posture? Do you prefer Western toilets or squat toilets? Have any fun squat toilet stories to share? Try to keep them “clean” if you can!

12 thoughts on “Why We Think Sitting is Better Than Squatting (and Why We Might Be Wrong)

  1. Few years ago I started to practice squatting. In the beginning it was a real pain but by now I can squat pretty good already, of course far away from what I see everyday in china but well enough for a lazy European. After I got more used to it my back pain troubles got less and less and by now are nearly completly gone, so yes, I believe it is very healthy to squat instead of sitting in a chair

    • That’s good to hear that your back improved! Did you do anything else to help reduce the pain? Have you ever tried acupuncture? Chinese people here recommend it all the time. We’re not super eager to try it! My wife also suffers from the occasional back pain and she finds back exercises most helpful in alleviating pain.

      • I had last winter acupuncture for the the first time and after just two sessions my long lived shoulder pain was gone (the pain was one of the reasons to stop swimming) and my headache also vanished which I had for better part of a year. Now it’s been over 7month since that treatment and the problems did not return thus far.
        I was really amazed how well it worked for me, however the doctor also said that not everyone response to the treatment as well as I 🙂

      • Nice! I don’t think I’ve ever heard a testimony like yours before. It’s encouraging to hear that something good can actually come from acupuncture!

        The only thing that I’ve ever done about back problems is go see a chiropractor…and I don’t think those even exist in China. At least not in my city, since it’s so small.

  2. It seems reasonable that squatting is better posture wise and also for the toilet business. But, as I’m not used to it, it’s so tiring!

    I think the main problem about squatting toilets, at least in China, is that they are filthy, in like “I’ve been here for 20 years and I don’t know what soap is” kind of filthy. Western toilets are not that common as public toilets (but the existent few are also disgusting!).

    • Haha, you’re not wrong about Chinese toilets. Their standards of cleanliness aren’t quite the same as ours in the West. That being said, you don’t need to avoid ALL public restrooms. You just need to scout around and find places (e.g. restaurants, nice shopping malls) that have decently clean bathrooms. With a little searching, they CAN be found!

  3. When I traveled in India I preferred hotel rooms with Indian toilets when it was available. The first couple of times that I tried it, it was a bit weird and uncomfortable, but it’s much better when you get used to it.

  4. Ha, ha…love this. I hated squatting at the beginning ~ and like many of us brought up in the West it just looked a little strange as well. After walking all day, or even just getting a break ~ squatting instead of sitting is great, I agree on the health benefits.

    • I remember seeing children squatting on the sidewalk for the first time. I was a little amused, startled, and confused all at the same time! I still find it curious how many parents encourage their children to just drop their pants in public. I guess when you gotta go, you gotta go…

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