With my recent blog themes on toilets, crevices, lube and waste, it’s only appropriate I share Life Lessons from a squat toilet in China. As many perspective-expanding experiences go, they often take a while for us to absorb, digest and learn from (just like poop, go figure). They also might begin with an embarrassingly naïve state-of-mind. Mine began on a squat toilet in a public restroom alongside the Great Wall of China in 2008.Prior to the 2008 Olympic Games hosted by China, our USA Women’s Water Polo National Team traveled out to Beijing for a test event. This provided the opportunity for us to test the waters – literally – in the venue where we’ll be competing for the highest athletic achievement possible in our sport…going for Gold! Along with our daily training and a mini-tournament against various visiting countries, we had a chance to see the sights. This is extra exciting for us water polo players, as we won’t have any time for these shenanigans come Olympic time. As you might have seen in this summer’s 2016 Games, the water polo competition spans the entire length of the Games – all two weeks – so there’s no extra time for kid n’ play…unless your pre-game song is, in fact, by Kid n’ Play. Anyhoo….
Where did our Chinese adventures take us? Our Team USA entourage trekked out to the seemingly endless Great Wall for a historic lesson on this massive country’s past. Funny enough, my lesson ended up being about toilets.
So here I am at the Great Wall…I traipse leisurely into the public restroom alongside the tourist setup of t-shirts and I climbed the Great Wall of China memorabilia. I step into the individual stall and to my surprise I discover a tiled floor with nothing but a hole in the ground. More specifically, a tiled basin with a hole leading into the unknown. No place to sit. No flushing handle. Just a place to squat over. I look at the hole and say to myself, “Well, when in Rome. Or China”, and I take care of business.
Question…Why do some people use squat toilets when they pee and poo? Why do others sit on a toilet seat, like they’re sitting in a chair? Is one “healthier”?
I admit, I ignorantly associated the porcelain throne with that of a higher class. I figured squat toilets must be something folk use and do (doo doo, haha) within underdeveloped regions because they just can’t afford a lovely clean fixture to sit on. Fancy people sit. They don’t squat. Oh naïve Himay (that’s my Spanish name, mi amigo). Little did I know…
Fast Forward to 2014. I am on a search party for answers to “why does my body hurt even though I teach yoga and pilates and I’m a really active gal?” I’ve been a professional athlete and I’m a full time fitness instructor…shouldn’t I know how to take care of my body? I mean, sure, I’m tired, crave coffee, get sick a few times a year, feel bloated and cramped after eating meals, have a little acne, don’t wake up energized, have achy joints…but that’s normal right? Apparently something was missing, just like my perspective about toilets.
I found answers when I began exploring the world of biomechanics and natural human movement*. Holy hip mobility! Through my readings and personal research, I learned that squatting when using the restroom is actually better for your body! (No, squatting does not solve all those symptoms I mentioned in the paragraph above – much of that was relevant to my nutrition and hormonal imbalances. Yet your body’s systems are intricately connected, right? So small adjustments in one area will influence another.)
This squatting jazz is not only healthier for your bones, connective tissues, muscles and cardiovascular system, but for your digestive system. Eureka! We’re talking full body health, amigos. Squatting is literally a fundamental and necessary movement for the human body, including when having a bowel movement. I love movements – both kinds!
As with constipation, be patient…In this case, I refer to being patient when making lifestyle changes. But yes, you also need to be really patient when constipated. Adding flaxseed to your meals can help get things moving again. Okay, off topic. Back to being patient when making lifestyle changes: IT’S NOT JUST THE SQUAT. IT’S HOW YOU SQUAT. I can’t stress this enough. That’s why the statement is in bold and capitals. Very serious business. Read on for a link to relearn HOW to squat efficiently and safely.I didn’t realize the simple act of using a squat toilet in China would become such a symbolic experience for me (yet for a gal who giggles at any potty humor, it’s quite appropriate, don’t you think?).
Life lessons appear in the most unsuspecting places, if you’re willing to look. I realized it’s okay to question the norm. Be curious. Ask why. Learn for yourself. Dig a little deeper to find the answers. Be accountable for your own health. And just because “this is the way we’ve been doing things for years”, doesn’t mean it’s the best thing for you.While this blog is clearly about toilets, do you see how this can also relate to the act of sitting in chairs? We are instructed, as a modern culture, to sit properly with good posture (a term completely dependent on one’s societal norms) in our chair while eating dinner, at school and so on. In many industrialized countries, sitting in a chair (versus sitting on the floor) is the “proper” thing to do. I find this fascinating. While the act of sitting on toilets and chairs is conventional and “normal”, is it actually the best thing for your body? (I’m using quotes around these unquantifiable words, as just like good posture, normal and proper is an opinion or belief. My hope is that our definition of “proper” and “normal” will shift as our perspective on health does).In the years since my Olympic expedition, I’ve enjoyed many a squatting experiences around the world (some more sanitary than others). I guess you could say the more toilets I’ve used, the more my perspective has expanded!
People love traveling for different reasons – meeting new people, escaping daily life, releasing stress, culture, art, culinary adventures, finding squat toilets, the list goes on. For me, one benefit of traveling I appreciate is it gives me perspective. I let go of the urge to judge others and open myself up to other views and ways of life. Going into a situation with an open mind instead of preconceived notions helps me embrace the entire experience and have the space to learn from it. Has traveling presented any life lessons for you?
I am now in the middle of my 2-year course to become a Restorative Exercise Specialist, a certification created by Biomechanist Katy Bowman and her educational platform, Nutritious Movement. I began this journey as a means to answer my own questions and body pains. Yet I soon discovered how beneficial it can be to every client I work with (or friend I write to – you!). So here I am, learning and sharing how to bring movement that’s fundamental for a thriving human body back into your daily life.
Excited to (re)discover what you’re capable of?
Here are a few ways to get moving (and if you’re lucky, even pooping, ha!):
Learn how to prep for and practice an awesome squat, by Katy Bowman.
Contact me for a private or group Lifestyle Consultation or Sessions. I can help you squat, among other all-encompassing skills: firstname.lastname@example.org
* What do I mean by Natural human movement? I mean, how a human would move outside of the modern world and in a natural environment, where we evolved. Think: living in the wilderness, foraging for your food and water, walking everywhere, making your own shelter, etc. I think it’s important to mention this, as we all might have different definitions when speaking about this topic.
Featured image: en.wikipedia.org