By now, most of us have seen the viral video of a unicorn squatting to easily pass rainbow colored soft-serve ice cream using a platform to elevate its hooves. (If not, search “unicorn pooping” immediately.) The analogy being that when we squat instead of sit to eliminate, our waste slides out easily, without strain. Easy excretion is the last stage of a smooth moving digestive system.
Other factors influence our regularity, including the type and quality of food, fiber content, fluid intake, adequate chewing, slow swallowing, and the rate of passage of food through the stomach and intestines. When practiced together, these elements generally create colon consistency. However, our defecation posture can help or hinder our bowel movement. Difficulty squatting (or being unaware of the effects of squatting on elimination) limits the most efficient position for passing poo.
Squatting to defecate is the original elimination position. As humans lived in communities and built cities, sanitation issues arose and new means of sewage removal were invented, including the toilet and, eventually, plumbing. The chair-like toilet that we know became the status quo around 1596. As we shaped our toilets, our toilets shaped our excrement angles (though, there is a lot to be said for hygiene).
The sigmoid colon is the part of the large intestine closest to the rectum and anus. It stores the feces until there is enough to stimulate the desire to defecate. The rectum is the final section of the large intestine that terminates at the anus. It passes through the pelvic floor muscles, which play a crucial role in bowel continence.
The Levator Ani form the main part of the pelvic diaphragm and is made up of three muscles: Puborectalis, Pubococcygeus, and Iliococcygeus. The Puborectalis muscles originate from the lateral, posterior surface of the pubis and encircle the rectum, which causes a bend between the rectum and anal canal. It draws the rectum forward and up to aid in the retention of feces. Together, with the Pubococcygeus and Iliococcygeus, it helps to stabilize the abdominal and pelvic organs and controls the opening and closing of the levator hiatus, which regulates the relaxation and retention abilities of the rectum.
Defecation is a complex reflex arc. The passage of feces into the rectum distends the muscular tube and signals the nervous system. This brings about a conscious, voluntary decision to inhibit or permit evacuation. The parasympathetic system allows the sphincters to open and the smooth muscle wall of the rectum to contract. The transverse abdominis corsets the abdomen to increase intra abdominal pressure, the puborectalis relaxes, and the pelvic floor descends to aid in easy release.
Many people strain to go to the bathroom, thus increasing the sympathetic nervous system response, which reroutes regulatory signals from the defecation reflex and constricts the sphincters. That exertion may arise from multiple origins including poor dietary choices, low fluid intake, and stress. Eliminate one barrier to easy evacuation by squatting instead of sitting to use the toilet.
Biomechanically, squatting is achieved through simultaneous double hip flexion, knee flexion, and ankle dorsiflexion. Squatting while defecating partially slackens the puborectalis and straightens the anorectal angle. It’s important to remember that defecation in healthy individuals is a conscious, voluntary action coupled with nervous system control and digestive system contribution. The act of squatting doesn’t initiate defecation, but makes the process easier. Unless you’re going to install a squatting toilet, the simplest way to achieve this is by elevating your feet on a trash can in front of your chair-like throne.
The goal of squatting during defecation is to lessen the effort. However, many people have limited range of motion in the joints involved in squatting. To reduce the squat struggle, try these Yoga Tune Up® and Roll Model® exercises:
- Happy Baby Mini Vini Take your hip muscles through their full range of motion for easier access into squat.
- Knee Chew Soften the calf and hamstring muscles that can limit knee flexion. Place an original Yoga Tune Up® Therapy Ball behind the knee, and “chew” on it between the hamstrings and calf by squeezing the ball behind the knee.
- Sitting Seza with a Strap Lengthen the calf muscles and tendons that wrap to the underside of the foot to increase ankle mobility.
If you’re on the run and don’t have access to a foot platform, lift and hold your left leg with your arms. It’s not ideal, but it’s half of a squat and drawing left leg in will stimulate the descending colon.
Do your best not to ignore the defecation reflex. It teaches your body to constrict when you get the urge. Instead find a nearby facility, pop a squat, relax, and breathe. You’ll be as happy as a unicorn!