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!
I love the video that is shared using half happy baby and working with the range of motion while on the back, allowing for easier access in the squat. Thank you for bringing attention to the ways squatting can assist in “going to the bathroom”. I think we could all use more squatting in our lives.
Thanks so much for the in depth clarifications. I’ve see squatty potties but I didn’t really see how much it can all help.
Thanks for emphasizing the importants of the squat position while going number 2! I didnt know that the parasympathetic nervous system is what controlls the release and that straining can stimulate the sympathetic nervous system, making things worse. I’m glad I know now!
Although I have not read the other three parts, this article was a sound reminder that Yoga Tune Up poses effect the body inside and out.
Thanks for this Jessie! Your multi-part blog post on this information is really helpful in my understanding of the muscles involved in digestion. I’m going to study more on the pelvic floor’s role and try out this squat…
2 words – Squatty Potty.
Good to know stuff … reminding us once again to eat healthy with unprocessed foods and go to the bathroom like our predecessors!
To often this topic is not discussed. Great article and way to tie it into YTU!
The value of squats can never be overstated. Thanks for keepin’ it real and and bringing a valuable every day example so many can relate to!
Such a detailed post, which I will refer back to as I try and explain to people why I have converted my conventional toilet into a squatting toilet. So interesting to track how our man-made environment has changed our bodies and bodily movements! Thanks Jessie!
This article was an education for me, some great insight and tips, thanks.
Very interesting read. Simple and straight forward tip of elevating your feet on a trash can in front of your chair-like throne to create a squat like position.
I loved this article! I’m also fascinated how we strain to do the natural thing thus inhibiting our natural processes. I read in a book about the pelvic floor that a better position for elimination is to have the toes on the floor to help actively flex the knee and the torso upright. So a neutral-ish spine might help the process as well?
That was super fascinating! You don’t really think about the mechanics of going to the bathroom. I think we sometimes forget the fact that everyone goes number two hahaha! We get embarrassed and even frustrated regarding the process of it as well. Thank you for your YTU and therapy ball tips that will help create a better squat. Whether that happens on the “throne” or at the gym!
Elimination sounds like such a natural process but yet we have complicated it with our lack of understanding of our bodies. I’m so grateful for this path I’ve found that is educating me.
What a fulsome article. while I’ve been a proponent of squatting for some time, the reminder of the sympathetic nervous system involvement or rather hindrance in this case is also essential, along with diet and hydration of course.
Absolutely love this blog series. So informative for many and reinforces what we as Health professionals tell our clients.
Jessie, thank you for the great information. It confirms what I have known for sometime but reminded me that squatting helps with elimination. It is so important that people are aware of this issue of proper digestion.
Not really a dinner table conversation – but nevertheless, an important one! I love your explanation of the most natural position to defecate. There are so many reasons why we should be squatting often, easier elimination being just one of them. Squatting also gets easier the more often we do it.
Another “side effect” of our sedentary society. Traveling in foreign countries is a good way to experience the squatty potties that many many cultures use. More reason to keep doing our squats in yoga and keeping all our joints mobile and stable.
Another good reason to practice squats! Thank you Jessie for this honest and informed look at the many complex factors in a healthy bowel movement.
I was lucky enough to sublet a room in an apartment leased by “Squatty Potty” enthusiasts. I was amazed at how well that little plastic stool helped with, well, stools. I’m fairly limber in the hips and pelvis, but I can definitely see how so many people would find the squat position challenging. I can vouch that the Squatty Potty does the job, but of course, these roll out tips will come in handy for when that “As Seen On TV” helped is out of reach.
Wow ! What a great explation and details about the mechanism of defecation and the role of posture when the fece transit… outside ! I will try one or all your suggestions about squating! Thank you for all the very good informations !
I find this post to be very funny, specifically because it relates to me. Recently I went on a hiking trip to Mt. Kilimanjaro. There was no luxury of western toilets, and one had to use their natural squatting skills to perform a basic bodily function. Western culture doesn’t promote healthy range of motion from the hip joint, as I am living proof. Squatting involves so much, use of adductor muscles of inner thighs and activation of the glut medius and rectus femoris. In yoga class, I have tendency to dump down in my squat. I’m wondering if I need to also activate some of my extensors simultaneously, particularly the biceps femoris, by lifting my seat about an inch. I also need to lift my heels and place them on a rolled up yoga mat. For me, there’s no denying the involvement of the ankle and feet affecting the depth of my squat. I’m playing around with using therapy balls on my tibialis anterior, extensor digitorum longus, and extensor hallucis longus to relieve any tension. I hope this may help with getting a bit lower in my squat.
A lot of people in western countries haven’t sat in a squat since they were children. It can feel very strange and challenging. Thank you for sharing these exercises to help limber-up for a squat.
Great information. As a follower of Katy bowman, I’m currently sitting cross-legged on a zabuton cushion, typing on a laptop raised to eye level. I don’t know if you’re familiar with her work, but she promotes restoring a full range of natural human movement and considering movement as it comprises every moment and interstice of our lives, not just the time we carve out for exercise. Installing a “squatty potty” is one of her many suggestions to upgrade your environment to increase the variety of movement you consume on a daily basis. What I loved about your post, though, was the connection between eliminating in an unnatural position and an increase in the sympathetic nervous system response. I had only considered the biomechanical perspective, but the neurologic effect is just as interesting. In fact, I have a relative with Asperger’s syndrome and elimination is quite stressful for him. After reading your article I think a squatty potty could be a total game changer for him. Thanks!
I had no idea that squatting and the digestive system were related. I need to do further inquiry in to my range of motion in my hip joints and explore whether that improves my digestion.
LOVE this article! As a colon Hydrotherapist I have no problem to talk about poop! It’s such an important topic but still is considered taboo! The physical act of squatting straightens the rectum and allows the surrounding muscles to relax, promoting easy and complete elimination. I’ve noticed the benefits of this pose myself. Also when I’m feeling constipated stretching the muscles that surround my hips can be really helpful. We have lost so much connection with our bodies with technology and advances. I’m glad to hear there are more teachers and therapists explaining the importance of squating for healthy elimination.
Very true. In Yoga Therapy RX, our professors were medical professionals and advised us, when working with a client, to acknowledge the symptom but reverse engineer to find the source. Somone may have migraines or cancer, but, if you trace back histories of blockage – whether it be in the circulatory, respiratory, digestive, endocrine, etc systems – you may find, where the prana is stagnant, disease has an open door to creep in. Disease, or dis-ease, can be caused by waste sitting in the physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual body, and, while it could a bad burrito or a broken marriage, if these traumas aren’t properly processed, a person’s low back pain might not be the source you speak to first.
Very true. In Yoga Therapy RX, our professors were medical professionals and advised us, when working with a client, to acknowledge the symptom but reverse engineer to find the source. Somone may have migraines or cancer, but, if you trace back histories of blockage – whether it be in the circulatory, respiratory, digestive, endocrine, etc systems – you may find, where the prana is stagnant, disease creeps in. Disease, or dis-ease, can be caused by waste sitting in the physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual body, and it could be a bad burrito or a broken marriage, but if these traumas aren’t properly processed, a person’s low back pain might not be the source you speak to first.
This is a phenomenal article to reinforce the conversation I have on a regular basis with my patients. The discomfort of listening to an explanation of bowel habits often uses them to tune out. This is phenomenally thorough. Thank you for mentioning that is is not just good bowel habits that are important, but also listening to the signals when they come. Could we please teach schools to stop inhibiting children’s reflexes?
That was interesting. Love the squat position and do it often in class. I’ll have to figure out the bathroom thing though.
Half baby mini van is a great blog I love the idea of the half baby it makes a lot of sense
I will do this from now on.
I love the new chew for the feet it is a great release for the feet I do this in all my classes
An important topic that most people don’t particularly enjoy discussing. A must read for everyone…thanks for sharing!
This was very interesting!
I’ve laughed at that commercial, however, I fully agree!
I’ve studied abroad in Taiwan, where most toilets are in the ground, thus squatting to poo became a natural occurrence and later, preferred. I noticed that not only do I not cramp up or have difficulty, but I did not have to wait on the toilet for ages, it was quick and easy. Every time.
I found this very interesting, I come from a family history of bad Colons, and sometimes suffer from irritable Bowl syndrome , This makes total sense. I find my practice of yoga really helps with this issue, which keeps me healthier.
Squats are so important for this vital bodily function. I always tell middle aged men that squats will keep them off the toilet riser assist seats when they age. They stop complaining about squats and want to do more of them as a result. Personally I do try to squat on the seat whenever possible and feel much cleaner after! Sitting Seza , however is an exercise I have to force myself to do. Ouch!
Fascinating. Great information on something most of us do without ever thinking about how it should be done!
Lovely article, I will use this info in my classes, thank you!
Jessie thank you for my morning chuckle. I have not seen “Unicorn Pooping”. I love doing the happy baby mini vini, I do it everyday and my clients at first are unsure but once we get going they love it. I agree that with the poor dietary choices tend to be huge in our population. The other big thing is the amount of medications that many people take. I know almost every medicine my mom took the drug information paper generally would say this drug may cause constipation. Drink more water is a must, many of us never consume enough water daily but consume other liquids in excess, like sugary drinks.
Thanks for the great tips on the use of the therapy balls for release of tension in muscles.
thank you for your very interesting article. Squatting is one of my favorite exercises, but I was never thinking about squatting and the digestive system. So this is another reason to work on my ankle mobility. 😉