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Crouching

yonat
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Crouching
Any advice on crouching? Yesterday I went picking capers, and so spent a long time crouching. After a while I started feeling pain in my lower back and the muscles there were working so hard they became sour. I changed to hip-hinging, which was quite comfortable but put me in a weird angle relative to the capers. I think crouching is common in traditional cultures, no? How do they do it?
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I think you are referring to squatting. The short answer is that if you have not grown up squatting, your bones will not accommodate a full squat.    1. At birth, many of our joints (including the ankles, knees and hips) are not ossified. Instead of bone, we have cartilage in those areas.    2. Each of the above joints has a timetable for when the cartilage ossifies. The hip joint, for example, is made of three parts - the ischeum, ileum and pubis - each pair of which ossifies at a different age (first pair at age 2; last pair at age 16).    3. Once your joints have ossified, they are relatively immutable. Bone does change shape depending on the stresses on it, but it does not change drastically and in particular, the above ossifications are irreversible.    4. If you grow up squatting (on pit toilets, eating on the floor, etc) then the joints ossify differently than if you grow up sitting on chairs and using commodes for toilets. In particular, if you grow up squatting, your joints will ossify in a way that allows you to continue to squat in adulthood. If you did not squat through the years that your ankles, knees, and hips were ossifying, you will probably not be able to do a healthy full squat in adulthood.    5. People who force squats without having the joint architecture to do them tend to round their backs (compressing their spinal discs), pronate their ankles, and stress their knees.    6. Recommendation: don't try to force a squat. In most situations you can do the job equally well with a modified squat (one foot flat on the floor, the other on the ball of the foot). The times squatting does help are childbirth and evacuating your bowels. In these situations I recommend using some extra support under your heels - this makes squatting easy on the ankles and back. For other situations like certain squatting Yoga poses, I recommend not going all the way into the pose. Here is a report from Bryce Lane, a weightlifter who through experimentation has arrived at the same recommendation independently: http://www.ironsports.tv/bsquat.html The other option of course is to do it all hiphinging - tiring (but strengthening) for the back. This is the African (as opposed to the Asian) solution to doing things low to the ground. Whereas the Asian solution doesn't translate well to modern adults, the African one does. Picking capers sounds idyllic - wish I could join you for a spell!
yonat
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Yes, squatting is the word I was looking for!  Glad you managed to understand what I meant. I actually don't do a full squat, but only stay on the balls of my feet. [quote]Picking capers sounds idyllic - wish I could join you for a spell![/quote] Come to Israel, I'll show you around! Though, capers do have nasty thorns to watch out for. It now occurs to me that maybe I was so concentrated on avoiding the thorns that I let my pelvis tuck (it seems to be my automatic defense reaction), which may explain why my back decided to complain. I think next time I'll combine picking capers with picking mulberries, to give my back a good stretch...
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Wow -  mulberries are even yummier than capers. I am definitely going to visit Israel one day. I grew up with romantic notions about Israel from my Dutch mum. She would often talk about how your people have made the desert bloom and such. And I love Israeli music, Jewish culture, the food, the architecture, etc. So I will come. Thanks for your offer - being taken around sounds wonderful.
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I'm about halfway through your book, Esther, and so thrilled to have found it! I'm glad to see this conversation about squatting, because that's one of the subjects I made a note to myself to try to learn more about. I'm one of those unusual Americans, I guess, who finds squatting extremely comfortable and does it quite a lot. I can squat comfortably for quite long with my heels flat on the ground. I am one of those people who does have low back pain (though I hope this will become a thing of the past once I finish and internalize all the lessons in the book!), and I often squat because it feels really good on my back. But as I squatted this morning to feed the cats, and again to prepare a bath for my toddler, I started having moments of panic: would Esther approve? So, as long as my body does so easily and comfortably, is squatting a good thing? Any tips or advice on how to do so in the safest way that's most beneficial for my body? (Knee position, foot position, etc.) If this question is answered in the second half of the book, then I apologize in advance for asking it!
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@ Dorian, I had to squat lately for most of a day (long story) - I dont squat very well in the sense that my back was quite curved. I notice since then that I have much more difficulty sitting up straight. That's because I've stretched the muscles in my back. I know (from experience) that if I can stick with keeping my back straight for a while, that the muscles will contract again, and that in turn will make it easier for me to keep a straight posture especially when without support. So, if you squat - the important question is whether you can also keep your back straight?
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Dear Esther, Regarding the link to Bryce Lane's b-squat, can you describe exactly the form required to perform these squats eg leg and knee alignment, pelvis, back. In his article he does not describe in detail how to perform the squat. Is there any other information available regarding the above. Thanks Peter
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Back straight or J-shaped; knees facing the same way the feet face - that's all.
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Hello, Mrs. Gokhale :-)

I am so grateful for your work and have finally gotten your book! In searching the index I don't see anything about squatting, so I hope you'll clarify this for me here. I am just 21 and have shifted from an athletic lifestyle (in my childhood) to a sedentary (as a teenager) to athletic one again for the last year, during which I did CrossFit, which involves the low squat as a regular stretch. Since then I have incorporated this into my movements, although I do not hold it for much more than a minute (just a stretch and to pick up something low). Since I quit CF I've lost some flexibility and haven't hip-hinged as well as I could when I did deadlifts, but I'm planning on gaining my flexibility back. I'd really like to switch to squatting toilets in the near future and get my fiancé to do it with me. He is not flexible much at all, however, so this worries me (he is 20). I want our children to be able to squat; God forbid that their bones ossify as those of us westerners do! 

So what do you think? Am I young enough to keep doing the low squat? Bodyweight regular squatting (just below parallel) is a good workout for me; I know I can do that. I can produce a low (Asian) squat, but sometimes my ankles are a little pained (can you elaborate on ankle pronation?). My fiancé cannot yet even do a normal squat. But is this really something that cannot be worked on? My younger brother, just 11, cannot form a squat in his present state, yet he is extremely athletic and would surely just need training. (And they look equally awkward!) 

Lastly, about the Asian squat form, I know for these cultures it is a resting position. So it seems one should rest the back of the upper legs on the back of the lower (hamstrings on calves, basically), but when I get low enough to feel this relaxation, it seems inevitable that my pelvis is slightly tucked and back curved, even though I start with correct squat form. And it looks as though Asians do this, not keeping a J-spine. Also, there is actually a video of Mark Sisson demonstrating the squat in which he has his back from the outset very curved. It frightens me! What do you make of all this? 

Thank you very much.

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