The Fine Art of Squatting

By Amy Chavez
For The Bali Times

I admit it — I like squatting.

I often see Indonesians squatting, a position they seem to do instinctively when they want to rest but not sit on the “dirty” ground. Although you will sometimes see variations of the squat position, usually it is done by bending all the way down at the knees, splaying the legs, and leaving just enough of the tush hanging down to balance the body over flat feet (as opposed to balancing on the balls of the feet like catchers do in baseball). To Westerners, this position is very, um, peculiar.

I think many Westerners find this position peculiar because it looks like you’re, well, relieving yourself. But why would this image come to mind from people who don’t even use Asian-style squat toilets? We use “thrones” instead. It couldn’t be that the position is “animalistic,” because I know of no animal that squats like this to relieve itself. Dogs lift their legs, cats dig and bury and birds don’t change position at all. Perhaps monkeys squat, but I prefer to think they use thrones.

Perhaps seeing the squat position makes us uncomfortable because it brings back memories of primitive camping as a child and digging latrines. Or perhaps we remember that time we had to pull over on the highway because our bladder was so full we couldn’t wait any longer – only to realize later we had squatted over poison ivy. Or, or – what? Why does squatting have such a bad image for us?

In the US, you can sit on a train seat with your legs splayed way apart, taking up two seats; you can sit on a table; you can lean against a lamppost – and no one will care. But for God’s sake, don’t be caught squatting! On the other hand, sitting on the filthy ground is completely acceptable.

Maybe the reason the Indonesians squat and Americans don’t is because there aren’t a lot of public benches in Bali. Plastic stools with cracked seats – plenty! But a good solid bench made from concrete or wood is not something you see very often. As a result, Bali has established a bring-your-own-chair culture.

It might be easier to sell Westerners on the squat position if it were marketed properly. I’m surprised some entrepreneurial Indonesian hasn’t already come up with a way to sell this idea on Jl. Legian: Get instant access to a chair anytime, anywhere, with the New Invisible Chair! All natural materials, with varying upholstery that’s lightweight and easy to wash. “For one US dollar, I teach you how to never be without chair again. For you madam, special price. Just two US dollar.” Not only that, but you would be buying a skill you could use over and over again in Indonesian toilets.

So what if you feel like a frog on a lily pad – squatting is convenient! Just look around you and you’ll see Indonesian men squatting while chatting and having a cigarette. Balinese men squat at cock fights. Women squat when attending to their toddlers. Squat, squat, squat! Something so popular must be pretty good.

I’ve resorted to the squat position on many occasions as it relieves the stress on the legs when standing for long periods of time. It has added benefits of stretching the tendons in the backs of your legs and improves the relationship between your hamstrings and calves. What relationship, you ask? Aha! When you squat, the position brings the hamstrings in contact with the calves.

After all, squatting is often recommended as a warm-up exercise for sports. Remember those deep knee bends? God gave you hamstrings — use them!

However, since Westerners aren’t used to squatting, if we were to adopt the invisible chair in the US, I fear we’d have a lot of people permanently stuck in the squat position. Perhaps that’s the real reason we have benches in public areas in the US — to encourage people to not get into something they can’t get out of.

But if you find squatting is something you can easily do, and you even do deep knee bends in the toilet, then you just may be suited for a different kind of sport. Why not become a sumo wrestler?

Amy Chavez, whose hamstrings are in fine fettle, can be reached at

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