OVER the years I have had the pleasure of teaching Tai Chi to many different people from all sorts of walks of life.
From 90-year-olds to teenagers, from gymnasts and ballet dancers to boxers and fitness trainers, from staunch businessmen to placid yogis, from couch potatoes to triathletes, you name it; they have probably been to one of my classes.
One of the greatest things about being a teacher is meeting lots of people, and being an avid learner too, I am always fascinated in how as humans we all exhibit similar patterns in how we move, think and learn, despite myriad superficial differences.
One of the main things I have observed is that from a relatively young age, we gradually lose our body-awareness and proprioception and this is matched usually by diminished mobility, strength and stability in the lower half of the body, from the feet to the lower back.
Almost all of us sit down far too much, even children, whereas we originally evolved to be hunter gatherers primed to be on the move all day.
Lack of movement has serious health implications, but if we can improve our perception and functioning of the foundational, lower half of our bodies, then our overall health and mobility can be seriously enhanced.
Many years ago when I first went to train in China, one of the things that amazed me most was just how often people would rest by squatting flat-footed on the ground rather than sitting on a chair.
Everyone would do it, from little children right up to the eldest of the elderly.
Often we would eat our lunch in the park and all just squat down in a circle.
And, of course, at this point in time, most of the toilets in China consisted of a simple hole rather than a western toilet, which would require careful squatting for successful usage.
When I was 20, my first Tai Chi teacher taught me how to squat properly and to begin with I found it very difficult.
Yet with daily practice, it rapidly became easier as my joints became stronger and more mobile.
Being able to squat successfully requires and maintains excellent hip, ankle and spinal mobility and leg strength.
On the other hand, it is simply a very basic and fundamental human movement rather than an ‘exercise’.
Many of us in the west cannot even nearly carry out a full flat-footed squat, but if we did however, it would do us the world of good.
It’s not something that people normally think of when they want to ‘get fit’, but what better place to start than learning how to lower and then lift yourself up from the ground?
Learn to walk before you run, learn how to stand before you walk and learn how to squat before you stand, that’s what I say!
Try it for yourself and see if you can do it.
Stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart and slowly and carefully lower yourself down and back. Gradually ‘sit down’ and see how far you can get without causing discomfort.
Relax your hips and with your knees soft, try to keep your feet flat on the ground, ie don’t lift your heels, encourage your knees to stay in line with your feet. If you can only go down a little way then that’s good; just slowly and carefully lift yourself up, consciously using your legs to lift and support your body.
If you try it a few times everyday then you should find that slowly but surely, your comfortable range of movement will improve until you can ‘sit’ all the way down so that your backside is almost on the floor. Happy squatting!