What we can learn by assuming the Samurai pooping position
As part of the analysis of your gut microbiome, we ask you to complete a questionnaire, but it certainly doesn’t include a question about the posture you assumed while collecting your poop sample.
Frankly, so long as you were able to, er, deliver, it makes not the slightest difference to us whether you sat or squatted.
And of course most of us in the West sit without questioning it.
It’s what the design of toilets dictates.
The European-style bowl and tank toilet, sometimes known as a commode, first saw the light of day in the 19th century, coinciding with the development of sewage systems that were designed for sanitation purposes.
However, in parts of Asia – including Japan, Korea, and China – and Africa, it’s more common to squat to go about your business.
And of course this was how humans defecated historically.
It’s easy for those of us in the West to slip into believing that sitting is somehow more sophisticated than squatting, but the truth is that many doctors and scientists have long argued that today’s toilets are actually bad for our bodies.
Our own curiosity for all this was piqued when we came across a 2014 guest post on the “Art of Manliness” blog by Will Black, apparently a Samurai aficionado since early childhood.
Taking his fascination for the ways of these warriors to extremes, he explained that he’d learned that Samurai had a particular technique for sitting to poop.
Now, before we go any further, we should perhaps gently point out that if the toilet seat wasn’t really invented until the 19th century, isn’t it perhaps more likely that Samurai squatted than sat?
However, since others have benefited from the method we’re about to describe, we’ll agree to suspend judgement on its provenance.
Anyway, (perhaps urban) legend has it that when a Samurai wished to poop, he would remove his right leg completely from its clothing and sit squarely on the seat.
He would then cross his leg so his right ankle rested on his left knee, keeping his left foot on the ground.
Finally, he’d place a hand on each knee and straighten his back.
Admittedly, this sounds rather like playing a solo game of Toilet Twister, but Will Black suggested that the technique supposedly aligns the bowels so you don’t have to strain.
We can do no better than hand over to Will himself for a description of what happened when he self-experimented with this method: “If you have ever felt like there is a plumbing issue when you sit down, then pay attention. Take your time, have some patience, and you will get the yoga version of Drano on your system that has been passed down from Samurai warlords of old. I have literally felt a swirling sensation during the act of evacuation.”
Meanwhile over on Lifehacker, writer Adam Dachis was inspired to replicate the experiment, reporting that it wasn’t comfortable, but “once you start pooping, you’ll realize your crossed leg almost acts like a frozen yogurt dispenser as it feels like it’s helping to push the poop out without any muscle strain.”
And since three descriptions are always better than two, we simply have to mention the anonymous Reddit “Today I Learned” contributor last year, who said: “I gave this a try and my a**hole aligned perfectly with my spine in such a way that I heard a click, followed by a snap, and the elimination sounded like a shotgun being fired before my toilet shattered into a hundred pieces.”
What a glorious, glorious image.
Actually, there’s a fair amount of science behind all of the benefits of the Samurai method – in particular, the news that sitting on the toilet with your back straight, and your upper legs making a right angle to it, is very likely putting a kink in your rectum, making it difficult to poop.
And apparently kinky rectums are really not a good thing.
It’s all about the anorectal angle, you see, which for unkinked pooping should be more like 35 degrees, rather than 90 degrees.
Which is what happens pretty effortlessly when you squat rather than sit.
Of course, squatting to poop isn’t easy unless you’re in (a) the woods, or (b) many Asian or African bathrooms.
And that’s what inspired a recent invention, the wonderfully-named “Squatty Potty,” a low stool (Seriously? A stool?) that you place in front of the toilet so you can put your feet on it, turning your posture into something resembling a squat.
The Squatty Potty comes in a range of styles, from the economical Ecco, a low-tech plastic affair, to the glorious Ghost model which quite honestly looks like it would be more at home in the Apple Store.
So, what about the science, then?
Are there studies?
Research in Israel in 2003 found that squatting to poop required the shortest amount of time, and the least subjective effort.
For sheer thoroughness, however, we salute a 2009 Japanese study that used a technique known as video manometry to observe the pressure in the anus and rectum of six healthy volunteers as they expelled sterile water that had been introduced there by assiduous researchers.
One hopes the participants knew what was coming.
Volunteers variously sat, squatted, or used an adjustable step (ah, there’s the word we were looking for in place of stool), which raised their feet in a Squatty Potty fashion, as tubes recorded the pressure where the sun don’t shine.
All in the name of science, eh?
The experimenters’ conclusions showed that squatting gave the best results, followed by placing the feet on the step.
As they said: “By squatting, the straighter the rectoanal canal will be and, accordingly, less strain will be required for defecation.”
In closing (an apt term), perhaps we should mention the puborectalis muscle, a handy part of your anatomy that holds everything in until it’s time to let go.
Placing yourself in a squatting position relaxes this muscle more than when you’re sitting, making eliminating waste less of a strain.
So, thanks for reading. Wherever you are, we hope you’ve been sitting comfortably.