The Yoga Squat; Sanskrit name: Malasana, a.k.a Garland Pose can tell you a lot about your body…
Achieving a deep yoga squat isn’t easy for everyone. Some make it look easy while others struggle to get into position without feeling discomfort or falling backwards… Sounds familiar? If yes, then this this post is for you!
Assessing your deep yoga squat can offer valuable insight – from muscular dysfunctions or imbalances to soft tissue restrictions, areas of tension, areas of mobility and joint structures. Malasana is highly beneficial – it stretches the thighs, groins, hips, ankles and torso, improves the function of the colon and improves circulation and blood flow to the pelvis, which can help regulate sexual energy. Yet, Malansana is a complex pose that involves many joints and muscles working together.
“Differences aren’t deficits.” – Theodosius Dobzhansky.
The truth is everyone’s squat will look a little different due to anatomical variations of the hip joint and unfortunately no amount of yoga practice or hip opening can change this. However, with consistent and safe practice, your squat may change shape as your soft tissues change. Think how many times a day you squat, getting up out of a chair or off the floor, or going to the bathroom! In the western culture a deep squat isn’t part of our daily life unless we make it one. Young children often instinctively squat but the older we get, the less we do it. For South East Asian and Eastern European adults, squatting often takes the place of sitting or standing I know as I age, I want to be able to get down on the floor well into my old age!
Malasana challenges the mechanics of the whole body to work cohesively together – it requires mobility and stability in the ankles, knees, hips, pelvis, and spine.
Note: Those with long torsos and/or short legs will likely find Malasana to be a little more accessible, while those with shorter torsos and/or longer legs may have to work a little smarter and longer to find a ‘comfortable seat’ in Malasana.
How to do Malasana:
- Stand in front of a mirror in order to observe your form. Begin with your feet a little wider than hip distance and start with the feet slightly turned out and heels to the floor (if you can.)
- Keep grounding down through the big toes and start to bend the knees and begin to lower down, as you lower down drive your knees out wide, while keeping the big toes pressing down. Your heels might start to lift but try to keep them down as best you can.
- Separate your thighs slightly wider than your torso.
- Keep your shoulders down away from your ears.
- Press the elbows against the inner knees or inner thighs and bring your plams together – this will help lengthen your front torso.
- Hold the position for 30 seconds to a minute
You might feel like you’re going to fall backwards, or end up on your butt – keep reading to find out what that can mean.
Assess Your Squat – Start from the foundation up
Feet and ankles
In yoga asana (postures) we always begin from the foundation, so take a look at your feet and ankles. Do your heels have a tendency to lift up? If so, this might be down to restriction in the soft tissues of the calf, the Achilles tendon or the soleus muscle (back part of the calf) because the knee is bent in this position.
Tip: These tissues can be released with trigger point massage balls, a massage therapist and can also be strengthened with isolated exercises (exercises that focus on a single muscle that lacks strength.) Sometimes in an effort to get the heels down the medial (inner) arch collapses and/or the feet turn out excessively. This can be an indicator of tightness in the upper hamstrings, hips and/or weakness in the gluteus medius muscle (important hip muscle that helps to keep your hips, knees and ankles in line.)
Knees and hips
Are your knees knocking inwards? This can indicate weak/tight abductor muscles, which are found on the outside of the hips and thighs. To correct this, do abductor strengthening exercises I.e. side lunges or side step-ups.
If your low back is arched excessively (particularly as you lowered down), you may have tight hip flexors. If your spine rounds forward, you may have weak erector spinae muscles, a tight thoracic (middle) spine, and/or tight hamstrings. So what is your body trying to tell you here? You should focus on more back body strengthening exercises and less sitting down!
Leaning toward one side, one knee dropping in or one hip higher than the other, can indicate stability issues. This is common in people who’ve had injuries or impingement in the lower body. This can be seen more clearly in video or photos as it is likely that if the body has been in this pattern for a while, you can’t feel it.
SO WHAT CAN WE DO?
The easiest way to make Malasana pose more accessible is to place support underneath the heels (such as a rolled up towel, a yoga wedge or blanket).
If your heels are really close to the ground, try widening your feet a bit more and/or turning your toes out a little more, and see if that helps bring your heels down, but don’t collapse the arches!
Once your heels are down, to make sure the inner arches of your feet don’t collapse, roll more weight to the outside edges of your feet as you engage your gluteus muscles.
Try sitting on a block or move to a wall for light support to prevent you falling backwards. Aim to keep your knees in line with the feet and keep pressing your big toes firmly into the ground.
Use the elbows to press the knees out, while simultaneously hugging the knees in to the elbow, to lift the spine upwards and draw the chest forward.
Soften the chin and lengthen the back of the neck.
If you hold this pose for a while and start losing stability, don’t worry, come out when you need to and build up time in the pose slowly, as these muscles strengthen and the calves release, Malasana will become more of a comfortable pose.
If you are still falling backwards you can practice holding on to a strong pole, table leg or person. Don’t give up, as we age this is a functional movement that we want to maintain. As it gets easier with practice you may even find yourself dropping and squatting throughout the day!