Many yoga poses are named after animals and other things in the natural world that they…
Many yoga practitioners find the yoga squat pose Malasana, or Garland Pose a challenging asana. Squatting simply isn’t an everyday practice of many modern Western societies, unlike in Eastern countries like India and other parts of Asia where many people still squat as a comfortable resting position.
When you watch babies from any culture, they do squats naturally. For people who don’t stretch or regularly use the muscle groups involved, squatting may be very challenging. Fortunately, however, a Malasana, or Full Yogic Squat can be achieved by using props, practicing patience, and properly observing and preparing your body for the pose.
Muscles and Joints Involved in Malasana or Garland Pose
Without a doubt, squatting requires much more complex movements and involves more muscle groups than sitting on a chair. When regularly and mindfully practicing Garland Pose, you’ll experience the following physical benefits:
- Increased strength and flexibility in your ankles and calves
- Increased hip mobility
- Strengthened back muscles and relief of some types of lower back pain
- Strengthened the core muscles
Contraindications for Garland Pose
It’s not recommended that you practice this yoga squat pose if you have a knee injury or if you’re pregnant. As with any new yoga pose, make sure you listen to and observe your body so that you know which asanas are good for you and which ones may aggravate any underlying conditions.
Malasana Step by Step
Begin in Tadasana, or Mountain Pose, with your feet apart, slightly wider than your hips. Angle your toes so that they very slightly point outwards, especially when you practice this pose for the first time. Later on, you will practice the pose with your toes pointing forward.
Sit your hips down as far as you can. Open up your knees and see whether your heels need to lift up. If they do, allow them to lift up for now and then work towards keeping your entire foot on the floor as you practice Malasana more regularly.
If you keep falling backwards as you try to keep your heels on the ground, practice Malasana while holding onto something stable like a doorknob or kitchen counter as you sit back. This will help you to stay upright as you work on the mobility of your ankles, knees, hips, and spine.
Place your elbows on the inside of your knees and bring your palms together in front of your chest. With the help of your elbows, push your knees outwards in order to prevent them from collapsing internally.
Make sure to lengthen your spine while you hold this pose. Point your tailbone towards the ground, draw your navel in and up, and slightly tuck your chin in towards your chest.
It’s recommended that you continue building up this pose to the point where you can hold it for about three minutes while taking comfortable, deep, and long breaths. It’s normal to feel some fatigue along your shins as you hold the pose longer. These muscles help prevent you from falling backwards. Over time, your calves will release and you will be able to stay in a squat for three full minutes or longer.
Inability to Practice Full Yogic Squats May Indicate the Following:
If you can’t keep your heels on the ground, this may indicate that you have tight hamstrings, a limitation in your achilles’ tendon and calves, a tight piriformis (which also causes sciatic pain), or weak gluteus medius muscles in your buttocks.
In the beginning, try practicing this pose with a rolled or folded blanket placed underneath your heels and then gradually reduce the height until you’re able to keep your feet flat on your mat.
If your knees collapse inwards while you’re trying to squat, you may have tight gluteus muscles, tight adductors in your inner thighs, or tight IT bands along the outside of your legs.
If your spine arches excessively in your lower back, this may indicate that you have weak core muscles. Alternatively, if your spine arches forward, it may mean you have a tight middle back and tight hamstrings.
If your body leans to one side or the other, this may be your body’s way of protecting itself from feeling pain caused by an old injury or it may also indicate which side of your body is more dominant and therefore stronger.
For most of these issues, you may want to experiment with a wider or more narrow stance in order to find the ideal width for your body. To prevent your arches from collapsing, always make sure that your feet are parallel to each other and that all of your toes are pointing forward.
If you can’t fully squat at first, you may also use a block or bolster for support. If you try this option, make sure that most of your weight is still on your feet instead of on the prop.
Poses to Prep for Malasana
If you find that the yoga squat pose is simply beyond what your body is capable of at present, don’t worry, there are other yoga poses you can practice to prepare your body for Malasana. Here are some asanas you can practice to gain the hip, leg, back, and ankle flexibility required for a Full Yogic Squat.
Virabhadrasana II – Warrior 2
Warrior Two helps stretch and strengthen your adductors, calves, and hips, which all come into play when practicing Garland Pose. Just like when you’re doing a squat, make sure that the knee of your front leg does not collapse internally and that you lengthen your spine to create space in your hips.
Janu Sirsasana – Seated Head to Knee Forward Bend
This asymmetrical seated pose helps lengthen your hamstrings and calves, increase ankle and hip mobility, and stretch your adductors all at the same time.
While holding the pose, keep your spine elongated by folding forward from your hips. Flex the toes of your extended leg and push your heel forward. Engage your thigh muscle to lift up your kneecap and allow your hamstrings to stretch more.
Balasana – Child’s Pose
Child’s Pose is often used as a resting pose between asanas or Vinyasa, but it’s actually the same basic shape as a Full Squat and uses most of the same muscle and joint groups. Keep your knees wide to make room for your torso and allow you to fold forward more.
Make sure that your sit bones don’t lose contact with your heels. Even if you can’t fold forward to the point where your chest touches the floor, it’s more important to keep your sit bones on your heels and in that way work on your hip mobility. You may place a bolster under your chest so that you can relax into this asana as a Restorative Yoga pose.
Ananda Balasana – Happy Baby Pose
Just like Child’s Pose, Happy Baby Pose is basically the same shape as Garland Pose, just in a different set-up. Keep your feet flexed and heels pushing up towards the sky as you draw your bent knees towards your armpits to deepen the pose. Either hold on to your feet from the outside, or your big toes, or anywhere else on your leg that is comfortable to you. You may also use a yoga strap to help you hold on to whatever part of your body you’re holding onto.
Remember to keep your spine lengthened so that as much of your back is in contact with the ground as possible, especially the sacrum.
The Yoga Squat Pose, aka Malasana, and squatting in general, may not feel natural for many of us who are used to sitting in chairs most of the day. But with time and practice, your body will gain back the stability and range of motion needed to do Full Squats in a way that’s safe and comfortable.