How Yogis Do Squat: Malasana
Yoga teaches that each pose has an energetic quality. For instance, some poses are uplifting and energizing, while others are soothing and stabilizing. Malasana has a grounding quality—it taps into a downward-flowing energy known in yoga as apana vayu—and is a good pose to practice whenever you need to bring on calm.
When you travel the streets of India or Indonesia, you’ll notice that many people hang out—cooking street food, reading, waiting for the bus—crouched in a squat position. This tradition has incredible benefits. Squatting is one of the most effective ways to tone the entire lower body. It works the quadricep, hamstring, gluteal, and calf muscles of the legs, plus, it strengthens the lower back and core. In everyday life in Western culture, however, we rarely see someone in a full squat outside of the gym.
When Westerners embraced sitting—in cars, at desks, in front of the TV—we started to lose suppleness and strength in the legs and flexibility in the calves, ankles, and outer hips. The abdomen and lower back muscles also suffered when we started sitting on chairs, because backrests allow us to slack off and neglect our core muscles.
But yoga can help restore what we’ve lost. Malasana, or Garland Pose, is a yogi’s squat. In it you utilize the complete range of motion of the legs by bending the knees fully until the pelvis is resting at the back of the heels. Practicing the prep poses here and, eventually, the full expression of Malasana will help you regain this primary and essential movement, and help tone and strengthen the legs. Squatting is also believed to help with digestion: As the pelvis descends, you encourage the downward flowing energy of apana vayu, which, according to some yoga traditions, helps the body eliminate waste and clear the mind.
Many of us experience a less intense version of Malasana in yoga class, in which our feet are hip-distance apart and our spines extend straight up. The challenge of Malasana in its fullest expression is that you have to drop down into a squat while simultaneously bending forward. The two prep poses here can help you achieve the full pose. Practicing the first, a modified squat with the feet together, will help you increase range of motion in the knees, hips, ankles, and calves, and build the stability you’ll need when you start to bend forward. And the second prep pose, a variation of Marichyasana I, will help you find the extension in the torso you need for full Malasana.
In the final pose, you are in a squat, feet together and knees apart, with the arms wrapped around the shins and the head lowered to the floor. It is in the final pose that we can imagine a garland, the translation of Malasana. When a garland is placed over someone’s head, it hangs from the neck, and flowers adorn and encircle the heart. The act of offering a garland is a sign of reverence, respect, and gratitude. When you practice Malasana, your own arms become the garland, your head bows forward, and your attention is drawn inward. In this shape there is nowhere else to look but inside your own heart. The effect of this squat on the body and mind is both grounding and quieting.