Yoga Asana 101
How to squat: Malasana (Garland Pose)
You might have tried this pose in class and thought it was just a simple squat. However, if you had led a sedentary lifestyle that mostly involves in sitting at a desk all day, then its likely you would have realised that actually doing this pose or getting deeper into this pose is a great challenge.
Squatting is natural human body movement that even children can do it. You even might have recalled yourself squatting with ease when you were younger, so what happened along the way?
Squatting is a movement that involves a lot of muscles from your quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, glutes, lower back and your abdomen. It also requires flexibility in your ankles and mobility in your knees. Sitting in chairs all day to study or work over the years have caused us to lose strength and mobility in these muscles.
The full expression of the pose is to be able to sit upright while squatting deeply. This motion and position is also desired in weightlifters or strict power-lifters who squat with heavy weights, who quite humorously refer to it as “ass-to-grass” squats due to the depth of the squat that brings the butt close to the ground.
Here in Malasana, we are just using our bodyweight, so why is it so difficult? Let us try to diagnose the possible areas that might be an issue.
- a. You starting position is wrong
Feet should be hip-width distance part with the feet slightly pointed outwards. This is to allow room for motion downwards and to achieve that depth.
- b. Knees
Your knees should be pointed outwards as your lower yourself down. This creates external rotation from the hip as you go downwards which engages the pelvis and helps to keep the lower back neutral and stable.
- c. Ankle Mobility
You may find that you cannot lower yourself without compromising something else such as having to bend forward and deviating from the desired neutral straight back or upright back. You may then have heard of the cue of going on your tip toes and magically you find that you can go a bit lower or a stay upright. So what exactly has your ankle has to do with this? It is the mobility in your ankles. In technical terms, it is the ankle dorsiflexion or how far your ankle can be flexed that allows your knees to travel forward when you squat. Poor ankle dorsiflexion causes your hips to overcompensate and hence the natural movement of having to lean forward and losing that neutral spine.
What can I do?
Getting your starting position and the motion to get into the pose down is something you can fix right now and is easy but improving your ankle mobility permanently isn’t something that can happen overnight but we can work towards that. Here are some stretches you can do to improve your ankle mobility.
- – Flexing against the wall
- -Lunges with weight forward on the ankles
- – Another alternative would be to simply squat on the balls of your feet and then using a thick towel, place it underneath your heels to elevated it. Folding your mats to elevate your heels work as well. This is a temporary fix but will at least get your alignment right.
How to deepen the pose?
Whether you choose to elevate your heels with an object or not, allow your heels to make contact with the ground or towel underneath it and press down through the heels. This will allow your hips to achieve that depth and if your ankle is mobile or elevated enough, you should feel very grounded, balanced and stable. Here you can focus on your inhalations and exhalations to lengthen the spine and opening the chest to achieve that beautiful full expression of the pose.
Have fun squatting,