Watch little children play, and you will often see them in a natural squat position. Daily practice of the yoga squat pose elongates your spine, strengthens your core, opens your hips, stretches your leg muscles and feet, stimulates your metabolism and helps you find balance. Best of all, the squat pose offsets the adverse effects -- tighter hamstrings and hip-flexor muscles, less flexibility in the spine -- of sitting for long periods of time.
In Sanskrit, the squat pose is called malasana, which many interpret as “garland pose.” However, the Sanskrit word for “garland” actually transliterates as “maalaa” with a longer “ah” sound. The Sanskrit word “mala,” with a short “a,” translates as “impurities,” and relates more to the pose’s natural ability to aid digestion. Another Sanskrit name for the pose is upavesasana, which means sitting-down pose.
How to Squat
Stand with your feet parallel and slightly wider than your hips. Bend your knees and lower your seat toward the floor. Keep going until your hips are lower than your knees, and keep your spine vertical. If your heels come off the floor, likely from tight Achilles tendons, place a rolled-up blanket or towel under them for support. Straighten your spine upward and relax your shoulders. Hold for eight full breaths.
From the Ground Up
Malasana calls for you to plant you feet firmly into the floor, which helps you achieve balance and remain rooted as you lengthen your spine upward. Working your feet this way stretches your Achilles tendons, stabilizes your arches and aligns your knees and ankles. You also get a good stretch in your calf muscles, hamstrings, groins and hip flexors. Opening your hips helps relieve knee pressure.
True to its name, malasana promotes elimination, stimulates digestion and helps relieve constipation. According to the Prenatal Yoga Center website, malasana helps pregnant women by opening the hips, widening the pelvic opening and enhancing apana, or downward energy, to foster an easier delivery. Malasana also relaxes your nervous system, improves concentration, stimulates circulation, helps free your breathing and develops your lung power.
Consult your health care practitioner before practicing malasana if you have any problems with your ankles, knees or back.