Although you're likely accustomed to comfortable chairs for sitting, the squat is actually a natural position in Eastern cultures for eating, cooking, waiting and reading. People who sit in this deep squat on the streets of India, China and Indonesia aren't participating in a yogic practice; rather, they have the suppleness and strength in their joints and muscles to make this position feel natural and comfortable.
Known as Malasana in sanskrit, the yoga squat directs your energy downward and uses gravity to stretch your inner groin and thighs. Practicing it regularly in your yoga practice strengthens your thighs, adds mobility to your ankles and stabilizes your energy.
Expressions of the Yoga Squat
Many people practice a variation of the yoga squat, in which the feet are hip-distance apart — or even wider — and the pelvis is dropped down as low as possible, hovering just inches above the floor. Your spine is straight in this variation; hands at heart center.
The full Malasana pose has your feet together and knees opened to the sides as you squat down and fold partially between your legs, arms wrapped around your shins, to resemble the garland that the pose is named after.
For people with knee or hip inflexibility or injuries, both of these variations of the Garland pose are likely off-limits. Lower back pain or disc issues also make the pose difficult, if not impossible. In these cases, squat as low as possible without aggravating your sensitive joints. If you're able, rest your buttocks on a bolster or yoga block.
Stronger Lower Body
From a physical perspective, the yoga squat strengthens and stretches your thighs, especially your quadriceps. You also stretch the ankles, the groin and the back.
The more moderate version with your back upright and your feet wide requires your entire core to engage to keep you straight and balanced. In the full version with your feet together, your core works to keep you from losing your balance.
Digestion and Energy Benefits
Malasana sends your energy downward, helping ground and stabilize you. Anytime you need to calm yourself down, Malasana is a pose to practice. The descending nature of the pose's energy can be revitalizing and cleansing, according to several yoga traditions.
The full variation, in which you're draped over your bent legs mimicking a garland, draws your attention inward, which can be even more peaceful to your psyche.
The deep squat also stimulates healthy digestion and facilitates elimination; just think of your bathroom position when you're without a toilet during a camping trip.
Relief During Pregnancy
The yoga squat is a positive pose to practice during all trimester of pregnancy. A study performed in 2015 and published in Obstetrics and Gynecology showed that Malasana, and 25 other postures, are positive ways to reduce stress, depression and anxiety during pregnancy. It did not offer any harm to the fetus or the mother-to-be.