We were born to squat. You might say squatting would qualify as a lost art. Yet it’s a very instinctive movement pattern and posture for humans. If you watch a baby, it becomes quickly apparent that squatting is a natural human trait. Toddlers and young children spend much time in the squatted position as they rest and play. It appears that from a very early age, we know that squatting is much better for us than sitting. In Yoga, Malasana (Garland pose or Yogi squat) is practiced to improve flexibility and strength of hips, ankles.
Why we should sit less?
Sitting leads to a much higher percentage of stress on the back and lower spine. When we sit at a 90-degree angle in a chair, we shorten our hip flexors and primarily, the psoas. As the psoas shorten, our lumbar spine is pushed forward and pulled out of alignment. Prolonged sitting can make you more likely to experience a back injury or pain. The good news is we have this simple yoga pose to help counter the perils of modern life.
The Yogi Squat (Malasana)
The practice of Malasana (Garland pose) and other hip opening poses can help offset this effect and provide much more mobility in the hips. Malasana or ‘Yogi Squat’ as its also known can also help strengthen the core. A stronger core is critical in protecting our back from injury and stress. Squatting also promotes healthy digestion due to the way it folds your digestive tract.
The ability to squat to the floor has been linked to longevity because the corresponding strength and mobility it provides, prevents frailty and promotes resilience. The squat test, devised by scientists in Argentina, predicts longevity. Older adults that could squat to the floor lived longer, by roughly 20 years.
Ankles are important
While performing Malasana, squat depth is largely dictated by the mobility in your ankle talocrural joint. So it’s worthwhile noting your footwear plays a huge role in the flexibility of your ankle. Due to our incredible ability to adapt to our environment, our calves and other muscles will shorten to adapt to a perpetual heel lift, for example.
Single leg balances (even if you are supporting yourself) helps the ankle joints to develop end of range strength and balance. Repetitive movements passing through the range of motion of the joint helps to condition the whole body because the blood vessels in the extremities of the body become constricted, requiring the heart to pump harder to send blood there. As a result your body becomes more efficient at circulating blood and to a lesser degree, your cardiovascular system also gets a workout. And good blood circulation is excellent for flexibility.
Its all connected
Increasing joint mobility is difficult when you approach movement in isolation. The body only understands internal and external influences, movement and function, tension and relaxation. There are so many different muscles and tendons in the hips that can impact your hip mobility, let alone the ankles, back or core so it makes sense to ‘feel the movement’. Whether static or vigorous, to increase strength or flexibility, you need to focus on the movement and stillness inside and outside your body.
Malasana is thought of as a grounding posture as it brings you closer to the earth. Being grounded and close to the earth is thought to provide calm. In yogic science the hips are known to be a gathering place for stress and negative feelings. So to enjoy a moment of peace and calm, allow for the release of these negative feelings and rehabilitate ourselves from the habit of sitting, we can use Malasana.
How to do Malasana with a wall
- Stand squat distance away from the wall.
- Bend the knees resting the low back against the wall.
- Potentially assess the distance of your body to the wall.
- Slide down the wall, keeping the heels on the ground and the ankles pointing forward as much as you can.
- The hands rest in prayer position at the heart with the elbows resting just inside of the knees.
- Broaden the back and lift the chest.
- Enjoy long deep breaths.
- When coming out of the posture, place your palms against the wall for support and rise up through the heels to standing.