During the Autumnal Equinox on September 23rd, Mother Nature establishes equilibrium between day and night and there becomes symmetry between light and darkness. Through practice and experience, it becomes possible to understand that darkness, and difficulty, are needed as much as the light and effortlessness because duality is the nature of all things.
As we begin to make this transition from the hot summer months and invite more darkness in with shorter days, we must turn to find the light within us through centering poses like- malasana, yogi squat.
Philosophy & Origin
Humans began squatting well before there were chairs and other furniture. Next time you see a baby, notice how much time they spend in the squat position during rest and play. From a young age, we know by instinct that squatting is beneficial to us.
Unfortunately, squatting has become a lost art as most of us have embraced a life of sitting in chairs at desks. Unlike squatting, sitting causes much higher stress on the back and lower spine and the placement of the knees at 90 degrees shortens the hip flexors.
Luckily, Malasana helps re-open our hips, offsetting the negative effects of sitting. It also brings us closer to the earth, which can have a calming effect.
It comes from the word “Mala” — meaning “garland.” When your practice deepens, you may be able to wrap your arms around your heels like a necklace and bow your head down inviting your attention inward.
Malasana Pose: Step-by-Step
Begin in tadasana, mountain pose. Step your feet out slightly wider than hip distance or about the mat-width distance apart. Angle your toes outward slightly. You’ll want to ensure you don’t pronate your knees outward too much which could cause injury. You can always take your feet wider once in the squat.
Bend your knees and begin to lower your seat towards the earth until your hips are lower than your knees for a squat. As you lower, take notice that your knees stay in the same line as your toes. If your heels lift, take your feet slightly wider or place a blanket or wedge under your heels for support.
Keep the spine upright and your head reaching toward the ceiling. You may lean slightly forward.
Press your elbows against the inside of your inner shins and your palms press at heart center. Press into your shins to lift the chest and extend the spine.
Relax the shoulders and take a few rounds of deep breaths.
Also see: August Pose of the Month – Half Mood
Adjustments and Modifications
- To help with balance: Perform your yoga squat in front of a wall or piece of furniture and reach forward to hold it for support.
- To relieve pressure from your knees: Place a folded blanket behind the back of your knees and then squat. Or place a block on the short side and sit on it like a stool.
- To ease lower back pain: Place a thinly folded blanket on the front of your thighs and reach your palms forward while extending the lumbar spine.
- For a deeper stretch: Place one palm on the floor and extend the opposite arm to the sky for a slight twist. Then switch sides. Or wrap your arms around your legs and clasp your hands behind your heels like a garland and bow your head.
Malasana can tell you a lot about your body. Take note of the following things:
- If your heels lift during the yoga squat, it usually indicates a limitation in the Achilles tendon and calves—specifically the Soleus (the deeper lower calf muscle). Sometimes we compensate by allowing our inner arches to fall inward. Work on pressing the outer sides of the feet down and use support under the heels to maintain balance.
- If your knees turn inward, you may have weak gluteus muscles, tight adductors (inner thighs), and/or a tight iliotibial band (a band of fascia along the outside of the leg from hip to the knee)
- Leaning to one side may indicate a stability problem, a protective mechanism to avoid pain, and/or an asymmetry of the ankle, knee, or hip mobility. This is common if you’ve had any injuries on one side.
What can we do about this?
- Experiment with different widths of feet- keep in mind that the structure of your hip joint plays a role, so find what works for you
- Press more firmly into your feet to help lift the pelvic floor to relieve pressure on the lower back
- Make sure knees are in line over the toes and hips rotating outward
Malasana is a great pose both in and out of class! It not only strengthens and tones the entire lower body and opens the hips, but it also helps to release any unwanted emotions as the hips are often the dwelling place for intense emotions. Try practicing malasana this month to help release darkness and restore your inner light.
Yoga Pose of the Month sponsored by Healing Seams