The Benefits of Yoga Squat Pose: A Guide to Malasana

Malasana (Yoga Squat Pose) comes with a plethora of benefits. This post outlines the meaning of this pose, the benefits (both internal and external), and some modifications to make it accessible.

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A woman is side on to the camera in a deep yoga squat with her hands in prayer position.

The myth behind Yoga Squat Pose

You may see this pose referred to as “Garland Pose”. This is in fact a mistranslation from the Sanskrit name into English.

“Mālā” means “Garland” and often refers to the loop of beads used in prayer in Hinduism, Sikhism, and Jainism (Japa Mālā).

This is different from “Mala”, which means “Waste” or “impurity”. The meaning of waste and impurity here can refer to the physical (metabolic, clutter, fecal) to the nonphysical (unwanted thoughts, emotions, and sensations).

From a purely physical stance, this pose helps to eliminate waste from the body.

In Yoga, the process of eliminating waste (physical and non-physical) from the body is called “Apana Prana”. Apana Prana is the release of everything unnecessary – including gas, feces, toxins, as well as unhelpful thoughts and attachments.

So, as you can see, it has little to do with a garland!

That said, some texts (including Light on Yoga by B.K.S. Iyengar) have posited that the placement of the arms could represent a garland – much like a long necklace hanging around the neck.

Garlands are frequently seen in Indian mythology and are strongly associated with the gods. For example, Goddess Kali (represented in Goddess Pose, or Utkatakonasana) wears a garland of human heads to represent the frailty of humans against the power of nature to destroy and create.

What should we call this pose, then? If a translation is required, Mala Asana, or Malasana, could simply be called Squatting Pose, or Yoga Squat Pose. This would likely be a better translation than Garland Pose.

The benefits of Yoga Squat Pose

Yoga Squat Pose is one of my favorites. It doesn’t require much exertion, is easily modified with a couple of props, and boasts a range of benefits. Let’s look at some of the benefits of this pose in turn.

Strengthening of muscles

Starting from the bottom up, muscles in the feet, ankles, calves, knees, tops of the thighs, lower back, abdominals, wrists, elbows, upper arms, and shoulders are all engaged on some level as the body finds the center point for balance.

Increasing flexibility and range of motion

Yoga Squat Pose is essentially a hip opener. This means that the muscles in the groin and glutes are gradually lengthened with consistent practice, increasing mobility in this area. This makes it a great preparatory pose for deeper hip openers like Goddess Pose (Utkatakonasana), Lotus Pose (Padmasana), and Pigeon Pose (Eka Pada Rajakapotasana – a bit of a mouthful).

Flexibility in the knees and ankles is also improved over time. Both joints are required to flex quite deeply in this pose, not something we all immediately can do, but something that helps to improve mobility and therefore reduce the risk of injury as we age.

Improving our breathing

In this pose, our hands are placed in a prayer position (Anjali Mudra). Our elbows gently push the inner knees out to the side, creating space for the chest and shoulders to broaden. This in turn allows for the ribs to expand outwards, creating more space for our lungs to take in more air.

Over time, the strength and capacity of the lungs will increase, allowing for deeper, longer, more controlled breathing. This helps to regulate our nervous systems, keeping us grounded and calm both on and off the mat. The science of the breath in yoga is fascinating, and the cornerstone of a sustainable home yoga practice.

Increased focus

It may not look like it, but a lot is happening in this pose that requires our attention. First, we must ground down through the feet and also lift up through the chest. Then, we must press the elbows into the knees whilst also engaging the core to ensure we don’t roll backward onto our bums.  Also, we must keep the chin somewhat lowered, but not jutting our necks forward or straining to look up to the ceiling, all the while breathing slowly and deeply.

All of this requires a lot of focus, and that isn’t easy. Over time, it comes, and over time this will translate into other areas of life off the mat.

Revert the effects of a sedentary day

As we sit on long commutes and for hours at our desks before retiring to the couch to catch up on Netflix, our muscles lose their strength and flexibility, especially around the hip joints, resulting in tight hip flexors.

Our iliopsoas (a compound muscle joining the pelvis to the upper thigh) begins to weaken, tighten and shorten, as do the muscles around the lower back. This creates stiffness when we walk, run, climb stairs, and so on.

Malasana helps to alleviate this by gently working to strengthen and lengthen these muscles, improving our mobility and our posture and relieving lower back pain.

Helps stimulate elimination

One of the worst feelings is that of bloating and constipation. A sluggish digestive system is so uncomfortable and has a negative impact on your day.

Through gentle engagement of the core and abdominal muscles, paired with controlled breathing and gentle compression of all abdominal organs, movement in the colon is stimulated, helping to release trapped gas and eliminate waste.

Seated and standing forward folds, Child’s pose, and wind-releasing pose will all contribute, too.

A person is clutching their hands over their bloated belly

How to do Yoga Squat Pose

Now that we have covered some of the benefits of this wonderful pose, I’m sure you’re keen to know how to do it. My favorite way to enter this pose is from a simple standing position.

1. From Tadasana (mountain pose), widen the stance of your feet to just outside the width of your hips. Allow the toes to point towards to corners of your mat – this will make it easier at first rather than pointing your toes directly forward.

2. Bending your knees and reaching your chest a little forward for balance, slowly descend down into a squat pose. Make sure your knees are tracking your toes, and are not collapsing inwards as this may risk injury to the knee joint.

3. Once in a squat pose, inhale to lift your chest up, and gently engage the core and ground down through the feet to stabilize.

4. Bring your elbows to the insides of your knees, and your hands in a prayer position (Anjali Mudra).

5. Pressing the palms together, exhale to press the elbows into the knees to open up the hips gently.

6. Repeat steps four and five for a few breaths, making sure to lift the chest on the inhale, and open the hips on the exhale.

7. To exit the pose, either roll back slowly onto the bum and hug the knees into your chest, or roll forwards (this takes a bit of core strength) onto your palms and step back into Downward Facing Dog (Adhomukhasvanasana).

Considerations and Modifications

Malasana looks a lot easier than it is. Below are modifications in case you find it a bit of a struggle.

1. Use a wall for balance as you squat down.

2. When you come into a squat, you might roll back onto your bum. This is totally normal for beginners. Lack of strength in the core muscles contributes to this. Take a yoga block or rolled-up blanket and place it under your bum for support. Focus your attention on engaging the feet and core muscles.

3. If it’s hard to fully flex your knees (perhaps due to a knee injury), place a rolled-up towel or blanket behind your knees so the joint doesn’t flex so much.

4. If your soles aren’t flat on the floor this means there is some inflexibility in the ankle joint. Place a folded blanket under the back of the heels, so that the soles of the feet have a little extra support.

5. This pose can trigger feelings of vulnerability (our private parts might feel suddenly a lot less private). Use props as explained above so you can focus more on the breath. Deep breathing will switch on the parasympathetic nervous system. Your body will register that it’s not in danger and it’s OK to relax. Alternatively, I’ve placed a folded blanket in front of me, to provide a physical barrier.  Additionally, remember that if a pose feels too unsafe for you at this time, there is no need to practice it. Focus on other poses in your yoga practice and work on deepening your breath in those poses. Come back to it another time.

6. If you’re in your first or second trimester of pregnancy, then avoid this pose as it may place undue pressure on the abdominal area.

A woman and man are in a park performing a deep squat with their hands in prayer position.

Key Takeaways

This is the perfect pose to counteract a sedentary lifestyle and to stimulate the internal organs that are part of the digestive system to relieve bloating and constipation.

It stretches and strengthens a variety of parts of the body, making it a great pose to increase mobility.

Due to the position we are in, it can trigger feelings of intense vulnerability. Focus on the breath first, or consider coming back to this pose at a later stage.

This is a great foundational pose for deeper hip openers like Goddess Squat and Lotus Pose. It is a deep stretch and therefore still a challenging pose, so don’t feel defeated if it proves to be a struggle at first. With consistent practice, it will get easier.

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Until next week, much love,