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.
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.