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December 4, 2018

Malasana: How to Overcome the Struggle in the Deep Yoga Squat

how to get into garland pose deep squat butt to heels

Here’s a comprehensive guide to getting more comfortable in Malasana

Plus, if you scroll down far enough, 7 Steps to Better Ankle Mobility

We at Yoga Anatomy Academy love malasana and are on a mission to make this deep squat more accessible to more humans.

The motivation is this: a large chunk of what we know as yoga asana falls into the category of “specialized movement” or specialized static positions (listen to this concept explained as part of our 10 Principles of Anatomy-Informed Yoga on any of these podcast episodes: The Mentor Sessions, The Connected Yoga Teacher, Yoga Teacher Grad School).

Specialized Movement

Specialized movement is in contrast to what Katy Bowman dubs “Natural Movement”, “motions found in nature at a certain consistency, volume and distribution” (referenced in the beginning of this podcast – Move Your DNA no. 113). Natural movement is distinct from motions the body can do.

Obviously we can create fantastic shapes and perform surreal athletic feats (within or outside of calling it asana). But we believe that should be done in a body that can also move naturally into basic shapes. 

This is also not a blog post with any prerogative to tell you whether a pose, a shape or an athletic performance is either good or bad. (We love watching Olympic gymnastics, too.) That can only be a personal decision distinct to your own body. However, some movements help with the fluidity of daily human activities, some simply don’t. The ones that do are “functional movements” (or “natural movements”).

Malasana and the Functional Squat

Malasana is a yoga pose AND a highly functional squat, clearly falling into the category of “natural movement”. It’s a shame that so many yogis (and of course other modern humans) struggle to get into malasana. This is the shape that BILLIONS of humans take every day to:

  • defecate,
  • wait for the bus,
  • draw lines in the sand,
  • plant seeds,
  • dig carrots,
  • prepare food,
  • etc.

This is the malasana variation we are discussing in this post.

This squat is a fundamental component of Gray Cook’s the Functional Movement Screen, used by sports teams all over the world as part of prehabilitation and as a screening to make sure folks have basic movements set before putting them through huge power movements.

Clarification – one variation of malasana that we understand to be very Iyengar style/classical (see this post) has the feet touching and the spine flexed into a deep forward fold between the knees. This is not the same variation being discussed in this post.

We bring you three new videos to help make malasana a reality for you.

First – find out which joint is stopping you from your deep squat, then learn ankle mobility and hip protection tips. 

Video #1: What’s Stopping You from Malasana?

This video looks at the three joints that could be limiting you from enjoying malasana. (Hint, it’s either the ankles, the knees, or the hips, technically adding up to 6 joints on most of us. The video breaks down how to know which joint is your limiting factor. Of course, there could be more than one joint limitation.)

Video #2: Ankle Mobility for Malasana 

This video explores 7 (!) different rich tips (with subtips- all summarized below!) to improve your ankle mobility to unlock malasana for you.

7 Steps to Better Ankle Mobility

This list summarizes the considerations and recommendations to get better ankle mobility from the video #1:

  1. Examine Your Lifestyle: look at shoe wear, consider whether you have a short step length when you walk, are your toes turned out excessively?, are you exposing your calves to the natural movement practice of walking up and down hills or uneven surfaces (if safe)?
  2. Use props: don’t be shy with props. Props are tools. Many of you would not like to hand wash all of your clothing, therefore you use a washing machine. You would not like to press a nail into a wall with your hand, so you use a hammer. Unless you are such a purist that the above scenarios don’t apply to you, use props as needed, as tools. Props in malasana can help create low load prolonged stretch (i.e. you can maintain sustained stretch for up to many minutes with moderate to low sensation) for the Achilles tendon, and provide knee pressure relief or hip pinching relief (video #3). Use whatever you have got: blankets folded under heels, blankets folded behind the knee, blanket roll in the fold of the hips, a counter to hold onto, a block under your bum, etc, etc. 
  3. Use arms to hold onto something to let you squat down — a barre if your studio space has one, a counter, a table, back of a chair, doorknob, rope, etc —this will allow you to go to your current end range and has the added bonus of providing a small percentage body weight hanging benefit to the upper body. 
  4. More lifestyle tips: watch your Netflix shows (or read, or converse, etc) exclusively on a low surface like an ottoman
  5. Do let your knees pass your toes in yoga: Don’t be afraid to practice low lunge (anjaneyasana) with your knee past your toes. This is a normal human movement, a natural movement, that occurs every single day that you climb a stair, a curb walk up or down a hill, etc etc. (and the cue to avoid knees past your toes is not only inconsistent with reality, but induces kinesiophobia, movement avoidance, fear of movement.)
  6. Squat / Toe Stand variations. Squat throughout your day: at the bus stop, while in line, at the airport, while on the phone,
  7. Practice Self-Myofascial release to calves. We have a video on that, too. (and an ENTIRE comprehensive online course on self myofascial release for yoga).

Video #3: What to do when your hips Pinch in Malasana

This video offers a quick tip to allow some who have anterior hip impingement (hip pinching) to still enjoy malasana (or child’s pose) comfortably.

Let’s be clear on three things:

  1. There’s much more that could be written about malasana. We hope to add to this conversation in the future.
  2. We only offered mobility tips for the ankles because they are the joints most likely to be limitation range of motion not by pain or pathology.
  3. Knee pain and hip pinching are very real and good reasons to not practice this pose, or at least to find a pain-free, pinch-free version for you, using as many props as your body requests – or perhaps only practicing component parts of the pose (we explain this in our sequencing workshop). The challenge of addressing pain in a blog post is that pain = individual treatment. Please see a physical therapist to help get you further on this path to pain-free natural movement.

P.S. Our Online Yoga Anatomy Mentorship can help make this kind of pose break-down and anatomic analysis second-nature to you. We highly recommend checking it out

13 Comments on “Malasana: How to Overcome the Struggle in the Deep Yoga Squat

Robin
December 6, 2018 at 3:35 pm

Love these videos. They are so helpful and clear.

Reply
DrFoster
December 8, 2018 at 6:47 pm

thank you, Robin! Glad they are helpful.

Reply
Sumi
December 12, 2018 at 9:48 pm

Hi,

i was doing a lot of Yoga poses, but in 2014 i tripped, fell down, broke my R knee cap in two places. Am still doing my physical therapy exercises and slowly easing into Yoga poses. Was doing the mulasana. BUT, now my R knee doesn’t bend as much and doc says this is the maximum I am going to achieve.

It is frustrating. I also have severe arthritis and major lower back probs.

Any tips, suggestions?

Thanks.

Reply
DrFoster
December 13, 2018 at 2:02 am

Hi Sumi, I absolutely cannot give medical advice in this format, but I can say this: Keep up the hope. Do your best not to identify with labels like “arthritis”, and find a team of positive physical therapists and other health care support around you to stay strong and vital your whole life.

Reply
MZ
January 23, 2019 at 4:24 am

Thank you for the second updated video on the wedge technique! Do you feel that as a rule there is a safe way of being able to return to practice Malasana and Skandasana (and to an extent, wide-legged Balasana, too) following surgery for labral tear / FAI impingement?

I’ve found ever since my surgery (2 years ago now), I’m back to normal in almost all respects in my practice, except in poses where there is a deep compression of the front hip joint.

Is this something that can be gradually rehabilitated, or is it common to never be able to practice these postures again?

Reply
DrFoster
January 24, 2019 at 2:17 am

FAI and especially surgical approach to correcting it can be highly variable. So the short answer is I don’t know — for you. The longer answer is yes, it’s always possible that post-FAI surgery once could do malasana again. If this position is important to you, work with a physiotherapist who can help assess the appropriateness for you and train it in positions that don’t force your body weight into the compressive position: on your back, on an incline, with a towel roll between pelvis and thigh, AND, train the strength. For example, go as deep into a squat as you can without any pain or pinching, hold for endurance, and slowly come up. do that again and again in the direction of malasana with at least 48 hours of recovery time in between to assure it’s appropriate for your body. Let me know how it goes!

Reply
MZ
January 24, 2019 at 2:44 am

Thank you so much for the amazing, super swift reply! I appreciate it enormously.

Yep, I think you’ve confirmed for me my growing suspicions. I’ve still got some more work to do on strength, in a specific, PT capacity. I’ll be looking into remedial physical training over the coming months to compliment my practice, then.

I’ll keep you posted! Thanks again.

Reply
Maureen
March 15, 2019 at 12:56 pm

I just had a question about a current hip labrum tear and osteitis pubis. I love the malasana pose . It stretches out my back and groin nicely. But I am having a hard time telling if it is irritating my anterior tear. It doesn’t usuallyhurt while performing it. But later in the day, not sure. Tend to have rotating pain, both myofacial and muscular. I am on my feet sometimes 12 hours a day

Reply
DrFoster
March 15, 2019 at 9:46 pm

If you aren’t sure whether it’s irritating it, but you feel pain later, i’d say avoid it and definitely get checked out by a physio / PT. I am unable to provide individualized medical advice online. Thank you for reading!

Reply
Wade Allen
July 6, 2019 at 12:42 am

Hello
Great video!
My sticking point is in the knees. I cannot touch heels to buttocks. I need this for my jujitsu training.

How can I improve this?

Thank you.

Reply
DrFoster
July 6, 2019 at 1:27 pm

I suggest working with a physical therapist, a personal trainer, or an FRC practitioner.

Reply
Utopia Pure
October 29, 2019 at 8:34 am

Low lunge is one of the easy beginner’s postures that stretches your hips and groins. This is also the most effective yoga poses for wider hips. However, people who are suffered from a knee injury should avoid this posture.

Reply
DrFoster
October 29, 2019 at 12:55 pm

While this comment is not related to the original post and is probably spam for click-thru value (your URL has been deleted), I’ll still respond: average range of motion into hip extension is approximately 15 degrees in a healthy adult. If you are in a low lunge, you are probably “stretching” your abdomen and going into a deep backbend more than simply stretching your anterior hip musculature. (you are probably not getting to your “groin” at all unless your pelvis is on a diagonal). That said, you could also sink into your anterior hip ligaments and “stretch” those in a low lunge, particularly if you spend long periods of time in it. Ligament stretching can contribute to significant long term problems from joint instability. Please, please #knowyouranatomy, particularly if you are offering advice to the general public. If you need more, we have a comprehensive online yoga anatomy mentorship. See the “Shop” tab in the menu to join.

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