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 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:
- wait for the bus,
- draw lines in the sand,
- plant seeds,
- dig carrots,
- prepare food,
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:
- 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)?
- 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.
- 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.
- More lifestyle tips: watch your Netflix shows (or read, or converse, etc) exclusively on a low surface like an ottoman
- 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.)
- Squat / Toe Stand variations. Squat throughout your day: at the bus stop, while in line, at the airport, while on the phone,
- 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:
- There’s much more that could be written about malasana. We hope to add to this conversation in the future.
- 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.
- 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.