Refine Your Yoga Practice: 5 Easy Fixes for Malasana
If Malasana (Garland Pose) is not part of your regular practice, there are a number of compelling reasons to add it. Benefits of a regular squatting practice include: Opening the hips and groin; Stretching the ankles, hamstrings and back; Giving a little boost to digestion; and Keeping the hip and pelvic joints healthy.
There’s an extra bonus for office dwellers, as the core and postural work required to hold the upper body erect can be a great way to offest the slouching effect that oftens results from prolonged sitting.
How to Practice Malasana
Standing in Tadasana (Mountain Pose), step your feet slightly wider than hip-distance apart. The edges of the yoga mat are a good guide.
Turn your toes slightly outward.
Bend your knees, press both heels firmly into the floor, and begin to lower your hips into a squatting position. Drop your hips only as low as your heels will stay flat on the floor and there is no pain in your knees.
Bring the palms of your hands together into Anjali Mudra (Prayer Pose).
Slide your outer upper arms inside your inner thighs and knees, gently pressing your arms out as your legs press in.
Lift and lengthen your torso, keeping your back straight and shoulders relaxed.
Shift the weight into the heels.
Continue to engage the core as you lengthen the body.
Hold for five breaths or as long as is comfortable.
To come out of the pose, bring the fingers to the floor, and slowly straighten the legs into a forward fold.
Five Common Malasana Misalignments
Garland Pose is usually considered a beginning pose and is often included in all-levels classes. However, that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily accessible to everyone. Here are five common misalignments and solutions for correcting them.
1. Your Heels Don’t Touch the Floor: Malasana is normally performed with feet flat on the floor but your heels may not touch the ground. You’ll want to avoid having your weight shifting forward to the front of the foot, which can harm the knee joint and cause balance issues.
Bear in mind that some people will not achieve heels to the floor due to their femoral shape, length or the angle of their femur heads in the hip sockets. They should still practice the pose, but be aware that it may look a bit different on them.
Lifted heels may also be the result of being tight in the Achilles tendon and lower calf muscles, or a sign that your ankles need strengthening. It can also be a function of the way your ankle joints are constructed.
Even if your heels do touch the floor, pay special attention to your feet. A common way to compensate is to allow the inner arches to collapse inward or to turn your toes out excessively, which again could lead to knee issues.
If your heels don’t touch the floor, place a rolled-up blanket, a yoga wedge (see photo above) or yoga mat under your heels to provide some height under your heels so that you can ground them. Whatever prop you choose should be to provide height and support, rather than to rest your whole body weight on.
2. Knee Pain: You should never feel pain in any pose, including knee pain in Malasana. Garland Pose is contraindicated for those with serious knee issues, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be safely modified.
The simplest modification is to keep the hips higher than the knees, even hovering over a chair for additional support. Using a chair is also a great modification for pregnant yogis.
If tight hip adductors, a tight IT band or weak gluteus muscles are to blame, place a rolled-up blanket or towel behind the knees and lower as far as is comfortable. Be sure to place the prop under both knees, not just the painful knee, to maintain balance in the pelvis and spine.
3. Swayed Back or Rounded Back: An excessively swayed back indicates a weak core, whereas a rounded back could be an indication of weak erector spinae muscles and a tight thoracic spine.
To focus on core strength in Malasana, elevate your seat with a couple blocks or bolsters. Raising the hips will allow the practitioner to focus more on the belly-to-spine connection as well as lengthening the spine. Slightly lowering your chin will allow the back of your neck to lengthen, also helping to elongate your spine.
4. Falling Over Backward: All balance requires core strength. Adding some core-strengthening prep poses will help with balance in Malasana.
Holding onto a table, countertop, rope wall or another sturdy object will help you focus on the core engagement necessary for Malasana. Be sure to use just a light touch on the support object as you slowly lower into the pose, pressing your heels into the floor and lengthening your spine.
Alternatively, working with a partner and holding onto your partner’s hands allows for focusing on the functional mobility of the ankles, knees, hips, and spine without having to worry about falling backward out of the pose.
To practice this way, face your partner and clasp each other’s wrists with your arms straight.
Lower yourselves down into Malasana.
Keep ahold of each other’s wrists to help you balance in the pose.
5. Feeling Lopsided: Any asymmetry in the body will show in Malasana. Common misalignments to look for include one hip being higher than the other, one knee collapsing in, or one shoulder being higher than the other. For lower body asymmetry, use a block, cushion or another prop to lift your hips, making them parallel with the floor.
Shoulder asymmetry can be helped by holding a block between your hands or by holding on to a support object in front of you.
Whichever variation you choose, always remember these key tips for Malasana:
Move into Malasana slowly, focusing on core control.
Avoid forcing your hips lower than they want to go and avoid flexing your knees more than is comfortable.
Never bounce your hips up and down in the pose; doing so will strain your knees and hip flexors.
Lengthen the front of your body, keeping your spine long, never rounded.
Interested in studying yoga for a healthy back, neck and shoulder girdle? Study with Robin Rothenberg and YogaUOnline – Yoga for a Healthy Back: Freeing the Neck and Shoulder Girdle.
Read more on Malasana from YogaUOnline and special contributor Charlotte Bell in her Yoga Pose Primer: Malasana – Strengthen Your Pelvic Floor.
Jennifer Williams-Fields E-RYT 200 is passionate about writing, yoga, traveling, public speaking and being a fabulous single momma to six super kids. Doing it all at one time, however, is her great struggle. She has been teaching yoga since 2005 and writing since she first picked up a crayon. Although her life is a sort of organized chaos, she loves every minute of the craziness and is grateful for all she’s learned along the way. Her first book “Creating A Joyful Life: The Lessons I Learned From Yoga and My Mom” is now available on Amazon. She has had her essays featured on Yahoo! and Dr. Oz The Good Life. She is a regular writer for Elephant Journal Magazine, Your Tango, and YogaUOnline. See more from Jennifer at jenniferwilliamsfields.com