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Use a strap to deepen your stretch in garland pose (Malasana)

As long as you have a door that closes toward you, you can duplicate the work of a rope wall in this pose

As long as you have a door that closes toward you, you can duplicate the work of a rope wall in this pose

Sometimes there’s no better place to be than at the end of your rope.
For example, grasping the end of a stable rope – or a stable yoga strap – can give you the extra leverage you need to deepen your stretch in Malasana and come more fully into this great pose for ankles, groins and lower back.
The yoga rope wall in the pictures is a convenient way to hold on to the end of your rope, but it’s just one option among many.
You can also tie a rope around a column, or around the leg of a heavy piece of furniture.
And failing those alternatives, any door that closes toward you can be used to duplicate the bottom hook of a rope wall. Tie a double knot in a yoga strap, put the knot on the opposite side of the door, close the door, then centre the strap and pull it tight.

To do the pose, set up your rope or yoga strap on whatever support you’re using.
Come into squat with your big toes and inner heels together, about two feet away from the wall.
If you can’t bring your heels to the floor, then put a rolled sticky mat under your heels.
Press your heels firmly down into the floor or the sticky mat.
Let your buttocks sink, and feel the length in your lower back.
Brace your upper arms on your knees, and pull down on the rope.
As you inhale, lengthen your outer thighs toward your knees. From your pubic bone to your sternum, lengthen your front body.

As you exhale, release your inner thighs and buttocks toward the floor. Keep the length of your front body as you release your shoulder blades down your back, away from your ears.

Hold for several breaths. With every inhalation, lengthen your spine. With every exhalation, maintain the length as you soften your buttocks toward the floor.

Keep your buttocks descending toward the floor as you stretch forward along the strap.

Keep your buttocks descending toward the floor as you stretch forward along the strap.

Now take your thighs as far apart as you can.
Walk your hands along the rope to help pull your upper body through your thighs.
Continue to press your heels down into the floor, and to drop your buttocks. Roll your shoulder blades down your back, and once more, lengthen the front of your body.
Keep your head up to begin with, and concentrate on lengthening your spine.
When you’ve come as far as you can, bring your head and chest towards the floor.
Then pull your thighs back toward centre and press them into the sides of your torso.
Hold for several breaths and then release.
Rest and repeat.

Benefits: Squatting is one of the postures that keeps us young by retaining the flexibility of our ankles, groins and lower backs. Add the forward movement of Malasana and you create an even deeper stretch. Malasana is a great friend to gardeners, and a steady practice during the week can help you survive weekend garden marathons with less next-day stiffness. If you hyper-extend your knees, it’s an excellent pose to practice because it stretches the deep calf muscles that can be part of the problem.

Sequence: Squat whenever you get the chance – try staying an extra moment or two while wiping up a spill on the floor, or reaching into a low cupboard. You’ll notice quick improvement not just in the pose but also in the flexibility of your hips and legs. In a longer practice, sit in Baddha Konasana (bound angle pose) and Upavistha Konasana (wide angle pose) to stretch your inner thighs before trying Malasana.

Ouch: Intense sensation in the fronts of the shins is normal and will go away with practice. Knee pain isn’t. A folded strap, sock or facecloth behind the back of the knee will often remove the pain. If it doesn’t, check with your teacher before going further.
Avoid this pose if you have a current lower back or knee injury.

Sanskrit Corner: Say Ma-LAH-sanna. Mala means a garland. Asana means pose. In the full pose, your arms wrap around your thighs and clasp behind your back like a garland.

Do you have a favorite way to work with Malasana? A time of day when you find it easy to slip in five minutes with the pose? Please share your expertise. I’d love to hear from you.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Leena Karmakallio October 17, 2012, 6:27 pm

    Hi, in squat-position ankle and knee are in the same line. So knees don´t go over the ankles and toes – like very often so in malasana. In these two the position of the pelvis is totally in different position. Are they both right ways to do? If I want to pay attention to the pelvic floor would the “squat”-position be the right one. If just thinking about the hip joints – then malasana?

    It seems wight lifters use the “squat”-position. The weight lifters very often have the “right” alignments.
    Would be happy to hear your view about this.

    • Eve October 17, 2012, 9:44 pm

      I can’t say as I do have a view on this. I don’t do weight-lifting squats, and don’t feel qualified to weigh in.
      I’d also question whether you need to pay attention to the pelvic floor or the hips. Wouldn’t you want to do both?

  • YogaSpy April 14, 2010, 2:53 pm

    Ah, malasana! Thanks for posting on another pose that most of us rarely practice on a regular basis (but, you’re right, we might do it in daily life, cleaning the house or gardening!). I have three follow-up questions for you:

    1. If I can squat comfortably with my heels down, why can’t I do the clasp? Is there a proportional factor?

    2. One of my students can get her heels down IF she is holding onto something. If she lets go, she falls backward. Do you think it’s simple groin tightness? I am wondering, as her case is not the typical “heels up” situation.

    3. Under “Benefits,” why do you write the following: “If you hyper-extend your knees, it’s an excellent pose to practice because it stretches the deep calf muscles that can be part of the problem.”

    If you deeply flex the calves in malasana, aren’t you contracting (not stretching) the calf muscles? I am particularly curious because I think I’ve strained one of my calf origins and it’s currently hard for me to sit in deeply flexed knee poses that are also weight-bearing (think virasana). So, just curious here.

    Thanks again!


    • Eve April 14, 2010, 7:36 pm

      Hey Yoga Spy,
      Glad you liked the post.

      Your questions, as best I can answer them:

      1. Being able to squat comfortably with your heels down is only part of the pose. Being able to clasp – which I can’t yet do either, despite being able to squat quite comfortably – has more to do with groins, lower back and shoulder flexibility than it does with calves.

      2. I think your student doesn’t really get her heels down when she’s holding onto something. If she did, she could ground down into her heels and lift her spine away from the floor. If she falls backwards, it’s the because of the absence of this upward and forward movement.

      3. In Malasana, you stretch the calf muscle and contract the shin, hence the aching shins for many of us in squat. I think Virasana is a different action.
      Julie Gudmestad wrote a great Yoga Journal piece on hyper-extended knees which includes this: “The overstretched knee ligaments and tendons are also usually accompanied by changes in adjacent muscle groups, including the soleus muscle, which is deep in the calf. The soleus originates on the upper tibia and fibula, then runs down the calf to attach to the heel. If it is short and tight, it will pull the upper ends of the tibia and fibula backward, contributing to hyperextension. So if you have hyperextended knees, it’s important to regularly practice bent-knee calf stretches, like Malasana (Garland Pose) and simple squats.”
      Have you tried Malasana lately? And does it bother your injury?

  • Brooke April 12, 2010, 11:55 am

    oh, I’ve never had the pleasure of this pose! This looks like it would feel terrific. I’ve had to do alot of work on my hip flexors and IT bands to allow me to get into a squat position – and the work continues… ;)
    This pose on my ‘give it a try’ list for tonight! Muchas gracias Eve!

    • Eve April 12, 2010, 12:14 pm

      Great! I hope we can count you in on the five-minute challenge, no matter how it feels when you try it tonight. e