How To: Squat
Stand with your feet approximately shoulder width apart. Bend your knees and drop your hips toward the floor. Go as deep as you can with your heels flat on the floor. If your heels come up, you went too far for now. Once you are in a relatively comfortable position, adjust your feet. Do so slowly and with focus, so as not to tweak your knee. Initially your feet can be significantly turned out, but in time try to bring them to a parallel position. You never want to force the feet into parallel until they are ready. Doing so will put undo stress and strain on the already vulnerable knee joint.
Keep gaze ahead of you, and bring your hands into heart center, prayer position. The back of the upper arms will gently press against the knees. This encourages the pelvis and hips to open further and further. Make a clear and full connection from one hand to the other.
Now, bring your attention to the feet. There must be a full foot connection to the ground. Do not roll to the outer or inner edge of the foot. Also, focus on the base of the big toe, base of the pinky toe, inner and outer heel engaged into the floor. You can eventually lift your toes off the floor in squat. Think of dropping the tailbone and lengthening the spine. With time and practice your back will be very upright, and flat like you were leaning against a wall without roundness.
Benefits of Squat
The role of squat is vast. Done properly and consistently, the most noticeable benefits include:
- Stronger legs, feet, calves and ankles
- Relief of lower back pain
- Open hips, ankles, groin and Achilles
- Stimulation of abdominal internal organs
- Spinal stabilization
- Stimulation of sex glands and spleen (purifier)
- Release of lumbar nerve plexus
For the lay person or yogi, Squat Pose elongates the spine and builds strength in the back. Today's world is inundated with back problems. It's imperative for people to work their abdominals to support the anterior (front) spine, and back muscles to support the posterior (back spine). Total back health comes when there is a balance between the anterior and posterior spine.
Most daily activities have us leaning forward, which weakens the abdominals, overstretches the back and leads to imbalance and injury. Squat Pose is one you can do daily to open your hips and focus on the balance of the spine. Also, chairs and high heels have meant the demise of the Achilles tendon. Both of which significantly shorten the vulnerable tendon. Shortened Achilles will bring more stress to the knee and less stability in the ankle leading eventually to tweaks and tears.
For the athlete, this pose is critical for Achilles tendon health. Once you have pain or aggravation in your Achilles, you risk inefficient running and decreased run times. Pain in the Achilles will increase the likelihood of unconscious changes in your gate and will lead to knee and ankle issues as well as strain on the shins. You will unknowingly change the way you land on your feet to decrease pain. Another vital reason for the athlete to practice squat is for deep hip opening. As you can visualize, sinking into the pose opens the hips intensely. Keeping unlocked hips also notably reduces pull and torque on the knee joint. Anytime the hip is tight and not moving to its fullest capacity extra tension will go the most susceptible place, the knee. You can clearly see the connection between a catcher's stance in baseball, as well a defensive infielder's stance. You will notice the importance of this pose to an offensive lineman, and for goalies in soccer. It is related to a primary ready position in sports.
Although you should always consult your physician and research a properly trained teacher before starting a yoga practice, there are a few instances where you should avoid this pose completely. If you have:
- Had recent knee surgery
- Severe back pain or acute herniation
Instead, begin with modifications or practice under careful supervision. Have fun exploring this pose and learning about your body!
Gwen Lawrence has been a practicing fitness professional since 1990. Her current practice includes private yoga training, class instruction and her sport-specific Power Yoga for Sports training program www.poweryogaforsports.com. Gwen’s unique combination of dance, massage and yoga training experience, coupled with her extensive knowledge of anatomy, nutrition and homeopathy, provide her clients, class participants and athletes with overwhelming benefits. Gwen is the yoga instructor for several New York Yankees baseball players, team yoga instructor for the New York Giants, New York Knicks, New York Red Bulls, and the Pace University baseball team; as well as many youth teams in a variety of sports. Visit her website at www.yogawithgwen.com