In my yoga classes, I frequently have my students hang out in the squat, malasana, for a while, and then invite them to work their way into kakasana, or the crane pose. I use malasana as a starting point for kakasana, to help keep form and facilitate getting into the more challenging pose. But the greatest reason for malasana, is that in our modern day lifestyles, we have invented so many things that our ancestors did not have, that as a result, we lost hip flexibility, leg strength, and even ankle flexibility and durability.
A naturopathic friend of mine, decades ago, urged me to get in a squatting position for at least five minutes a day to prepare my body for childbirth. The squat, she said, prevents the episiotomy, which is now done in hundreds of thousands of “natural” childbirths today. My friend explained that in traditional societies, women work(ed) in the fields, squatting, stretching out the perineal area.
Today, women spend endless hours on high stools, chairs and couches. Rarely do they even attempt to squat. Back when my daughter was born, episiotomies were routine. They’ve backed off, somewhat, on the knife now. A 2005 study found that one in three women in the U.S. and 80 percent in Portugal “required” an episiotomy during vaginal birth. Yet, when midwives assist in the U.S., less than three percent of women are given episiotomies.
When my daughter, now an adult, came back from three months in Japan, she told me that young people socialize in the streets, squatting, for long periods of time. It was natural. And comfortable. In India, sitting on floors is also natural, and the food prep workers I saw daily did everything squatting or sitting on the floor.
At an ashram stateside, where I’ve spent a considerable amount of time, there was one lone sofa (no chairs) in a library on the premises. When a few people were resting on the couch they were chastised. “Don’t be tamasic,” the swami warned. Tamasic is one of the three Ayurvedic gunas, that I equate with lethargy and decay, as in eating meat or fermented foods. That warning stuck with me. The tamasic qualities of sitting in chairs or couches, also leads to poor posture. Sitting on the floor, or squatting, forces you to keep your spine straight. To help people lead healthier, satvic lives, Yin yoga instructor, Denise Kaufman, is telling people to get on the floor. She has a web site, www.squateverywhere.com and a Facebook page. She attributes chair sitting and couch potatoing to the billion dollars a year spent on back pain. I’ve had chronic lower back issues since I was an adolescent. Back then, I spent way too much time lounging on a couch watching TV.
Today, I rarely watch my one remaining “idiot box,” as my mom called it. At home, or in public places, I typically sit on a hard wood chair, but with my legs crossed, Indian style, or in yoga’s “easy pose,” sukhasana. I like the Sanskrit name, as it’s pronounced like the Spanish su casa, which reminds me that that’s how I should sit in su casa or mi casa. When I go to a restaurant, I typically request a booth to allow me more room and comfort to sit cross legged, as well. I find that if my legs are hanging down in a chair, it brings tension to my lower back. If I head for a couch, I’m in sukhasana, to keep my hip flexors open, and to relieve pressure on my back. Many people find sitting on a cushion, on the floor, is more comfortable, to elevate the hips higher than the knees. However, I’m more comfortable with my hips level with my knees.
For those that find squatting difficult, Kaufman has a video on her web site with modifications for those not used to hanging out close to the ground. As our society “advances,” we end up losing so much. Fortunately, there’s an easy fix to the back pains and poor posture, unneeded episiotomies, and even varicose veins.
Deborah Charnes Certified Yoga Instructor and Therapist Depending on one’s avocation and training, a Yoga Therapist can be a cross between an Ayurvedic consultant, Acupuncturist, Acupressurist, Physical Therapist, Psychotherapist, Nutritionist and Myofascial Remodeler.
A graduate of Yandara Institute’s 200 hour Certified Yoga Teacher program, Deborah Charnes pulls her knowledge from all the above, along with her many decades of experience with hatha yoga, meditation, bhakti (devotional chanting) and pranayama (deep breathing) to help her clients live their lives to the fullest. She was trained in Ayurvedic massage therapy, Ayurvedic nutrition and cooking, and personalized Ayurvedic treatment plans at Sivananda Ashram in India. In addition to the Ayurveda certification, she holds certification in Yin Therapy, Restorative Yoga Therapy and Yoga Nidra Therapy, Acupressure and Reiki.
She is currently completing her 700 hour certification in accordance with the International Association of Yoga Therapists. Deborah understands firsthand the physical symptoms that can arise from a stressful life, along with the solution. Through adherence to the multiple branches of ashtanga yoga Deborah has reduced her blood sugar level and nearly eradicated decades of chronic GI and lower back pain. As a teenager, she recognized the value of deep breathing, deep stretching, along with deep sips of herbal tea to lessen the outer influences and maintain a more positive and peaceful state of mind.
For the last few years, she has been working with people of all ages and with many physical or emotional challenges to improve their level of health, and reduce stress, through simple techniques that can be practiced anywhere and anytime. Off the mat, she is a contributing author of two university public relations textbooks, maintains a travel blog on mysa.com, publishes her own yoga blogs at www.TheNamasteCounsel.com and writes health-related articles for many other media outlets. Deborah is a graduate of the University of Illinois, and attended UNAM in Mexico City. She teaches in both English and Spanish.