If you dread the moment your yoga teacher guides you into a deep squatting pose, and cast sideway glances at yogis on nearby mats who appear to be loving it, you are not a bad yogi. You are not destined for a yoga-less existence, nor should you be shamed to practicing yoga in the dark and unattended corners of the studio. Your hips are simply shaped differently – they are as unique as you are.
The truth is everyone’s squat will look a little different due to anatomical variations of the hip joint. Some of these variations are skeletal, and no amount of yoga practice or hip opening can change the shape of this bony architecture, at least not significantly. Other variations occur in the soft tissues around the joint. These variations can be addressed in hip opening yoga poses. With consistent and safe practice, your squat may change shape as your soft tissues change. Let’s explore the hip and what makes everyone’s Malasana (Garland Pose) look a little different.
Hips, meet Malasana. Malasana, meet Hips.
The hip is a highly mobile ball-and-socket joint that connects the axial skeleton with the lower extremity. The ball is the femoral head at the upper end of the thighbone and the socket is the cup-like acetabulum of the pelvis. Functionally, this joint must be able to support the body’s weight along with any other forces acting on the body. A cartilage seal along with strong muscles and tough ligaments hold the joint together and prevent dislocation.
To set up for Malasana from a standing position, many yoga teachers will instruct students to separate their feet so that they are wider than hip-width apart and to outwardly rotate the legs so that toes point slightly out. Upon bending the knees deeply, the pelvis will sink toward the floor and the hips will be lower than the knees. While these instructions work for some bodies, they don’t work for everyone.
Some of the skeletal variations that affect squatting stance include: the facing of the acetabulum (more forward-facing or more outward-facing), the length of the femoral neck, the angle of the neck in relation to the femur, the depth of the acetabulum, the diameter of the femoral head fitting into the socket, and even the degree of torsion in the knee joints.
No Two Squats Are Alike
Let it be known: there is no one-size-fits-all squat. Some hips will call for a wider stance, while others will feel more comfortable in a narrow stance. Some hips will need more rotation in the legs, and others will require a more parallel position.
Next time you’re in yoga class, measure your success in Malasana by your experience of comfort in the pose, not by how similar or different you look than the teacher or students on neighboring mats. If you feel any pain in your hips or knees try adjusting the width or rotation of your stance until you feel comfortable. And don’t be shy about incorporating props into your pose. Perhaps a bolster under your hips or a blanket under your heels could make the pose feel more accessible.
Despite the fact that the size and shape of your bones change very little, with consistent practice, your squat may dramatically change shape over time. The soft tissue factors that affect your squatting stance, such as the tightness of the muscles and ligaments around the hip, are malleable. As your hip muscles are stretched, and as your ligaments are gently stressed to prevent contracture (shortening due to lack of movement), you may gradually experience new depths and availability in the pose.
One-part yogini, one-part choreographer, and one-part dance educator, Gina Sorensen has the supreme pleasure of talking about movement and the body all day long. She is a Registered Yoga Teacher and the founder of Yoga Natyam, an online resource for yoga classes, where classes are searchable by level, length, and focus. Gina also has a Master of Fine Arts degree in Dance from the University of Oregon and is the Co-Artistic Director of somebodies dance theater, a contemporary modern dance company based in San Diego and directed in collaboration with her husband, Kyle. She teaches in the dance programs at San Diego State University, San Diego City College, and Coronado School of the Arts. Connect on Facebook and Twitter!