I'm pretty new to yoga and I can't squat with my feet parallel. I attribute it to the fact that I am bow-legged and hence my knees meet easily. Is there a way of doing the pose correctly?
—Kemmy, Hong Kong
Tias Little's reply:
Learning to sit in a squat (I like to call it Squatasana!) is worth doing for several reasons. It opens up the groins and prepares you for arm balances. In addition, squatting, rather than sitting in a chair, is the way that nature intended for our skeleton to relax. It prevents compression on the delicate structure of the tailbone, sacrum and lower back. It also requires you to develop awareness in the feet. In the beginning, it's common for people's feet "duck out" to the side. But ultimately, the feet must be kept parallel to give an even extension along the inner foot, inner knee, and inner thigh.
Practice doing the pose while holding onto a post, a table leg, or the like. While hanging on, be sure to set your feet in the proper alignment. While squatting allow your pelvis to drop down toward your heels. This requires flexibility in the deep pocket of your inner thigh. It is fine to elevate your heels onto a blanket or block if you need to while you are learning the pose.
It is common for people to have foreshortening in the Achilles tendon. The pressure on the Achilles may force the feet apart and contribute to the bowing in your outer shins. If this is the case, practice Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend) and Parsvottanasana (Intense Side Stretch Pose) and set a block or slant board at the base of the toes under the front foot. Your toes will be higher than your heels, which will require a greater extension of your Achilles.
It will also be valuable to practice Marichyasana III (Marichi's Pose). Sit on the floor with your left leg extended in front of you. Bend the right knee and set the right foot on the floor, to the inside of the left thigh. Be sure that the bent leg foot is parallel to the extended leg. Press into the heel of that foot to stabilize your knee and increase the flexion at your hip.
To reduce some of the bowing in you outer shins, I advise practicing balancing poses on one leg like Ardha Chandrasana (Half Moon Pose). As you come into this pose strongly lift the arch of the standing foot and draw the outer shin area toward the inner shin. This will make your outer limb more elastic (perhaps taking some of the convex shape out over time), which will give you better alignment in the squatting pose.
Often the shin bows outward due to the stress from running or athletics. Have you been a runner? If you are, practice Virasana (Hero Pose) before and after each run. This will help maintain elasticity in your feet and ankles for the squat position and will give a much-needed stretch to the muscles along the front of your bodyin particular the quadriceps and psoas muscles.
Tias brings a wonderful play of metaphor and imagination to his yoga teaching. He is trained in the Iyengar and Ashtanga Vinyasa systems and his perspective clearly reflects the Buddha's teachings. He is a licensed massage therapist and has studied extensively in cranial-sacral therapy and Rolfing. Tias earned a Masters in Eastern Philosophy from St. John's College. He currently co-directs Yogasource in Santa Fe New Mexico with his wife Surya and leads yoga intensives throughout the country. Tias' teaching schedule is available on his web site