The name for this pose is said to come from the Sanskrit root mala, meaning "garland" or "rosary." However, this is a mistranslation. Pronounced with a long "a" sound, mala means "garland," while pronounced with a short "a" sound, it translates to "excrement." This is the true origin of the pose name, as it resembles the posture taken in ancient India to eliminate waste.
Practicing malasana opens the hips, relaxes the lower back, and activates the calves and glutes. It also helps boost metabolism, stoke the digestive fire, and alleviate constipation.
In addition to these physical benefits, malasana activates the svadisthana (spleen or sacral) chakra, which influences both the practitioner's sexuality and their feelings.
This is a popular asana with newcomers, as it is relatively simple to perform. However, it is also used extensively by more experienced yogis.