Pose Study: Mountain Pose / TadasanaMarch 29, 2009 at 8:34 am | Posted in poses and asana | 1 Comment
I’ve been bothered lately that I haven’t been posting with any kind of regularity here. Yoga is a really big part of my life, but one wouldn’t know it by glancing at the frequency of my posts.
Since it’s bugging me, I decided this morning that I would start a feature here in which I do an in-depth investigation of individual poses. I spend a fair bit of time in my classes trying to teach good (and safe) form; having some of those studies here might be a good way of clarifying the postures in my mind – not to mention helping others get them right, too. Here, then, is one of the foundational poses; mountain stance or tadasana (ta•DAH•sah•nah).
Begin by finding a comfortable position with your feet. Traditionally, this pose is taught with the insides of the feet touching and the insides of the legs zipped together, but I don’t find that a comfortable way to stand, so I go with a hip-width stance. Having said that, though, most people have no realistic concept of how wide their hips actually are, so I teach them to put two fists together at the thumbs and try to fit them between their feet; if the fists just barely fit – so much the better if they have to squeeze in a little too tightly – then the stance is just about right.
Begin by focusing just on the feet. Imagine looking at yourself from underneath the floor; you should see a nice, even footprint on the mat. Lift all your toes up as high as you can, spread them out, then set them back on the mat. Try to make your feet even toes to heels, inside of foot to outside of foot, and left to right. Make the outside edges of your feet parallel to one another, then wiggle around until your feet feel “right.”
Once you’ve settled your feet, bring your attention through your ankles, then put a soft little bend in your knees and put them underneath your hips; this will tilt your tailbone under just a bit, which is good. Imagine putting a big space between every bone in your back – start at your tailbone and open up all the way to the bone tucked under your skull at the top of your neck.
Pull your belly button in and up toward your heart (even if it doesn’t actually move very much), then push your heart out just a bit and lift it toward the ceiling. Square your shoulders and let them slide down your spine away from your ears. Check to make sure that the points of your hip bones are parallel to the floor. Release your arms down and relax your hands.
People generally lead with their faces. Don’t believe me? Next time you’re at a stop light, look at the guy in the car next to you; his face will be well in front of his neck, I practically guarantee it. Check out the woman at the table next to you in the restaurant. Watch the way people walk and you’ll see what I mean; people’s noses get there before they do. In order to counter this tendency, tuck your chin very gently toward your spine and imagine pushing all your energy out though the center of the top of your head. Think of a charging bull – always lead with the middle of the top of your brain, not with your nose or your chin. It’s not important how close you can get your face to the floor in yoga; what’s important is how long you can make your spine.
From here, I invite people to relax into the pose. You shouldn’t feel like you’re a soldier on review; you’re strong and straight, certainly, but you shouldn’t be tense.
Here is also where I invite people to close their eyes. Doing this accomplishes three things: one, it keeps people from comparing themselves to anyone else; two, it helps people get inside their skin to feel what’s happening in there and to make sure that their bones are properly lined up and that the right muscles are working and the rest of them are relaxed; and three, it helps to bring people back to a consciousness of their breath.
Begin to be aware of your breath here. Just observe it at first; don’t try to change or influence it. Notice everything you can about the breath; how it feels, how it sounds, how you actually physically breathe – through your mouth or your nose or a combination of each – how it tastes or smells, how your body changes as you breathe in and out, and what happens between the breaths. Then, using six or seven or however many you need to get there, begin to deepen the breath. Try to work from bottom to top; every time you breathe in, take the air deeper into your body with the goal of breathing all the way into your hip pockets and, eventually, all the way into the sinuses behind your eyebrows. Every time you breathe out, start by emptying the bottom part of your breath first, eventually emptying all the way to behind your eyebrows. Don’t force the breath, mind you – only breathe to your own capacity – but do be mindful fo reaching that capacity, and of maintaining it through your practice.
I often do a little visualization work here, as well. I ask my students to imagine a little ball of light between heart and breastbone, and ask them to use their breath to power it up so that it’s strong enough to send a beam of light to the bone that lives right behind their heart and, from there, to illuminate their spine such that a beam of light shines from their tailbone and from the crown center of their head. I use this image through the class to keep their attention on making their spines long and of reaching through poses rather than simply just standing there.
So, that’s mountain pose. It’s a lot more than “just standing there,” huh?
I generally use this posture at the beginning of class as a centering pose, and between rounds of forward folds, sun salutations, and series of warriors or standing stretches. After certain rigorous series, if one stands quietly in mountain pose, one can often feel one’s fingers and face tingling – I love the delight that people express when they realize that they can feel that in themselves, and I sometimes have a hard time getting people to leave mountain because they’re so enjoying being present.