Stand In Tadasana Five Ways To Enter Mountain Pose
When a new student searches for a yoga class, they soon discover a huge selection of styles of yoga. One style may emphasize stress reduction, another alignment, and yet another, fitness. Hatha yoga is commonly understood to be the practice of physical postures or asanas.
Many classes combine it with breathing exercises and relaxation. How can the novice know the difference between all the types of hatha yoga? Which is the best for an individual’s body, stress level and health goals? One way to understand the different styles of yoga is to listen to the language used by a teacher to lead the student into different poses.
In this article, the teachers of Center for Yoga in Framingham, MA offer a glimpse into a few traditional styles through the language used to enter Tadasana, or the mountain pose. Mountain pose is a basic, aligned standing pose, arms at your sides, with variations in lifting or extending the arms. The pose improves posture and ease of the body during standing. The styles presented here are Kripalu yoga, Kundalini yoga, Anusara-influenced yoga, Iyengar-influenced yoga, and Svaroopa® yoga. Different teachers of the same tradition will vary in their presentation, but these introductions will provide a flavor for each practice of yoga.
Taking a yoga class is the best way to experience what yoga will bring to you personally. To help you decide on a class that’s right for you, have a friend read each section out loud while you try following the instructions. As you enter Tadasana from each tradition, you may discover which style says "yes" to your body and opens your heart, leading you on a pathway of following your bliss.
Kripalu yoga emphasizes a flowing breath, relaxation, feeling sensations, witnessing the mind and allowing the flow of the life force (prana) to move and adjust you during the practice.
“Come to a standing position. Bring your feet to hip width apart. Look down at your toes and make the inner edges of the big toes parallel to each other. Breathe a full yogic breath and begin to feel the soles of the feet making contact with the earth. How is your weight distributed through the soles of the feet? Begin to pendulum your whole body slightly forward and back, feeling the weight move to the ball and heel of the foot. Slow to a stillness that distributes your weight evenly on the front and back of each foot. Now pendulum the body side to side. Notice the inner and outer edges of each foot. As you slow to stillness, have your weight balanced evenly over both feet and feel all edges of the feet connecting to the earth. Grow roots from your feet down to the center of the earth. Are you breathing?
Imagine you can hug all the muscles of the legs in towards the bones. Now do that at 80%. Keep balanced over the feet. Become aware of the hips. The pelvis is like a bowl that holds water. If it is tipped too far forward or back, the water will spill out. When level, it will hold the contents of your torso without strain. Tip the hips forward and back until you find that centered place. Breathe, feel, and relax the parts of the body that are not involved.
Lift the rib cage up away from the waist. Imagine you can squeeze a lemon between the shoulder blades to make lemonade. Slide them back and down. Keep your belly slightly in, but still breathing fully. Imagine a string attached to the center of the breastbone lifting up to the sky. Imagine two other strings lifting in a similar way: one at the top of the head another at the back center of the head. Let the head float above the shoulders like a helium-filled balloon.
Extend your energy down through the fingers towards the earth. Now turn the palms face out and lift the hands to the sky. Palms face each other. Relax the shoulders to create spaciousness between the ears and the arms.
Use your full yogic breath to move prana through your body. Let your body become the vessel that connects heaven and earth. Let go of the “doing” of the pose and breathe…feel…relax…witness. Allow sensations to arise and disappear. Bring yourself completely into this moment.”
Mountain pose can be found in some Kundalini yoga kriyas. A kriya is a sequence of postures, breath and sound that are integrated together to allow the manifestation of a particular state, a facet of your awareness. Kundalini yoga kriyas were brought to the West by Yogi Bahajan who passed them on unaltered as he had learned them from his teacher, following a lineage that reaches back thousands of years. The word “kriya” means action — an action that leads to a complete manifestation, that lets a seed come to bloom. In kriya, the action becomes aligned with the larger pattern of the Self. By having those encounters with your infinite self you start to perceive something outside the constrictions and conditionings of the ego — Akaal Moorat, the eternal (undying) beyond time and space.
Kundalini yoga is not focused on a certain outcome, such as a perfect form, but on a process. In doing Kundalini yoga, you are working to release energy. A part of your creative potential lies dormant under the fourth vertebra of the spinal column. When awakened, this kundalini energy rises up the central column of the spine until it reaches the top of the skull. This process is the opening of the soul energy of awareness. It also activates and balances the various energy centers along its path. But in order for the energy to rise it must be allowed to flow freely. A preoccupation with your body’s momentary limits restricts the flow of energy as efficiently as any physical misalignment would. Therefore, as a first step it is important to accept and enjoy what you are able to do at this moment. Relax and go with the flow. You then will improve and refine yourself naturally.
“For Tadasana, stand with your feet apart the width of one fist so that your feet are in alignment with your pelvic bones. Consciously release unnecessary tension and comfortably stand in this position. Breathe long and deep through the nose. Tighten sex organs, anus and navel. This is called root lock or mula bandh and anchors your spine in alignment with your legs. Relax your lower body, letting its weight sink into the gravitational force of the earth, while your upper body and spine naturally stretch up toward the heavens. Roll your thighs inward to bring your feet together so that the inner sides of the feet touch. Lift your chest, relax your shoulders and pull the chin towards the back of the neck. This is call the neck lock, or jalandhar bandh. Place your arms by your sides with your palms facing forward. This centers the heart over the pelvis with the head lined up with the heart. Now when you start to move your pelvis from the navel point, the heart and head naturally move in alignment with it. Although your actions begin from the navel point, they are oriented from the heart. So is the head. Recognize that the heart gives inspiration, advice and direction when you allow yourself to stand with majesty and gravity.”
Anusara yoga was developed by John Friend, a student and teacher of many yoga traditions for over 25 years. It integrates very precise principles of alignment, inner body awareness, and an opening of the heart toward accepting and receiving grace. Anusara is a Sanskrit word which means "stepping into the current of the divine, flowing with grace, and following your heart." Anusara is opening and saying “yes” to the full spectrum of life, and experiencing both the light and the dark, all sensations, perceptions, emotions and thought, while focusing on alignment with spiritual intention.
“Stand with your feet parallel, hip’s width apart. Lift and spread your toes. Broaden the soles of your feet to create a wide base, balancing your weight equally between the toes and heels, right leg and left leg. Weight should rest just in front of your heels. Lift the inner arches and imagine that your toes and corners of your heels are like tree roots spreading and growing into the floor, or like a tent lifted in the middle, and rooted by the poles (the toes and heel corners).
Press the shins slightly outwards and spiral the top of the thigh inward, avoiding the knees coming in. Notice a lift in the pelvis. As you spiral the thighs inward, very slightly scoop the tip of the tailbone forward, not so much as to throw your hips forward, but enough to keep the hips from going back like a duck. Humble your chest into your back and puff out your kidneys. Chest melts to the spine. Shoulders spread out to the side as the neck circles back and the head rests forward in relation to the spine.
Interlace your hands behind your neck and bring the elbows in front of you. Root into the armpits. Inhale, hug the muscles into the bones, maintaining a lifted firmness throughout the whole body. Exhale, root down into the earth and shine out, expanding energy in all directions. Imagine a straight line going from your head through your shoulders, back, hips, and feet. Breathe deeply and smoothly. Be present, in the here and now. Feel the groundedness, stability, and majesty of the mountain.”
B.K.S Iyengar has taught this innovative and exacting style of yoga to students and teachers throughout the world for over 60 years. Iyengar yoga has influenced possibly all western styles of yoga with its focus on precise alignment and informed awareness. Details of each asana are offered in a way that allows the student to integrate each suggestion, and over time, achieve great refinement. Props such as blocks, blankets, pillows and straps are an integral part of creating alignment and safety in this method.
"Tadasana is considered the foundation of all standing poses. Much like a mountain, the strength and stability of your Tadasana starts at the base, with your feet. Stand upright with both feet together, big toes and inner heels touching. Make sure both sets of toes are pointing straight ahead and that the outer edges of the feet are parallel. If it feels more stable, stand with the feet two to three inches apart.
Find balance between the left and right foot. Shift your weight from side to side several times before settling on a position where the weight is balanced over both feet. Rock forward to the toes and back towards the heels. Once again find a place of balance where the weight of your body is evenly distributed between the ball of the foot and heel. Feel the balance and security of the weight over both feet.
Lift your toes and notice how this lifts the arches of your feet and activates the quadriceps (thigh muscles). Try to keep the arches of your feet lifted as you spread your toes apart and bring them down onto the mat. If you have trouble spreading the toes, bend over and use your hands to manually spread the toes apart. Feel the connection with the soles of the feet and your mat and the wideness of each foot on the floor. Try to feel each toe resting on the floor. Press into the four corners of the feet. Allow your legs to be strong and secure without gripping or holding.
Move your attention up to your pelvis. Place your hands on your hips. Move your tailbone forward and back. Notice how this changes the position of the pelvis. In Tadasana, your hips should be balanced over the heels with the pelvis in a neutral position. Move the tailbone down toward the floor to lengthen the low back. Draw your abdominal muscles in towards the spine to keep your belly from pushing forward. Rotate the tops of your thighs slightly back. Lengthen the sides of the waist; grow long along the sides of the torso.
With your arms down by your side, elongate the fingers toward the floor. Turn the palms slightly forward and lift your chest. Draw the shoulder blades towards each other, without pinching them together. Create opening and lift across the front of the chest without becoming rigid or pressing the chest too far forward. Remember to keep the tailbone down and the abs in.
Elongate the neck. Lift the base of the skull up and draw the chin slightly back. Press the crown of the head toward the ceiling, while staying grounded to the earth through the soles of the feet. Relax your jaw, your eyes, and your face. Feel the strength of your Tadasana pose come from your feet, the base."
Svaroopa yoga emphasizes the release of tension in the muscles closest to the spine. Precise alignments and props are used to support the body so the spinal muscles will release. In Tadasana, you begin to take the qualities of Shavasana — yoga's relaxation pose — into the standing position, and then into your life.
"In Tadasana, the focus is on learning how to stand without tightening the spine. In order to begin to do this, one needs to lean into their leg bones and use the legs for support. Begin by standing with your feet aligned parallel with your big toes touching and your heels a little wider apart. The weight of both your feet is distributed evenly between each foot and within each foot. Allow the muscles in your legs to soften. Let the weight of your body lean through your leg bones, into the bones of your feet, and through your feet into the floor. Imagine you are letting your legs lean into wet sand at the beach. Align your ribs over your hips and your head over your shoulders. Turn your thoughts inward and become aware of your body. Through growing awareness you learn to recognize the patterns of how you hold your body. Ultimately you find the ability to stand without tightening. Once you are able to stand without tightening your spinal muscles, the core tensions in your body and mind begin to release. You find more ease in standing."
Center for Yoga in Framingham, MA offers ongoing yoga classes in a variety of traditional styles, for all levels of ability. Information on classes and teachers can be found at http://www.centerforyoga.us or call 508-620-9642. Contributors to this article include Annette Bongiorno, RYT, Svaroopa yoga instructor; Nathan Joiner, RYT, teaching an eclectic yoga class influenced by Anusara and Kripalu; Lisa Megidesh, RYT, director of the studio, offering Kripalu yoga; Lynn Miller, RYT, teaching hatha yoga influenced by Iyengar and Kripalu styles, and Ravi Dass Kaur, RYT, Kundalini yoga instructor.