The phrase “root to rise” is common among yoga teachers. While we might not use those exact words, we like to describe ways to push down in effort to create more space. This concept is fundamental to the physical practice or asana branch of yoga. Why is it so important? First, let’s consider how you spend most of your waking hours. Chances are you don’t think about the placement of your feet when you walk around your home, the office, the grocery store; you simply put one foot in front of the other. When you’re standing in line or brushing your teeth at the sink you’re probably not too concerned with evenly distributing the weight in each foot, or with aligning your spine. We spend a lot of time in positions where the body is not in neutral alignment and as a result we become imbalanced. Yoga offers the chance to correct posture and to invite awareness into our bodies. When we practice yoga it’s as though a light is being turned on. Places that felt dark or dull before asana, become bright and more connected after.
Tadasana or Mountain Pose is the seed to all yoga postures. It’s not fancy. It looks a lot like standing, but if practiced correctly, you’ll discover a couple key concepts:
- Maintaining a neutral position takes a degree of effort and awareness.
- By pushing down through the feet you can create more space and stability in the structure above.
A neutral position is one that supports the natural curves of the spine. It’s a position where the stress on the musculo-skeletal system is reduced and it varies from body to body. The size, position, make-up of our bones and joints is unique. We may all have similar parts, but the way they’re shaped and how they articulate is 100% unique to the individual. Genetics, posture, habits and routines, sports, the way we sleep, injury, our age, our health, and more all play a part in our underlying structure. When seeking neutrality, look for a position of ease in the body - one that places the least amount of stress on the bony structure.
How to Create Space and Stability in Mountain Pose:
Stand with the feet hip-width apart, toes and knees pointing forward. Push into the 4 corners of the feet. Lift the inner arches of the feet slightly and imagine putting on a big pair of socks or stockings. Lift the quadriceps and find a position of the pelvis that feels easy. Visualize a string from the navel to the spine and gently draw the belly in. Knit the ribs and lift the sternum without becoming rigid. Relax the shoulders away from the ears and bring the hands together at heart center. Look straight ahead and lift gently though the crown of the head. Feel the spine lengthen and notice its natural curvature. Breathe fully and allow the lungs to gently expand and contract. Remember, neutrality takes effort but should feel easy on the body.
Mountain Pose is a great home base but we also need to move, stretch, twist, compress, fold and open the body. What does it mean to find Tadasana in every asana? Or to let Mountain Pose be the blueprint for all other postures? These are both suggestions I like to give and they are fully loaded cues. When I use these words I'm asking students to move into a space that doesn’t stress the joints, to find a position that brings at least part of the body closer to neutrality, and to create as much space in the body as possible. Some of the more complex or dynamic yoga poses do not even closely resemble Tadasana. Consider Urdhva Dhanurasana or Wheel Pose. The spine and hips are in in deep extension but the knees and feet are in Tadasana. In all poses there are intentional shifts away from Tadasana, yet other areas of the body should maintain neutral.
By attempting to create at least a small piece of Mountain Pose in every pose you will cultivate harmony in your body. Yoga shouldn’t hurt, nor should it be a struggle. It’s a practice that can help to alleviate tension and pain; one that creates more support for our bones and joints as we age; a practice that helps us feel stronger, wiser, and at more at home in our skin.