Tadasana is often the first posture we take just before launching in to a standing sequence in a yoga class. It might be the posture in which you set your intention for the practice, you may return to it a number of times to confirm that sense of stillness and grounding, or maybe you avoid it as much as possible, because just standing still is pretty difficult….
In order to delve deeper in to our yoga practice, it’s important to realise Tadasana is in no way just standing still, – just as savasana is never just lying down – it’s the blueprint for every other standing posture, and the place in which we can cultivate a deeper awareness of how we are physically, mentally and maybe even spiritually.
It’s true that a lot of us struggle more with stillness than with movement. Being seemingly effortless takes a surprising amount of effort, which is indeed why our western culture today needs a dynamic practice. Our bodies are under active, while our minds are more over stimulated than ever, so moving dynamically not only helps to keep the body physically healthy, but it takes a load off the brain too. The ancient yogis’ practice looked nothing like a vinyasa, bikram or ashtanga practice; they were more interested in transcending the body, using their mind to realise consciousness and to come into a state of deep meditation. Their yoga practice was raja yoga, or ‘royal yoga’. The yoga of meditation.
While meditation is an essential aspect of yoga, and should not be underestimated for the power it has to create massive shifts in awareness, it’s not so easy for many of us to get in to that meditative state without a little movement first, to shake off the ‘chitta vrittis’ or to put it plainly ‘mind chatter’.
Tadasana though, is where it all begins. This is sort of where you decide how the rest of your practice will unfold – are you mindful of how your body feels in this position, are you aware of tapping into the meaning behind the posture – Tadasana, mountain pose – how does it feel to be a mountain?
To the outside world, sure, you’re just standing there. But inside you’re engaging and releasing muscles, feeling the breath flowing, observing the mind beginning to get just a little quieter. It’s not so much standing to attention, as standing with intention.
Tadasana can be practiced pretty much anywhere, so the next time you’re in a queue, waiting at the bus stop, …….. you can practice this posture which so often gets overlooked for the power it has to take us from all the drama outside of us, to the stillness inside. Vanda Scaravelli – an inspiring Italian Yoga teacher who originally studied with Iyengar – said ‘This is the most important pose. Do it right and all the others will follow’.
Luckily, the only physical preparation you’ll need for Tadasana is standing up…. If you aren’t able to stand, this is where the mind plays a powerful role – you can still feel that sense of being a strong, magnificent mountain seated too.
Let’s work from the bottom to the top:
- Stand with the feet either together with the big toe joints touching, or hip-width apart. Traditionally, the posture is done with feet together, but as with all postures this may not feel right for you, so get the foundations feeling good before you continue.
- Think about grounding through the heel little toe and big toe. Pressing down in this way creates a kind of spiralling motion as the weight grounds down through the foot and creates a lift up through the inner arches – a rebounding effect.
- Shifting the weight a little further back into the heels may encourage the more natural lift up through the body that we’re looking for.
- Moving up to the knees, ensure they’re not locked. This is sometimes a tricky thing to get the balance of – the kneecaps are indeed lifted to engage the thighs, but the knees aren’t locked. When we do lock the knees, this almost cuts our relationship off with the feet. We have less muscular engagement of the legs, and less control over what we’re doing.
- So with thighs engaged, find a lift through the pelvic floor (cultivating mula bandha, your root lock).
- Lengthen the tailbone down to the floor. It’s important not to tuck the tailbone as many of us may have been taught to before. Instead, find length – imagining the tail growing from the spine, extending towards the floor.
- Moving up to the abdomen, draw the lower belly and navel gently towards the spine, engaging the abdominals.
- Feeling that firm grounding through the feet, allowing gravity to do it’s job, lengthen back up through the body, lifting the sternum or breastbone forwards and up as the shoulder blades gently draw back and down.
- It’s important to relax the shoulders here, rather than actively pulling them away from the ears. If the shoulders and neck muscles are tight, then pulling the shoulders down will only create more tension by pulling on already tightened muscles.
- All of these actions are likely to have allowed you to naturally lengthen the spine, so continue that length by gently drawing the chin in to lengthen the back of the neck, and continuing that reach through the crown of the head, up to the sky.
- From here, start to practice pratyahara, the Sanskrit word for ‘sense withdrawal’. This is the very first stage towards meditation, taking your attention from the external world to focus more internally, and allowing for your yoga practice to become a moving meditation.