Tadasana – also known as mountain pose is a pose that Lancashire Yogi thinks we tend to take for granted. After all, it is a standing pose, and the start of all the standing poses. And anyway, we stand around a lot don’t we?
The correct title of the asana is Tadasana samasthithi which means “mountain pose in an upright and steady state”. So straight away, if you look around, you’ll note that not many people stand upright, nor do they stand steady, nor particularly straight. You might feel that you don’t. Some days Lancashire Yogi feels that the world throws some weighty concerns onto him (he probably generated this karmically!) – and he feels himself stooping under the weight. Grandpa Lancashire Yogi was in the British army and was compelled to fight at the Somme in the first world war, of all places. So he was present when some mighty karma was going down and experienced some stuff that he never revealed to anyone. Yet he used to say, “stand up straight, shoulders back, stomach in: stand firm” – and in a small way he was doing this asana. And having gone through all that the first world war could throw at him, he appeared to Lancashire Yogi to be one of the gentlest, kindest and calmest of men.
Lancashire Yogi likes the name: mountain pose. When he is in it he becomes a mountain, unmoveable and solid. He uses his breath to breathe into the pose and feel the firm solidity of the mountain. Looking at people who stand still, they generally don’t stand straight nor steady; and nor do they stand evenly. Lancashire Yogi thinks that you can tell a lot by the way someone is standing. He thinks he can spot a knee or hip or back problem from 200 yards. If you look carefully you can see where hurts and other ‘stuff’ (usually mind stuff) is also manifesting in the body. Its usually because the person is standing unevenly or heavily on one side of their body. So, first off, you can get a sense of how people are physically and mentally from this pose. For personal awareness it is, like savasana, a great starting point and it is a useful place to help people readjust their body – and their minds.
Lancashire Yogi likes the simplicity of this pose, in that it’s one (with arms unraised and in shoes) that you can do anywhere: while in a queue, while talking to a colleague, while on public transport. He also likes it that by standing upright and steady it helps confidence, poise and balance. to paraphrase a lovely book by Jon Kabat Zinn – wherever you go, whatever you do – get into this pose, and suddenly you find yourself – there you are! Years ago, Lancashire Yogi was an akidoka. One of the keys to aikido is finding your centre, two inches below your navel. Some call it the hara. The point of this is that in standing in Tadasana Samasthithi, Lancashire Yogi is able quite quickly to find his centre.You might too.
How to practice Tadasana Samasthithi
1. Stand with both feet bare on the ground, and together.
2. Stretch your arms along the length of your sides with the palm of your hands facing inwards as if about to pat your thighs. Keep your arms slightly away from the sides of your body though. Keep your arms and fingers straight and pointing to the ground.
3. Keep your head up by looking straight ahead, with your neck muscles straight, but soft and relaxed.
4. Ensure that your body’s weight is evenly spread on the whole of your feet – evenly balanced between the toes and the heels, and either edge of your feet. Watch carefully as you may have a tendency to exert more weight on your heels or toes, or with some people on the inside or outside edge of your feet. Lancashire Yogi likes to run barefoot on the sand when he can, and is always surprised to see that he supinates: his feet leaving a strange pattern on the beach. Supination is when the foot rolls outwards, putting weight onto the outside edge of the foot. You may be surprised to find that you put weight on one part of your foot rather than evenly distribute weight -but kerb your surprise and remember to spread the weight evenly on the whole of your feet. Of course, if there is a problem with this you need to see your doctor to get it checked. The point here is that we typically don’t evenly distribute our body weight and that is the aim of this pose.
5. Now, straighten (gently) your legs, and tighten your kneecaps, feeling the opening of your knees at the back of each knee. To help the legs straighten, gently turn the front thigh muscles inwards – gently and to aid the upright steady state that you are trying to achieve.
6. Tighten your buttocks (or “arse” as Chaucer might have said). to keep your body aligned you might need to gently and slightly tilt your pelvis up, which will happen to a degree if you tighten your derriere.
7. Pull in your lower abdominal muscles: firm and steady, not painfully tight remember.
8. Lift your chest – particularly this lift should be felt at the point of your sternum. is located in the center of the upper chest. If you arent sure where your sternum is – place your fingers between your pectoral muscles or breasts and press lightly – you will be able to feel your sternum which is the bony bit in the middle.
9. Now you are in Tadasana Samasthithi – and you can keep your head still, looking straight ahead, breathing evenly and without effort. Stay in this pose for a minute or two, breathing gently and evenly and feeling your whole body: balanced, upright and steady.
Lancashire Yogi extends Tadasana Samasthithi to ‘Tadasana Urdhva Hastasana’ which means : “mountain pose with arms stretched up”. This is a great stretching exercise – and particularly for Lancashire Yogi’s office friends who spend their time in chairs, at desks gawping at computers, or his sales friends who are out and about on the road in their flashy cars. Some of his doctor and nurse friends find it useful to stimulate and open up their bodies because although they spend most of their time standing on ward rounds and tending to patients – they have told Lancashire Yogi that they tend to hunch down and around doing their nursing and doctoring thing. A couple of gardening friends and brickies find that after a while of stooping on the patch or over a line of bricks – this seems to reinvigorate them.
1. Stand in Tadasana Samasthithi as above.
2. Breath out gently and while stretching from your waist lift your arms either in front of you or out to the sides (see which you prefer) to shoulder level. The palms of your hands should be open with fingers stretched outward, and facing each other.
3. From the side or the front (again, see what works for you), raise your arms above your head, and in line with your body. Stretch your arms and fingers upwards without straining. In particular don’t strain your shoulders – check to see how they feel, and conciously draw your shoulder blades down and inwards to avoid an unnecessary overstretch.
4. Keep stretching upwards, keeping your arms facing each other. The aim is to feel the gentle, and easy stretch throughout your arms, wrists, fingers and hands, as well as a gentle stretch on both sides of your body. Again, keep it easy dont strain.
5. Pull in your stomach muscles, gently and easily.
6. Some people turn their palms to face the front – again see how you feel with this.
7. Remember throughout – breathe evenly and easily. A good test is whether you can smile without a sense of strain. And remember to draw your shoulders down and inwards to release any strain you may be forcing on them inadvertenly. Breathe, and smile looking straight ahead. Hold the pose for a minute or two, or until you feel you are at the edge of your limits.
8. To come out of the pose reverse the instructions and conclude by lying down in Savasana to scan your body and see how you feel.
Remember Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra – “Sthira sukham asanam” – he reminds us that yoga asana (these postures) should be steady and easy or comfortable. So as the great master said over 2,000 years ago – take it easy and don’t strain yourself.
Do make sure that you are able to do these exercises, if in doubt, if you feel any slight pain or are in pain, or perhaps you have some medical problem – check out with your doctor before attempting these exercises.
For a picture and more detail go to Yoga Journal – alternatively get hold of one of Iyengar’s picture books published by Dorling Kindersley which helpfully depict the postures clearly.
Finally, you can’t beat going to a yoga class in your area – there are some superb yoga teachers out there – and practical hands on teaching beats the pants off any book, blog or website. In the UK a good starting point is the British Wheel of Yoga Find a teacher site. Elsewhere in the world start with google – and explore the different sorts of classes such as Iyengar, Bihar, Ashtanga, or Desikachar. Alternatively try to get recommendations and follow them up.