If you’ve ever been to a yoga class and did sun salutations – or came to standing at all – you were doing Tadasana, or mountain pose. You just stand there right?! Wrong. Well, that’s maybe what you and most of the class were doing, but there is so much more depth to this pose when it’s broken down into pieces.
Just like every yoga pose, if you take the time to carefully learn and practice all the actions of the pose, you come to see just how complex and thought-out this practice is and how powerful the poses can be in their full expression.
Let’s get to it. We’ll start at the feet and work upward.
Note: This is detailed, complex stuff, so don’t stress about remembering every piece or perfecting the pose, just try it out and see how it feels. You might remember one of these pieces in your next class, and that is a success in my mind. Also, if something doesn’t make sense, just move on. What matters most is your safety, comfort and the feeling of the pose.
Come to standing at the top of your mat. Look at your feet. Make sure they are hip-width distance apart – this doesn’t mean the outer skin on the hips, but where your upper leg bone (femur) connects into the socket. The goal is to have the legs straight down from that socket, not too narrow or wide. Next, look at your feet. Are you rolling onto the inner or outer edge? Is your weight balanced on your toes or heel? Take a couple moments to pay attention as this is probably your default reaction. Attempt to find balance on your feet, with the weight spread evenly toes to heel and inner arch to outer edge. Also make sure the feet are parallel to each other.
Lastly, press firmly into the ball mount of the big toe. This will help you feel grounded and firm in your footing.
The legs start with the feet. If you press into that big toe ball mount and lift your toes off the mat, you may feel your quadriceps (or the muscles of the upper leg, above the knee) engage. This muscular engagement lifts the kneecaps slightly, protecting the knee and keeping the legs stable and grounded. Be careful not to hyperextend the knee – if you are prone to hyperextension, think about bending your knees ever so slightly. It’ll feel like they are bent (because you are used to them being hyperextended), but really they will be at neutral.
Lastly with the legs, think about your inner thighs rolling toward the wall behind you, giving a slightly internally rotated hip. If this makes no sense to you, skip it.
I don’t want to talk about the hips, because anatomically, when we talk about hips, we are really not – make sense? The hip is the joint, the area around the hip joint is more accurately the pelvis (when speaking about bones). Most of us ignore our pelvis all together even though it’s a relatively large (not to mention important) area. If you haven’t before, take a moment to find your pelvis. You can feel the upper ridge if you push into the meaty area on the sides of your waist and the boney protrusion you can feel when sitting on a hard surface is the bottom of the pelvis. The base of the spine ends up here and there are tons of muscles and connective tissues holding stuff together.
In Tadasana, we want a neutral pelvis. This means you aren’t sticking out your tailbone and you’re aren’t bringing your bellybutton to your pubic bone. Think about pointing your tailbone straight down to the floor and simultaneously engaging your lower abdomen. Make sure your “hips” are balanced – more accurately, make sure your pelvis isn’t tipping to one side or the other. Many of us have uneven leg length or spinal problems that lead to a naturally unbalanced pelvis, but visualizing a stable, balanced pelvis will help in this pose.
Stacking onto the neutral pelvis, you want to create a neutral spine by visually stacking each vertebra on top of the other, reflecting the natural curve of the spine. Make sure you aren’t leaning forward, back or to the side. You want to make sure your ankles, knees, hips, shoulders and ears are in a straight line if viewed from the side.
Allow your heart to lift slightly, thinking about shining your sternum (or chest) up and out. This isn’t an arch of the back or a muscular effort, but more of a straightening of your posture. We want to avoid a rounded spine, with is like protecting the heart. Let your beautiful heart shine!
Adding again onto the stacked spine, make sure your head is on straight. Keep your ears over your shoulders, avoiding the forward head position we’ve become accustomed to. Lift your chin slightly to ensure you are looking straight ahead.
Holding everything else still, relax your shoulders, allowing your shoulder blades to slide down your back toward your bum. You want your shoulders to be as far away from your ears as is comfortable. Let your arms come straight down at your sides, noticing if the are in front of your behind the center line from ear to ankle. Teachings vary, but I prefer facing your palms toward each other (rather than toward the top of the mat). Keep your hands engaged and fingers actively reaching toward the floor.
Finally, close your eyes and attempt to hold all these actions at the same time. Challenging stuff!
To give you a bullet-point list, here are all the actions of Tadasana:
- Balance your weight evenly on your feet
- Press through ball mount of big toes
- Lift your kneecaps (by engaging quads)
- Roll thighs inward (toward one another)
- Point tailbone to the floor
- Engage lower abdominals
- Lift your heart
- Make sure ankles, knees, hips, shoulders and ears are in alignment
- Reach the top of your head toward the ceiling
- Relax your shoulderblades
- Reach your fingertips toward the floor, palms facing your thighs
- Look straight ahead
Finally, let go. You’ll notice when you actively do all these actions, you feel (and look) a bit like a tin soldier. Rigid, conformed, stiff. Instead, we want to keep all the actions, but release the tension or gripping or need to get it perfectly. Maybe a slight smile will cross your lips or you might sigh audibly, but attempt to surrender into the pose. See how that feels and notice how this feels so much differently than just standing haphazardly (not better or worse, just different).
Stay in this pose for 5-10 breaths and visualize yourself as being open, aware and ready to go out into the world. Notice how you can be strong, tall and powerful, yet patient, kind and attentive.
Try this pose and let me know what you think. How did it feel? Did you notice anything important?