Charlotte Bell’s new book Yoga for Meditators, focuses on specific physical challenges that meditators often face, and the yoga poses that can alleviate them. Earlier we shared the book’s helpful advice for basic sitting postures – now this section explains mountain pose, or tadasana, which establishes stability with mobility, aligns natural spinal curves, supports deep breathing and improves balance.
Practice with Care: Practice on a firm, level surface. If you have low blood pressure, do not stay in Mountain Pose longer than 1 minute. Prop: one nonskid mat.
A mountain is a symbol of beauty and strength. Its beauty lies in its towering granite peaks, solid brown earth, fields of wildflowers, and cobalt-tinted snow. A mountain’s strength comes from its ability to meet with grace whatever comes its way. In a typical year, a mountain weathers everything from the glaring, high-altitude sun to gale-force winds and many feet of snow. In the spring, the mountain becomes permeable, absorbing much of the snowmelt and collecting the rest in crystalline lakes. A mountain absorbs all that is visited upon it while maintaining its essential integrity.
In yoga, Mountain Pose (shown below) is the foundation for all the other asanas, especially the standing poses. When we align our structure in integrity, we become like a mountain—stable and solid, yet mobile and malleable. It may seem superfluous to spend time describing such a simple, basic pose—one that we do every day—but many of us have had natural, well-aligned posture taught out of us. Rather than nurturing our natural spinal curves, what many of us have been taught as correct posture actually flattens the curves. When we stand in Mountain Pose, as in sitting meditation, our spine rests in its natural curves and is able to move force easily, giving the posture both grounding and lightness. Mountain Pose is not only the basis for all the vertical postures in yoga practice, but it is also the best pose for standing meditation.
Begin by standing on your mat with your feet hip-width apart. Align the feet so they are parallel. Because the feet are wider at the toes than at the heel, the most accurate way to align the feet is to draw an imaginary line from a point between the second and third toes to the center of each ankle. Stand so those lines are parallel to each other.
Now become aware of the thighs. If you are like most people, your thighs are likely to be pushing forward. Draw the tops of the thighbones back slightly. If you press your fingers gently into the crease at the tops of the thighs (at the hip joint), the tendons and ligaments there should be slightly springy. For contrast, try pushing the thighs forward and tucking your tailbone. In this position, the tendons and ligaments of the hip joint will feel hard and tight. Draw the thighbones back until the tissue in the hip joints feels springy. It will probably feel as if your rear end is sticking out. It’s not! It’s just that we who grew up in Western culture have been taught to stand in a military position—with the tailbone tucked—which flattens out the sacral and lumbar curves. Allow your spine to be curvaceous!
Make sure you are not locking the knees. Locking often occurs because the thighs are pushing forward. Allowing the thighs and hip joints to release back will help bring the legs into a more vertical position. When the pelvis is in its proper neutral position, the knees are less likely to hyperextend.
As you ground (active yield) through the feet, allow your rib cage to lift gently, both front and back. Then allow your shoulder blades to slide slightly down the back toward your waist. As you inhale, your shoulder blades may move outward a bit. Allow that movement, as it mirrors the natural movement of the lungs on inhalation.
Now pay attention to your breathing. Mountain Pose, because it aligns the natural curves of the spine, supports deep breathing. For contrast, you can try tucking your tailbone and pulling your abdomen in. How does this change of posture affect your breathing? Then come back to Mountain Pose and take 5 to 10 deep, easy breaths.
Closing your eyes in Mountain Pose can help you understand and improve balance. Assume Mountain Pose and then close your eyes, letting the breath be easy and natural. Rest your attention on your feet, and feel what is happening in your feet as you stand, noticing all the little shifts taking place. Balancing is not about finding just the “right” position and then freezing there. You will likely find, as you pay attention, even in neutral standing, that your feet are making constant movements—side to side, forward and back, every which way—to keep you upright.
This is the nature of equilibrium or equanimity in our lives off the mat as well. Equanimity is the moment-to-moment mindful response to all the many and varied happenings in our lives. Standing mindfully in Mountain Pose can teach you about living an easeful life. Stay for 5 to 10 breaths, or longer if you are practicing standing meditation.
You can practice Mountain Pose almost anywhere: on your mat, in line at the grocery store or bank, for a few seconds when you get up from your desk at work, or when transitioning between sitting, walking, or lying down med- itation—anytime, really. It is wonderful for centering yourself, especially at times when you feel scattered or anxious. In your asana practice, try moving into Mountain Pose between standing postures—kind of like coming home between poses. A mindful Mountain Pose in between other postures can teach you a lot about the effects of asana on your body-mind.