Standing asanas-also referred to as standing poses or standing seats-are the building blocks of a yoga asana practice. They represent our ability to be grounded, to stand on our own feet. This is essential to the attainment of Yoga-enlightenment, eternal happiness, realization of the Oneness of being. The path to enlightenment can be long, and it requires intense dedication and persistence. Through the practice of standing poses, the body becomes strong and articulate and the mind alert and focused, which is very helpful for a practice aimed at making the practitioner more conscious.
Standing asanas provide an opportunity to resolve past karmas, especially karmas associated with the first chakra – muladhara, or root, chakra-located at the pelvic floor. Muladhara chakra corresponds to our relationships to the earth, our parents, family, home, authority figures, career, money, environment and issues of survival. When we practice standing asanas, we are often confronted with pain, stiffness, discomfort, fears or anxieties relating to these people and issues in our lives, and by noting the sensations and emotions without judging, denying or running away from them, we set ourselves free from the bonds of those karmas and purify the root chakra.
Standing asanas are important for their complete practice-they include forward and backward bending, twisting, inversion, and balancing. Each standing pose shares a common pattern of energy flow: energy moves up the front of the body and down the back of the body. This energetic flow is reflected in (and affected by) the alignment of the bones. With practice, the habitual disconnection between body and mind begins to decrease. As awareness of the energy flow increases, the movements of the physical body become clearer-more efficient-due to the greater connection with the intent of the mind.
The most fundamental standing asana is tadasana – mountain seat. It is also called samasthiti, which means “same steadiness,” or “equal standing.” The alignment we strive to perfect in tadasana is reflected throughout every other asana in our practice. If we can master tadasana, then all of the other asanas are like building blocks on a strong foundation. Conversely, without a solid connection to the earth, anything that we build up from that insecure foundation will be unstable. Tadasana begins with the feet-the physical connection to the earth. The feet should be together pressing down into the ground, with equal weight on the outer and inner balls of the feet and outer and inner heels. As the feet press down, all three arches of the feet should lift up-front to back on the inner and outer sides and from the big toe joint to the little toe joint. The arches create a mula bandha effect, directing energy received from the good connection of the four support points on the foot upward.
Another key to proper alignment relates to the limbs. Through a combination of external and internal rotation, subtle spirals are formed in the legs and arms that create stability and conduct energy upwards. The thighs and upper arms rotate outward, while the shins and forearms rotate inward. These rotations are both physical and energetic, and they mimic the double helix shape of our DNA, as well as the spiraling of ida and pingala nadis (left and right energy channels) around sushumna nadi (the central energy channel). These spirals should be formed in the limbs not only in tadasana, but in all other asanas as well.
Here are just a few of the other alignment points in tadasana:
- Quadriceps contract, kneecaps lift
- Tailbone and pubic bone move toward each other
- Lower abdomen lifts up and in
- Sternum lifts, collarbones spread apart, front ribs soften toward waist, back ribs expand
- Chin parallel to floor
- Shoulder blades move down the back
- Arms extend, palms face thighs, fingers reach toward the floor
- Eyes soft, gaze neutral toward the horizon
In tadasana, we embody aspects of the mountain: strong, steady, resolute, eternal, unwavering, dignified. The posture reflects how we should stand in the world-balanced on two feet, with a steady and happy connection to the earth and all beings. And when you find tadasana in every standing pose and, in fact, in every other asana you practice, you will find a connection to the earth, which will direct you to the Divine.