STANDING ON YOUR OWN TWO FEET
It is no coincidence that the ancient yogis are often depicted standing in Tadasana. It is the hidden pose inside so many others and in coming to terms with its challenges one addresses the full dynamics of the opportunities yoga affords. When one achieves the balanced combination of the feet being grounded and at the same time the body lifting up, along with the correct alignment of the posture, most notably the pelvic and spinal alignment, one has the sense of feeling so light one could fly away whilst at the same time being connected to the earth.
There are certain adjustments one can make to bring this about, and I will go into these in greater detail later, but first a few words about the approach to practice. As a beginner, the practice starts on a gross physical level; we are exploring the mechanics of the asana and at the same time forming the body to be able to respond to our instructions. As we proceed, the work becomes more subtle and increasingly refined, the consciousness of the tissue awakens and becomes more responsive to suggestion. The body begins to “speak” to us, in as much as it reveals it’s hidden processes, so there is an interaction between observing the body, manipulating the body and also still being surprised as to what the body will reveal to us.
Finally, the practice becomes such that the body, breath and entire consciousness become fused as one, the practice thereby leads us to the soul, transcending personal concerns to become one with the universal Self or Atman.
Paradoxically, the detailed description of Tadasana below is open to misuse. We are aiming to transcend the physical, yet this level of detail can make the pose become a mental exercise if done in the wrong spirit. This is the downside to detailed recommendations. As the practice becomes more subtle it reveals another layer of refinement. The tips below are just cues which sensitize the awareness and heighten our perception of what is happening in the body. They are by no means exhaustive or definitive. Care should be taken, as one can use them to make the practice a forum to “never be content” for not feeling all of the adjustments, always seeking a better pose, never acquiescing with where the body is at that point in time. These tips should be approached in a nurturing, intuitive way, finding the instruction which the body resonates with and noting the duller parts of the body where the awareness needs cultivating.
STARTING FROM THE BASE
It is fundamental that there be a sense of the feet being grounded, they are the base and foundation of Tadasana. Starting with the feet together, extend the balls of the feet away from the heels and press the big-toe-mound down, then fan the little toes away from it and press the little toe side of the foot down. It is vital to extend the big toe forward away from the big-toe-mound but otherwise keep the toes passive. The inner edge of the heels should likewise be grounded with the outer heels spreading away from them and rooting down. The pose gets some of its stability from the feet being evenly weighted and spread and pressing down into the earth. Lift the inner arches of the feet back and towards the front heel rim, maintaining this extension stretch the outer arch back in the same way.
It is easier to manipulate the bottom of the legs than the top. However, the work at the base of the pose is fundamental in achieving the awareness and control of the top of the legs. The work in the feet integrates the muscular actions in the lower leg. Working the feet as above, move the middle of the shin bone back and open the calf muscles back and away from each other (echoing the widening from the inner foot to the outer foot). The shinbones ascend from the instep to the head of the shin, which in combination with the earlier calf action of broadening out, causes the lower leg to be fully activated and integrated.
In combination with the earlier footwork this “activates” the work in the top thighs. The entire knee cap should be draw into the knee joint and lifted. This lift continues up the leg with the front thighs being sucked back to the bone of the leg. The top thighs roll in and are kept back, stopping the back thighs from shortening. The back thighs broaden and lift up into the buttock crease. The soft tissue on the front and back thighs moves towards the bone, optimizing the health of the bones. The inner thighs lift back and up into the inner groins which lift up into themselves. The knees continue to face directly forward with both the inner and outer knees opening.
This is an important cross – roads where the legs negotiate the trunk and if it is out of alignment, the spine will be disturbed throughout its length. With the thighs kept well back, and the knee caps lifted, the tailbone can be brought into the body as necessary. As the heads of the femur bones move back and the tailbone moves in, the pelvic actions become integrated. This is achieved by working the following muscle groups: gently grip the muscles which run from the frontal hip bones to the outer knees, drawing the outer thighs into the hip sockets. Lift the adductors on the inner thighs, the muscles of the top front thigh and the lower abdominal muscles. (Working with a brick between the thighs is of help here). Resist the temptation to bring the tailbone in simply by gripping the outer buttock muscles, the inner buttock muscles only move forward and up, as the top buttock moves towards the bottom buttock. This is of course against the action of the (inner) thighs moving back. As a result of this the hip-joints open fully and the groins and the sides of the hips get lengthened. There is a sense one is lifting the pelvis off the top of the thighs which brings a sense of lightness, upward extension and great stability. There is often a sense of being taller and the hips narrowing when this is achieved; the feeling of working against gravity is clearly experienced.
With the tailbone in, the spine naturally ascends. As the tailbone extends down the lumbar spine is lengthened and the navel is drawn back. With this action the pubis rises up and the soft tissue in the lower abdominal area spontaneously moves back to the spine, toning the internal organs. The lumbar spine can be lifted up into the dorsal spine, and as the dorsal spine is lifted up and in, the chest opens, which gives a sense of expansiveness both physically and emotionally. Lift the middle and upper ribs as well as the lower ribs. There is a feeling of lengthening throughout the whole spine and as the spine becomes correctly aligned, a sense of lightness and ease becomes palpable. A fundamental feature of this correct alignment is having the base of the neck perpendicular to the sacrum, not forward or, less commonly, behind it.
THE CHEST, SHOULDERS AND ARMS
The centre of the shoulder blades can be brought into the body, the outer shoulder blades brought back, opening the top chest. With the inhalation, the clavicle area broadens out to the sides and up. The front and inner upper arms draw upwards and the back and outer arm draws down towards the elbow joint. The front and inner forearms draw down towards the wrist joint and the outer and back up towards the elbow joint. As the arms stretch down as the chest lifts up, the elbows grip and the wrists continue the extension down, thereby encouraging the armpit-chest to broaden. The bottom sternum can be lifted and moved forward and the back ribs moved into the body. We are aiming to open the chest without the shoulder blades moving in towards each other which will narrow the upper back. This is achieved by bringing the upper arms into the back of the shoulder joints without bringing the lower tips of the shoulder blades in towards each other. Similar to the legs, the inner rotation on the upper, inner arm is counteracted by the action of the arms being taken back.
The head should be held above the spine, not the chest. The back of the neck should maintain its length and breadth. The facial muscles relax, with the outer face moving back, the eyes soften, roll down slightly, move out to the sides slightly and recede away from the eyelids. Soften the throat and palette.
In profile, the ears, shoulder joints, and hip joints are kept in line with the ankle joints. The feet are grounded and the knees and thighs are lifted up and back against the inner buttocks moving forwards. The breast bone and pubic bone move forward and lift up and the lower ribs and navel move back.
Going through the body making these systematically adjustments is appropriate for beginners; as the practice becomes more subtle one is aiming to do all of these adjustments simultaneously. One simply cannot achieve this using the intellect alone; it becomes more necessary to use the intuition, the feelings, the senses, even the emotions. The practice becomes profoundly internalized. Each cell of the body has a potential for consciousness and intelligence. Our brain silently witnesses the body as each cell awakens and its natural intelligence is activated. The sense of “Doing” the pose gets dissolved into the sense of “Being” in the pose.
There is a serene sense of joy and well-being when the pose is experienced in this way.
Tadasana was published in Yoga Magazine in Dec 2005. This is an extended and revised version of the published article.