The Maldives was such a magical place and I continue to share the videos that I made there because just watching them takes me back to the joy of that moment. I apologize for the poor audio quality because of the wind interference in parts of the tape, but I haven’t figured out how to compensate for that without trying to do a total voice over. I’m sharing that with you because I think the imperfections do not take away from the intent, which is to share my love of this amazing practice of yoga.
Imperfections only exist in our mind. The quest for perfection in yoga is non-existent. The quest for deeper understanding of a pose is encouraged because the subtle changes in moving forward in each pose gives you greater insights into yourself.
The seemingly simple posture of Tadasana is the foundation of your practice. I went to a class last week that had ten of the most challenging poses and it appeared to be a class that was really encouraging a competitive sense of accomplishment. There was a time in my practice that learning and striving towards what appeared to be the “accomplishment” of a pose was really just the beginning of delving into it. This vinyasa style class was not listed as advanced, but I enjoyed it immensely because of the surprise that it actually was.
I like to still go to beginner’s classes because I still revert to old habits (like not tucking in my ribcage) and I value the adjustments that beginner teachers offer. I hope you will spend some time looking at Tadasana from a new perspective. I am so full of gratitude for this daily practice. Today this pose is what ignites my passion for this complex practice and I hope it does for you too. ~ Namaste
Tadasana: Mountain Pose
Tadasana is the keystone of the standing postures. We use it as a physical barometer, a place of return between the standing poses where we can assess how the body feels after the preceding asana. Use the principle of co-activation in Tadasana. Spread the weight of the body evenly across the feet. Begin by pressing the back part of the heels into the floor. Then distribute the weight across the forefoot, from the balls of the feet toward the outer edges. Work your way up the legs, extending the knees by lifting the kneecaps. Align the bones of the legs, the femurs and tibias, and avoid hyperextending or “locking” the knees. This can cause misalignment of the leg bones. If you tend to hyperextend, contract the hamstrings to bend the knees and realign the femurs and tibias. Balance internal and external rotation of the femurs; similarly balance abduction (the force that draws the legs apart) with adduction (the force that draws the legs together) to create a sense of stability and stillness in the pose. Move the energy up to the pelvis, and stabilize the pelvis by co-activating the hip flexors and extensors. Balance extension and flexion of the lumbar spine, and gently engage the abdominal muscles to prevent the lower ribs from bulging forward. Align the vertebral column so that the spine assumes its natural curvature and “perches” effortlessly over the pelvis. For the Urdhva Hasta version of the pose, extend the elbows to lift the arms overhead. Draw the shoulders away from the ears and down the back to free the neck; allow the head to tilt back and the eyes to gaze upward.
Basic Joint Positions
• The knees extend.
• The hips are neutral.
• The shoulders adduct in Tadasana.
• The shoulders flex in Urdhva Hastasana.
• The elbows extend.
• The cervical spine is neutral in Tadasana.
• The cervical spine extends in Urdhva Hastasana.
• The shoulder blades adduct and depress slightly.
Internal forces, such as our mental state, influence our posture. For example, if we feel fatigued, defeated, or depressed, we might stand in Tadasana with slumped shoulders and a collapsed chest. Conversely, the form that we create with Tadasana influences our mental state. Bring the feet together and straighten the legs. Draw the shoulders back and down to open the chest. Straighten the arms. This relaxed yet open position counteracts a defeated and slumped posture in both body and mind.
Step 1 Lift the back and open the pelvic region using the posterior kinetic chain, a group of muscles, tendons, and ligaments on the back side of the body. Engage the erector spinae to extend the spine from the pelvis to the base of the skull, and activate the quadratus lumborum by gently arching the back to lift and support the lumbar region. Begin to balance the position of the pelvis by engaging the gluteus maximus; this muscle tilts the pelvis back and down into retroversion. It also extends and externally rotates the femurs. The gluteus minimus is a small muscle deep to the other buttocks muscles; visualize it contracting to stabilize the head of the femur bones in the hip sockets.
Step 2 Engage the rectus abdominis to draw the ribcage downward, gently compressing the abdominal contents and stabilizing the lumbar spine. Activate the psoas major in combination with the iliacus and pectineus to tilt the pelvis slightly forward (anteversion) and balance the action of the gluteus maximus described in Step 1. The combined actions of the hip flexors and hip extensors bring the pelvis into a neutral position, neither tilted forward nor backward, but sitting like a bowl perched over the legs.
Step 3 Straighten the knees by engaging the quadriceps. One part of the quadriceps, the rectus femoris, crosses the hip joint and attaches to the pelvis, synergizing the psoas in tilting the pelvis forward. Contract the adductor muscles along the inner thighs to draw the femurs together. In Step 1 the gluteus maximus externally rotates the femurs. Use the gluteus medius and tensor fascia lata to balance this action by internally rotating the thighs. A cue for this is to attempt to drag the feet apart while engaging the adductor group.
Step 4 Activate the posterior deltoids and the infraspinatus and teres minor muscles of the rotator cuff to turn the shoulders outward at the glenohumeral joint and open the chest.
Step 5 Engage the lower third of the trapezius to draw the shoulder blades down and away from the ears. Straighten the elbows by activating the triceps. Note how engaging the long head of the triceps (which originates from the shoulder blade) synergizes the action of the lower trapezius.
Step 6 Draw the shoulder blades toward the midline and stabilize them in this position by engaging the rhomboids major and minor. This action opens the anterior (front) chest.
Step 7 In Step 6 we engaged the rhomboids to stabilize the shoulder blades in place. Now activate the pectoralis minor to lift the lower ribcage and expand the chest. The cue for this is to draw the scapulae back, and then attempt to roll the shoulders forward. This is the basis for what is known as bucket handle breathing and is an example of using the accessory muscles of breathing to increase inspiratory volume. Rolling the shoulders forward mimics the usual action of the pectoralis minor and causes it to contract. Because the scapulae cannot move, the shoulders do not roll forward, and the force of this contraction is transmitted to the origin of the muscle on the ribcage, lifting it. This is an example of closed chain contraction of a muscle, whereby the origin rather than the insertion moves.
Step 8 Normally we use the serratus anterior to draw the scapulae away from the midline, but here we use it to open the ribcage. With the scapulae stabilized in Step 6, visualize pressing your hands outward into a doorway to recruit the serratus anterior. The shoulder blades will not move, but the force of this contraction will be transmitted to the origin of the serratus anterior on the upper ribcage, lifting the chest. This is another example of using closed chain contraction to increase lung ventilation in a yoga pose.
Remember to practice Ujjayi Breathing. (I’ll cover that in detail in an upcoming post)
Much gratitude to my co-creator of this post, Ray Long, MD, FRCSC.