(I wrote this article for the current issue of Equal Standing).
Tadasana (Mountain Pose) is also known as Samasthitti (Equal Standing!). To practice this pose is to practice a steadiness and containment that gradually but inevitably builds reserves of prana (life energy). Holding this pose for five or more minutes always deepens my awareness of what a powerful thing it is to "just stay".
To “just stay” sounds easy until you put it into practice; for example, staying in an asana for a long hold, sustaining steady awareness of your breath, sitting for meditation, or standing in Tadasana for more than a few breaths. The longer you stay put in any authentic yoga practice the greater will be the expansion of prana. This expansion is attended by a building of pressure, an increase of the heat of purification (tapas) and a consequent urge to release rather than consolidate prana. There are many ways to release prana,for example: fidgeting, fiddling, stretching, only doing vinyasa (avoiding held poses), leaving the practice mat to clip toenails or check e-mail. You get the picture. It really is not so easy to “just stay”.
So what to do? Practice of course. Tadasana is an excellent asana for the purposeful practice of “just staying”.
Most of us have heard that Tadasana is one of the hardest poses there is. And most of us have nodded studiously but secretly doubted it. “Yeah – right! Just standing is hard? Just standing with dignity and steadfastness is advanced? Just sustaining an impeccable and subtle balance of alertness and ease is challenging?
To cultivate steadiness in Tadasana for longer holds (2 – 20 minutes) requires alignment and preparation. Details of alignment are widely available in every book on Hatha Yoga or an easy Google search, and are similar from method to method. Preparation can include a general warming up with vinyasa, as well as specific lengthening of the quads with thigh stretches like Ardha Bhekasana (Half Frog). It is also very important to open the calves and soles of the feet for which Adho Mukha Svanasana (Down Dog) is good.
Standing in Studentship
I approach Tadasana with an attitude or spirit of deep studentship to prana. I open to the True Teacher – which streams through the rivers, channels, and pulsations of my body and mind as a blessing force and holy spirit, and condenses to a shining central axis of unimaginable Intelligence called the Sushumna – described in the Upanishads as being, “Slender as a spider’s thread, brilliant as a million moons."
Once I’ve opened to this river of radiance and grace, I draw into it with muscular energy – an action of steadfast studentship-- firming in from skin to muscle to bone, from lateral to medial, and from periphery to core through all parts of my body and including the engagement of the bandhas. This studentship is, ultimately, a drawing in with tremendous self-honoring as it cultivates a remembrance, a re-cognition, that the Sacred – the True Teacher, lives within me, as me.
Having drawn in with muscular energy and remembrance, I then equally expand out with an expression and reflection of the Light into which I’ve just drawn. Sustaining the firmness of the muscular energy, I release earthward from pelvic core through the four-cornered foundation of my feet, expand outward to the edges of my muscular engagement by widening and extending from middle to every part of periphery, like a light shining out, or like a lake touching every shore.
And I do all of the above again and again, with each cycle of breath – staying steady. I hold the pose. I do not betray myself. I do not cut myself off from That which will never cut me off.
This practice of studentship to prana - is invaluable on and off the mat. There are so many ways we don’t stay in studentship to prana. Yoga in general and Tadasana / Samasthitti in particular, offer us skilful means to learn to “just stay” so prana and attention can grow and be available to fund our offering of outward service, creativity, work, and love.