Learning How to Stand On Two Feet
By Ashlea Hartz, N.C., RYT
Yoga might be trendy, but it’s also a foundation that you can use to build a healthier lifestyle. The benefits of yoga have been observed for thousands of years, but in today’s hectic running-form-one-thing-to-the-next society they may be more important than ever. If you are new to yoga or have been practicing for years, it’s important to bring your attention back to the basics so that you can build a strong foundation both physically and mentally.
When practicing yoga in the US, most of us are practicing what is called asana or postures. These are the physical shapes we use in our practice to build strength, stretch our muscles, and focus the mind. The first pose that all yogis should learn to understand, evaluate, and practice regularly is Tadasana, also called Mountain Pose. What looks like a simple posture (standing on two feet) can actually tell you so much about how your body should work, and also how right now your body might not be standing, walking, or running incorrectly.
One of the many benefits of the yoga practice is that it can help us understand our physical habits and tendencies that may be the root cause of discomfort, pain, or injury. When standing in Tadasana you will be able to feel if your body is standing with good form and posture, but for many of us (including me!) it is not. Some of the imbalances in our body’s proper alignment can be seen in this simple pose. Here is one of the most coming habits and posture misalignments I see in the yoga classes I teach, and also every day when I watch people standing or walking in public. Go ahead and stand up in your mountain pose and see if maybe this applies to you.
Look down at your feet, do your toes face straight ahead? Or do they turn out at an angle to each side? Does one foot turn out? Or maybe both? If you are like many of the people I see on a daily basis they are turning out in some way. And if your toes turn out, you are twisting and putting extra stress on the joints in the ankles, knees, hips, and lower back. Our body is so interconnected that a breakdown in posture in the feet can even spread all the way up to the shoulders!! Do any of these hurt? Chances are the answer is yes, or it will be in your near future. So from now on focus on bringing your toes straight forward in Tadasana (and other standing poses that apply) and this will improve your posture off the mat when standing, walking, or running. After a few months of practice, this will become you new normal and I bet some of the aches and pain you have been experiencing will improve.
How To Practice Tadasana
When stepping into any standing pose, focus on your foundation. Starting with a pose like Tadasana (Mountain Pose) will allow you to practice this foundational feeling. Begin by making sure you toes are facing straight forward, then rooting down into the four corners of your feet. The four corners are found in the ball of the foot just below the big toe, little toe, and then two points in the outer heel. You can think of it like suction cups on your feet locking you into the earth. From this connection rooting down, it is then important to rise up, lifting through the arches. That lift, starting at the arch is both physical and energetic, continues up the legs as you engage the knees, the quads and the inner thighs to engage. When you are able to connect to this “root to rise” feeling in Tadasana, you will find that the pose is steady, but also with a feeling of ease. The yoga sutra's speak of this a "sthira sukham asanam" which is often translated to "the postures should be steady and comfortable or at ease".
This foundation in the feet can then be found in all of your other standing poses and is especially important in balancing poses as well. So the next time you stand on your mat, focus on your feet and build your pose from the bottom up to see where it will take you.