A mountain of insight
A moment in the mindset of our mountain gives us a pause to navigate away from kneejerk reactions we may come to regret and to stand instead in the richness of a thoughtful response. By Andrea Marcum
Tadasana is the bedrock of asana (yoga poses). Almost every pose has tadasana (mountain pose) within it and in vinyasa-flow-style sequencing tadasana offers a moment of pause and reflection. I often cue in my classroom “return to your mountain” as we come into tadasana. A mountain sits regardless of season, weather, hikers digging their heels in, or skiers scraping its surface. Stepping into our own inner mountain allows us a place to stop so that we can start, and shift from preoccupation to pratyahara (inward turn) throughout the ebb and flow of our practice and our lives.
Give this a go:
Stand with your feet hip-distance apart (or if you prefer, big toes touching and heels a few inches apart) place your hands on your chest. Witness the rise and fall of your breath. After about thirty seconds here, either bring your hands into a prayer in front of your chest or let your arms release along the sides of your body. If you’re bringing your arms alongside you, some people will tell you to face your palm towards your body, others will ask you to spin your palms forward to invite external rotation at the shoulder joint and less habitual slump. I’m going to have you spin your palms forward to encourage a lift to your chest and wide, smiling collarbones. If your hands are in a prayer, imagine elevating your sternum (chest bone) into your prayer.
Observe your connection to the earth. Note whether you are favouring one side over the other (right and left), or one aspect of your foot (front/back/inside/outside). Create an expansive base, sensing the length of your toes, solid big toe and pinky toe knuckles and the point on both your inner and outer heels as they connect to the floor. Find samasthiti which means 'even standing' and is actually another name for tadasana.
Allow your inhales to lift the crown of your head to the sky and your exhales to surrender your foundation deeper into the ground. As you stand here in what’s almost an upright savasana, the outside world buzzes and swirls around you. Phones ring, dogs bark, people take selfies, clouds pass and the sun creates shadows and light. Yet your mountain remains unwavering in its stillness. The inward turn of pratyahara awakens you to a panoramic view that is deeply internal and vastly universal all at once.
Tadasana for five minutes. What could be easier, right? I mean who can’t just stand there for five minutes? In case you’re convinced that you’re too 'advanced' for this tadasana exercise, may I suggest that this mountain is an ascent especially designed for those of us who think we don’t need it. I only know because that was my attitude when I first bumped up against this new altitude too.
Use a way of keeping time that doesn’t lend itself to restless fuss and constant checking; something you don’t need to look at until it gently chimes you to climb out of your mountain. Once you’ve got that, you’ll resume the stance described above.
While in your mountain, a soft gaze towards the ground works fine, if you are comfortable closing your eyes that’s great too. You’ll note seismic waves of potential interruption attempting to call your bluff as you choose to stay steady and still.
Initially, it’s as if you’ve wandered into your mountain in the dark and it takes a moment to adjust to the obscurity. Then, if you allow them to, your breath and the sensations you’re experiencing shine a light upon your landscape. First, the dawn is dim, but as you remain, the sky opens up and you can begin to make out the details of a nuanced path towards peace.
After your five minutes, you’ll step off the elevation of your mountain and back into your day where you’ll discover tadasana is not only the physical foundation of our poses but also fundamental when it comes to the balance and presence necessary to fully inhabit our lives.
You can stand into your mountain anywhere at any time – in your office when you’re ready to strangle your boss, in your parked car after dropping off screaming kids, when you’ve tried in vain to reach an actual human being instead of an automated phone menu or when starting a new project, pivot, relationship or task. I’ve even had a professional baseball player use standing in his mountain at home base during the World Series, resulting in a literal homerun.
A moment in the mindset of our mountain gives us a pause to navigate away from kneejerk reactions we may come to regret and to stand instead in the richness of a thoughtful response.
Let’s move mountains – from our mats out into the world and allow their contemplation to be an inspiration for our own uphill challenges as well as those we collectively share. Yes, seasons and weather will come and go, and we’ll find ourselves in the eye of our own emotional storms. But if we encourage one another to return to our mountain, these inevitable clouds will give way to higher clarity for us all.