“The practice of Yoga over the past fifteen years has convinced me that most of our fundamental attitudes to life have their physical counterparts in the body.”
-Yehudi Menuhin, violinist
I believe in mountains, the stunning, familiar ones that have surrounded me for most of my life. I know these mountains well - they are family - and I make use of them. When I drive the canyons, I can hear the whispering of ancient ancestors that have been around for thousands of years and I see the fossil footprints imbedded in their rocky crevices as I hike the trails. They speak to me and I can count on them; their strong and elegant presence flank the borders of California wherever I look
In Yoga, Tadasana, or Mountain Pose, was the first posture I learned as I began developing my own yoga practice and then teaching it to others. It is the basis upon which all the standing postures start - a posture that suggests length as a way of being, defying the forces of gravity and connecting us to the earth. As is true with many yoga poses observing them from a distance, it appears as though you are doing nothing; go inside and work with them and you realize the complexity of the posture and the inner and outer awareness it takes to do them. Tadasana, or what appears to be just standing, urges us to find side to side balance and length whether we are on the yoga mat, or standing in line waiting for a bus; we can always find solidity and the strength of a mountain, bringing Tadasana with us
Joan Vernikos, a former NASA physicist and author of a few books on the benefits of not sitting agrees that there are consequences to sitting and that getting up every fifteen minutes has more benefit than going to the gym. Her job at NASA had been to train astronauts to deal with weightlessness while in space and help them adapt to gravity when they returned. We need gravity to keep our muscles strong, however, there are heavy consequences from the compression of gravity on our joints when we have not learned how to work with it. Learning that gravity interferes less in a body that is well aligned should start when we are children; the benefits of standing properly, as in Tadasana, means the difference between a body that stays long as it ages and one that shrinks. Plus, the research on the consequences of too much sitting and not enough standing also tells us that not enough Tadasana increases all the diseases of our time - All of them.
The process of Earthing - an ancient practice of walking on the earth without shoes to pull the earth’s energy up into the body - is valuable. It teaches us to touch the ground in bare feet without shoes, moving off of cement, connecting us to our ancestry and a deep sense of how we are meant to move. We are not machines or stacks of blocks, yet yoga often asks us to move into positions that are not normal for human joints. It is the moving toward a pose that makes it valuable. In Mountain Pose, how you place your feet, creating a kidney bean shape and engaging the arches creates a foundation that allows us to move from the core. When gently rotating the top of the thighs outward, we notice changes in the tracking of the knees. As the head retracts back toward the shoulders, we notice that the arms hang from behind us. Having an awareness of the muscles behind us creates length so that, instead of our movements pulling us forward there is balance between the flexors in the front of the body and extensors behind us....
As a child, returning from the beach to the Valley on blistering hot days, my mother would be the first to notice the mountains, there in the distance, and their quiet wisdom that reminded her of the backs of dinosaurs. She would point them out to us and I imagined that one day the dinosaur backs would move, awakened from their slumber. Now, as I drive towards home, I breathe a sigh of relief, still awed by their shadows and light. Because they are there, and will always be there, I believe in these mountains. They are sure witnesses who will live long after we have gone, sleeping quietly as we move up them, down them, around and through them. I am a speck of dust to their grandness, yet they hold me in their arms. By doing Tadasana, making this pose a part of us, the mountains become us, steady companions in an unsteady world.