When I first began practicing yoga in 2010 I thought I was really good. I figured: “I am flexible and petite so I’ve got this in the bag”. I sat around in earnest looking at the other people filing into the studio. I had brought my yoga mat and water, but I watched in awe as others around me set up their mats topped with yoga towels, and grabbed belts and foamy little bricks. Something in the back of my mind started to speak up about how I had no idea what they were doing or why they had so many things with them. Class began and I did my best to understand what the instructor was saying. I thought: “Is she even speaking in English right now? What do you mean don’t look at anyone else? Why is it so hot in here?! O, cool, back bends, time to shine”. I left my first class sweaty and smiling. I was happy with my personal performance, but was so far from having a clue about yoga.
Flash forward to December 2014 as Zach and I were completing our teacher training in vinyasa yoga, and I was amazed at just how little I knew about my yoga practice. Based on my earliest yoga experiences, I believe knowing foundational poses can enhance your practice and bring you a little more piece of mind the next time you step on your yoga mat.
Many yoga classes will begin in samastitihi or mountain (also known as tadasana). This blog is to walk you through the steps of samastitihi to provide a better understanding of the pose. This pose, however you would like to refer to it, means equal standing and to bring attention to one’s self. In ‘western society’ it has been dubbed the ‘mountain pose’ perhaps to instill the strength and resilience one has while in samastitihi. This is where the instructor calls for everyone to stand at the top of their mats to begin.
To begin samastitihi, ground the corners of your feet. This sounds odd if you have never brought awareness to your feet in a yoga practice or in your everyday life, but stick with me. Lift your heels slightly and be conscious of your heel and the outsides of your feet connecting with the ground beneath you. Lift your toes up and do the same with the front side of your feet. Make sure your big toes are slightly touching and that your heels are about one inch apart. Keep it in your mind that your feet carry you through life and how not every person in this lifetime has this ability. Lift your knee caps by engaging your quadriceps. If someone attempted to push you over in this moment, you would remain standing strong and tall instead of toppling over.
Your pelvic area should be directly underneath your trunk, engaging your core and creating a straight line down the length of your body. Imagine your pelvis as a bucket full of water that you do not want to spill. Many people develop an anterior pelvic tilt due to desk jobs and sedentary lifestyles. This type of pelvic tilt creates a sway back which forces your lower belly slightly outward and pushes your bum out (in this instance you would have water pour out in front of you). Bring awareness to your chest and shoulders. A good majority of the population suffer from rounded shoulders as a result of poor posture. Remember, this is also referred to as the mountain pose and you should stand tall. Raise your shoulders up and shrug them down. Imagine someone is touching the back of your shoulder blades and without lifting your chest up and out, pull your shoulders back slightly.
Relax your neck as your gaze falls to the end of your nose. Mindfully bring your hands to your heart center with your palms flat in a ‘prayer-like ‘position and lightly press your palms against one another.
This is samastitihi. Breathe here; equally in through your nose and out through your nose for four counts each and settle into the mindfulness of your practice. And if necessary, watch for falling pine cones :)