BKS Iyengar famously taught that headstand and shoulder-stand were the king and queen of all asanas. Both are unquestionably “cool poses” and, in terms of alignment, they’re the two most foundational full body inversions.
But maybe you’ve heard your yoga teacher say that Tadasana, or Mountain Pose, is the foundation of all yoga poses. When I heard this early in my yoga practice, it really didn’t resonate with me. Isn’t tadasana just standing still with feet close together?
Tadasana is definitely not a sexy pose. How could this pose possibly inform all other poses? It wasn’t until many years later, during an immersion with Chrissy Carter at Yogaworks, that I finally understood, in my body, why this is true.
Yes, tadasana is a seemingly simple pose, but the way that you place your body in space during tadasana is the key to alignment in virtually all other yoga poses.
First, why is it called mountain pose?
Mountains are solid and grounded but they soar toward the sky. Think about what you do to get into tadasana. Feet are firm and energized on the mat. Legs are pulled up. Thighs are back, so that the pelvis is centered over your heels. The side body is long, with ribs lifting up away from the pelvis. Frontal hip points are pulled up, ribs are soft, collarbones wide and shoulders are positioned over the pelvis. Arms are externally rotated and strong. Finally, the crown is stretching toward the ceiling, and head pulled slightly back so that it is centered over your spine.
It’s NOT nearly as “simple” as it might look – and the lessons we learn from tadasana are applicable in so many other moments on our mats.
While your arms and legs may be doing very different things in other yoga poses, your torso is in tadasana alignment in almost all poses. For example:
- Plank is basically a horizontal tadasana, as is chaturanga, even though the arms are positioned under the shoulders.
- Handstand is upside down tadasana with arms raised overhead.
- In all the warrior poses, the torso is doing all the actions that it does in tadasana.
- In extended side angle and triangle, the torso, while tilted sideways, is in tadasana alignment.
- Downward facing dog is tadasana with hands on the floor, arms overhead and the hips pointing up and back.
Why is any of this important?
By keeping tadasana alignment when doing other poses and imprinting this alignment in your body, it allows you to bring your attention to the other actions that are unique to each pose. And, maybe, it will allow you to find more ease in the pose and in your transitions from pose to pose. For example, once you’ve embodied tadasana alignment in chaturanga, you can focus your efforts on pushing strongly away from the floor with your hands, on keeping your elbows in and aligned over your hands, and distributing your weight equally through your arms and legs rather than struggling with what to do with your core. To move into up-dog, think of pulling your chest forward as you straighten your arms while keeping the same strong engagement in your legs.
How does tadasana apply in seated poses or twists?
The tadasana action that applies here is pushing firmly into your foundation to enable the whole body to stay tall and strong. When in seated poses, and twists, the torso sits neutrally over the pelvis with the ribs lifting away from the hips to extend the side body and create more space.
What about forward folds and backbends?
Although the correlation is not as obvious, we can find direct links to tadasana. The collarbones are open, the side body is long, the feet and legs are energized, and you’re rooting into your foundation (the part of your body in contact with the floor) in order to extend and create space. In cobra, you’re extending your side body and keeping your chest broad as you approach the backbend. In bridge, you’re pushing firmly into your feet, head, and shoulders and lengthening your torso, keeping your chest broad.
In standing forward folds, you’re again extending your torso and reaching your crown away from your torso toward the floor, pelvis is centered over the heels and feet and legs are energized. In seated forward folds, you’re grounding your sit bones and extending your torso, chest open, before taking it forward and down toward your legs, which are energized as if you’re trying to stand on the wall ahead of you.
We can find tadasana even in reclined poses, such as supta padangusthasana (one leg extended straight up toward the ceiling with toehold). There, the torso is in tadasana alignment, with broad shoulders and a neutral spine and pelvis. The feet, even as they’re pointing in different directions, are flexed and energized as if you’re pushing into the floor.
The next time you practice, try to bring some awareness to how to embody tadasana in your pose. Just think about 2 or 3 actions in the moment that replicate tadasana. It will change your thinking about each asana and maybe allow you to approach it differently.
And, after all, isn’t the whole point of yoga to engage in self-exploration and self-discovery.
May Louie first took yoga in college to fulfill a Phys-Ed requirement and immediately fell in love. She, unfortunately, did not continue with her practice but reconnected with it when she retired from her corporate job in 2002 and has since become a serious yoga enthusiast. After her second retirement last year, she completed her 200-hour RYT certification, studying with Dina Crosta, Ellen Mosko, and Jamie Segal Hanley, with a focus on alignment based flow.
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