This week we are learning to stand. It feels strange to “study” standing. We started with Tadasana (Mountain pose). Betsy, one of our guides, comically stood in the center of our circle, slightly hunched, head forward, arms on hips and said “now talk me into mountain pose.” After our initial giggles, we found ourselves a bit dumbstruck. How do we tell her how to stand? With her help, we eventually learned:
- Start with the feet. This is where you connect with the earth and ground yourself. Feet parallel. Either touching or as wide as feels comfortable (although no more than hip distance apart). Weight should be spread into all four corners of each foot.
- Moving up and aligning the body from the ground… knees should be soft (not locked)
- Core pulled in. Pelvis neutral. Tail bone tucked in.
- Shoulders down and away from the ears. Long spine. Palms facing slightly forward or to the side.
- Gaze forward.
Even as I write this, I’m nervous that I got it wrong. For each of us this looks slightly different. The challenge was to notice and “feel” the alignment with the earth ascend through our bones and muscles. By the time we talked through urvdha hastasana (arms up), uttasana (forward fold), ardha uttasana (table pose), utkasana (chair pose), adho mukha svasana (downward dog) and Virbhadrasana (warrior 1), I forgot how to stand. Noticing all these connections within us that allow us to move to through the world is overwhelming. The next few sessions we continue with standing poses. More on that adventure next week.
Our homework for the week involved reading the first two chapters of The Heart of Yoga by T.K. V. Desikachar. The first chapter describes the concept and meanings of yoga, while the second chapter introduces the foundations of yoga practice. Both chapters are premised on the introduction interview of Desikachar where he stresses the importance for him (and his father Krishnamachayra who taught him yoga) of an individual approach to yoga. As I read the chapters, I kept this emphasis in mind and asked, what can I learn from this?
The first quote that tickled my activist philosopher sensibilities to live an examined life:
The practice of yoga only requires us to act and to be attentive to our actions. Each of us is required to pay careful attention to the direction we are taking so that we know where we are going and how we are going to get there; this careful observation will enable us to discover something new. Whether this discovery leads to a better understanding of God, to greater contentment, or to a new goal is a completely personal matter.
Such focus on action and personal commitment makes yoga for me so therapeutic for mind and body.
The second quote that gave me pause considered the concept of avidya or clouded understanding by ego, attachment, rejection and fear and the role of yoga in clarifying our understanding by reducing the fog.
Altogether, these three ways of being — health, inquiry, and quality of action — cover the entire spectrum of human endeavor. If we are healthy, know more about ourselves, and improve the quality of our actions, it is likely that we will make fewer mistakes. It is recommended that we work in these three distinct areas to reduce avidya. Together they are known as kriya yoga, the yoga of action. Kriya comes from the kr, meaning “to do.” Yoga is not passive. We have to participate in life. To do this well we can work on ourselves.
How might learning to stand in mountain pose help me clarify my understanding? I don’t know yet, but I suspect by engaging in present, embodied, material thinking of how my bones, muscles and breath are behaving I am training myself to notice without ego (comparison to others), without attachment (to a particular pose), without rejection (of a particular pose), without fear (of standing wrong). I suppose yoga helps me find my own way to stand in the world.
Next week more standing poses.
Wishing you mindful moving,
elephant image from here