The art of standing balance postures

Before doing teacher training at Yoga to the People, I’ve underestimated the benefits of Tadasana, or Mountain Pose. Typically after a forward-fold when the head hangs heavy and the legs are straight, you enter this pose by lifting your arms up and over your head, standing up tall, relaxing the shoulders but keeping your arms straight with your fingers spread wide apart, pinkies slightly tilted inward.

I never considered this pose to be physically rigorous or complex. I took it as means of easing students into their yoga by instructing them on doing something they are largely familiar with. We stand all the time, how hard could that be?

There is nothing strenuously difficult about standing in the work-out culture, unless you have a chronic injury or medical condition. The question is, how often do we stand with full awareness of our bodies from the inside out?

We use the same fundamental knowledge of this pose to master more complex ones. In a headstand, one must find stacking and alignment of various muscle groups to find balance in the posture. Imagine gravity pulling all of your body weight down from the very top, like a building crashing to very the bottom. You’re using your forearms, triceps, and shoulders to keep that chest lifted. Your chest is supporting your core, your core is supporting your tailbone, and everything leading up to the souls of your feet are keeping your legs straight up in the air. To sum it up, the weight is going more into your arms and less into your legs.

For me, this pose is more doable than a regular stance. Because my upper body is constantly doing a majority of the work to support my lower body when I walk daily using sticks, I am much more capable of standing up-side down than standing upright free-handedly. And when my arms and chest become even stronger, perhaps it will be easier for me to walk with my hands than with my feet.

In order to stand upright again, I must apply that same weight-bearing concept of head-standing to performing an upright stance.

In this video, I begin by finding my balance in a standing posture. Then I add the challenge of lifting my hands up and over my head. Now my lower body is bearing the weight of my upper body instead of the other way around. Since my calf muscles still lack complete mobility, I make use of my braces while standing to mimic some of the lost ankle function.

Right now, standing free-handedly with my arms up in Tadasana is like doing any difficult balancing posture I performed before my accident, like balancing on one foot.

Because my muscles aren’t all working synergistically as they used to, I have discovered harmonious alignment in the stacking of joints and muscle groups.

I feel everything sinking down towards the bottom. My hips are stacked over my knees over my ankles, and my lower and middle body is supporting my upper body up like a mountain. I cannot lift my arms up without falling until I have established a firm base of lower and middle body.

Notice how my lifted arms lose their solidity when my lower body unsettles. When I fall apart, it goes beyond the physical. It takes a very relaxed mental state for me to hold this posture.

Has anyone ever told you to stare at an object or shape that isn’t moving in a balancing posture? For me, I need to stare at a mark on the floor, or something that makes me feel really really relaxed, not a piece of mildew or green slime hanging from the wall. I cannot be distracted by loud TV or people shouting in the background. I need to fall into a daydream so that I forget I’m even standing. The fear of falling causes me to fall.

Once I’ve entered that deep state of mind and I’ve found balance in this posture, I can begin to find connection with my paralyzed body. Throughout my recovery, I’m learning that silence does not equal nonexistence. That just because your TV is on mute doesn’t mean that the show isn’t still playing. Part of my body is on mute but it’s still there. It deserves to be recognized.

As the weight of my upper body and quads sink into my ankles, I can sense the hollowness of my ankles causing my joints to wobble and shake. Yet surrounding that hollowness, there is some connection traveling down towards the bottoms of my feet. I can feel the outer ball and heal of my left foot and inner side of my right foot kissing the walls of my braces. Bearing weight onto my ankles rather than onto my sticks or a wall gives the silence of my lower body a voice. Mountain Pose, a deceivingly complex yet seemingly simple pose has allowed me to connect my mind with my silent body and unravel some of these body mysteries.