The Mountain Is Calling, and I Must Go

“For a long time, the Himalaya mountains have been populated by wandering sages and yogis, who considered the solitude of mountain caves to be ideal for the practice of yoga and meditation,” wrote Alanna Kaivalya, PhD, yogic practitioner and kirtan artist, in Myths of the Asanas.

Although the Colorado Rockies are inhabited by a much more bustling society than the ancient Himalayas, their grandiose, yet humbling, energy is the same. Whether you are basking in their presence in Three Sisters Park or merely catching a glimpse while driving down I-70, the mountains have an innate ability to drench us in awe-inspiring serenity.

mountain-pose-567x567.png

So, what is it that makes mountains radiate such valiance? Perhaps it is their intimidating height or their unwavering stillness in today’s chaotic world. Indeed, the mountains teach us to rise above trivial problems and maintain strength during challenging times. Mountain pose provides us with an opportunity to embody the elevation and stability that our beautiful, brave mountains represent.

The Sanskrit name for mountain pose is tadasana (pronounced “ta-DAHS-uh-nuh”), tada meaning mountain and asana meaning pose or posture.2 Tadasana is a foundational pose for all other standing and full inversion asanas; however, it is deceivingly simple. In fact, mastering the art of standing correctly requires mindful adjustments of muscles throughout the entire body. To practice tadasana:

  1. Stand upright with your feet together (big toes touching)

  2. Evenly distribute your weight among the 4 corners of your feet (do not put more weight on your heels, toes, or inner/outer edges of your feet)

  3. Pull up on your knee caps and firm the muscles at the back of your thighs

  4. Stretch your spine up and keep your neck straight

  5. Arms can be down at your side (tadasana) or stretched overhead (urdva hastasana)

The key to achieving alignment, and therefore height, in tadasana is ensuring your spine is flat. Most commonly, people will unintentionally tilt their pelvis forward, causing the bum to stick out and the spine to curve. A recent study placed electrodes on experienced yoga practitioners while they performed specific poses in order to determine which muscle activation patterns are necessary for proper alignment.3 They found that high activation of the external oblique abdominals (outer abs) is necessary to rock the pelvis backward, thereby flattening the spine. If you’re having trouble with alignment, you can try practicing against a wall to ensure you’re not sticking your bum out.

The key to achieving stability in tadasana is ensuring your trunk is firm and strong. The study previously mentioned also found that co-contraction of the abdominal and back muscles is necessary to produce a stable core.3

A properly practiced tadasana can help improve posture and spinal alignment, allowing breath and energy to flow through the body with ease. Studies have shown that good posture can increase self-esteem, positive mood, and arousal levels4, as well as reduce back pain5. A small study has even shown that it is easier to generate positive thoughts when sitting upright, rather than when slouched over.

There is an old myth that during a 12-year-long drought, an ancient king pleaded to Himavat, the god of the Himalaya mountains, to send a river to save his people from thirst. Himavat called upon his daughter Ganga to help; however, Ganga would only descend down to earth if someone would catch her fall. Shiva agreed, so he stood tall and still on a mountainous peak, lifted his head toward the heavens, and provided a stable landing (in his matted hair) for Ganga. It is said that the sacred Ganges River now flows from the spot on the mountain where Shiva stood.

“When we stand in tadasana, the head, being nearest to heaven, is where we receive the blessings that flow through the rest of our body like a river.”


by Hannah Kent Ritchie, PhD


References

  1. Kaivalya A, van der Kooij A. Myths of the Asanas. San Rafael, CA: Mandala Publishing; 2010.

  2. Iyengar BKS. Light on Yoga. New York, NJ: Schocken Books; 1979.

  3. Ni M, Mooney K, Harriell K, Balachandran A, Signorile J. Core muscle function during specific yoga poses. Complement Ther Med. 2014;22(2):235-243.

  4. Nair S, Sagar M, Sollers J, Consedine N, Broadbent E. Do slumped and upright postures affect stress responses? A randomized trial. Health Psychol. 2015;34(6):632-641.

  5. Nowotny J, Nowotny-Czupryna O, Brezęk A, Kowalczyk A, Czupryna K. Body posture and syndromes of back pain. Ortop Traumatol Rehabil. 2011;13(1):59-71.

  6. Wilson VE, Peper E. The effects of upright and slumped postures on the recall of positive and negative thoughts.

Tina Parisi