Accessible Yoga – Mountain Pose
I was very fortunate that my first yoga experience in the late 80’s was with a western Guru from an ancient Indian Raj Yoga lineage. The lineage focused mostly on meditation, but my Guru Swami Durgananda had been a Hatha Yoga teacher for many years and she adapted the journey though the sates of consciousness to suit westerners by teaching a variety of warm ups and asana to help tone the body and mind and balance the subtle energies.
Swami’s classes suited all body shapes and levels of ability, because from her point of view yoga was NOT just about asana. Swami Durgananda’s aim for her classes were always to prepare the body and mind for “meditation and maturing of our basic nature and attitude so that we may encompass all the eight limbs of Patanjali in our lives”.
I was lucky when I lived in the USA that the local yoga studio offered gentle classes, such as Kripalu Yoga (a variety of Hatha), Restorative Yoga and Yin Yoga, as well as the very strong Ashtanga and Vinyasa classes.
When I few years back I wanted to move my body more I went to my local yoga studio and was disappointed to find that their “all levels” yoga class was a vinyasa style that was not really suitable for anyone that wasn’t thin and reasonably fit. They did offer a “Relaxation” class (a floor based class), which I began to attend regularly, but I missed doing standing poses, such as Warrior poses, Triangle, etc.
I was also quite disheartened by what I was seeing in the other yoga studios I tried and looked into, so, about 6 months before lockdown started I began to undertake Yoga Teacher Training. I have now graduated from a 350 hour Hatha Yoga teacher training and have also undertaken an additional 85 hours of Yin Yoga Teacher training.
My aim is to promote accessibility in the yoga industry which has become the purview of the thin, white, super flexible, reasonably well off person (mostly women). And recently I have been asked to teach an accessibility module in an Embodied Yoga Teacher Training course, which I am very excited about!
I have been attending the training myself in the lead up to the section I will be involved in, and as the students practice teaching I have found myself talking a lot about Mountain Pose.
I really don’t like the way it tends to be taught, with the feet together. Firstly, not everyone can stand that way (I certainly can’t) and secondly, how can you be a mountain if you can easily be pushed off balance, like you can if you do stand that way.
Swami taught me Tadasana, or mountain pose, with the feet hip width apart, feet straight. If you think about being a mountain in the pose, it makes sense to have a stable base. Then, when you are rooted firmly on the ground, the energy rises up through the legs, which should be strong but not tense. Then the core is strong with the tail bone tucked in slightly. And the energy keeps moving up, with the shoulders back and down, once again not tense. Then finally the energy moves out through the top of the head, which balances on top of the spine, eyes forward.
Try it. See how strong and grounded you feel.
And from this strong base all other standing asanas should also be grounded.
Karen Howard is a Coach, Energetic Body Worker and teacher of gentle yoga.
She is also co-founder of The She Oak Collective, a place for sensitive and spiritually curious women who crave deep connection and conversation.