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A Different Take on Yoga's Most Essential Pose: Mountain Pose
The mountain: majestic, powerful, immovable. In asana practice, everything comes from the mountain pose, (tadasana in Sanskrit)--from a place of stillness and balance. The mountain pose is done by standing steady with feet close together and arms by the sides. While the instructions in this pose form the basis for instructions in all poses, aligning with the vibration of this pose delivers a sense of peaceful steadiness.
It can be easy to gloss over this pose in anticipation of other more challenging postures ahead. But the mountain can give us insight into a deeper part of ourselves that may go overlooked if we jump off it too quickly.
Mountains appear stalwart, but at their root, deep within the earth, there is the potential for powerful seismic activity. In mountain pose the body appears still, but it is actually striving towards active balance and consolidating energy. In order to experience the powerful potential of tada’sana, imagine yourself as a mountain--direct energy both downward from the waist through the legs and root into the earth, and upward from the solar plexus through the heart and the crown to expand into the infinite.
Think of the waist as the fulcrum of mountain pose. It contains, at the navel, the bindu (point of origin) of the third chakra--the manipura or "City of Jewels." When meditated upon, it is said one will see the manipura like a brilliantly illumined city, which speaks of the energy and power of this chakra. The manipura is the home of the luminous factor – one of the five fundamental factors (tattvas) that make up the stuff of the universe (the other four being solid, liquid, aerial and ethereal – each situated in one of the other lower five chakras). The luminous factor of the navel is often referred to as our "fire"– the fire of digestion, the fire that fuels the physical strength of the body, the fire of willpower and of wanting to do something in the world. Fire is powerful and if well directed, helps us accomplish what we want in our lives. It gives us the guts to be able to forge our own individual path, as well as the ability to stomach the challenges that path presents us with. If the fire is smoldering and we have weak digestion, weak will, or a lot of fear, we can use mountain pose to strengthen ourselves by imagining we’re breathing fire into the chakra and strengthening our resolve. Conversely, if fire consumes us and we have a lot of anger, an acidic stomach or a bullying nature, we can breathe coolness into the posture to subdue the fire. A strong but controlled fire will give us the ability to do what we need to, and want to, in the world.
Stay in the mountain and explore the subtle energy flows. If we can take the fire of will and action with us as we ideate downwards, we can allow it to connect to the primordial fire at the center of the mountain. Directing the mind to go down through our physical body roots us to the earth and prepares the psyche and spirit for the inevitable challenges we face in our lives. Directing the energy down helps us to move deeper into the layers of our psyche and connects us with the shadow or the darkness within ourselves. By going through this darkness with fire, we light the shadows, we bring clarity and awareness to our inner issues. If we let our fire burn with confidence and determination, we can face the pain our searching reveals with fortitude. A strong, controlled fire helps us to move boldly into the darkness rather than shrinking away from it and leaving our unconscious obscured out of fear or inertia.
Taking the fire upward, we warm the air, which abides in the heart chakra. A strong fire, directed towards the heart, helps us develop our personalities and become warm -compassionate and understanding both towards individuals, and our universal human family. Fire helps the air of the heart chakra expand, expanding our connection to others and our world. The belly is strong, the diaphragm works well, respiration and circulation are assisted and strengthened. This is a literal expansion of self – mind and body. The field of the heart chakra expands in ever-increasing concentric spheres. With this expansion our field of compassion increases. If we strengthen the fire but keep it only in the belly, it can overwhelm us and lead to distortions of power, ego and anger. When we direct the fire of the belly to the heart and let it move out through our arms and hands, out through our actions, we become the alchemists of fire, smelting our lives through it rather than allowing it to consume us.
The fire moves up further through the throat chakra and third eye, it becomes rarified as it finds its way to the crown. The crown chakra represents the top of the mountain – which in many cultures are sacred spaces, places where prayer flags fly and temples are built. In mountain pose this sacred space can be meditated upon to strengthen our connection to the infinite.
While many strong active poses give our mind an out by their very nature, in mountain, we can not run away from ourselves. If an emotion emerges during an active pose, the mind can easily shift the focus to the physical in order to divert itself. Yoga used only in this way may lead to injury because the mind is quickly shifted away from checking in with the body. Likewise, if we continually avoid our unconscious issues, they will eventually manifest physically. A practitioner may pull a hamstring or injure a shoulder because s/he is not conscious of the mind’s effect on the body. Eventually one may even develop an illness. Of course this dynamic occurs regardless of whether or not you’re practicing yoga. By practicing yoga consciously, we can deepen awareness of ourselves – our bodies, minds and our place on this planet – and understand on a deeper level why we experience certain illnesses or negative emotional states.
Rather than being a passive place to anticipate your practice, standing in mountain, being with yourself, allowing the pose to reveal your strengths and weaknesses, is a deep practice in and of itself. While active poses and vinyasa flows provide fuel for the fire of the manipura, the still poses like mountain teach us much about our inner landscape. We can use the fire of the belly to forge a clear path forward.
Editor's Note: Check out Kaoverii Weber's books, Healing Self Massage and Tantric Women Tell Their Stories at her website.