With practise, the effort will seem effortless
Our legs root us to the grounding energies and support of the Earth. Standing on our own two feet, weathering life’s storms requires a flexible and strong foundation. Our bodies’ foundational pillars are our legs, and in yoga, we continually work to open and strengthen them so we can stand firm as a mountain in our daily lives. For this reason, one of the first yoga poses we learn is Tadasana (Standing Mountain Pose).
Tadasana, at the beginning of a practice, is a great way to check your overall alignment. Are your toes spread with the lengthening out of your toe mounds? Are you balanced evenly on the four corners of your feet? Do your ears, shoulders, outer hips and outer knees stack over your outer ankles? Are your inner thighs or the heads of your femurs internally rotating to create space between your sit bones? And, while your feet and calves move down into the floor, can you lift your quadriceps up? As you can imagine, no longer are you merely standing. These actions activate and align your entire body, which is challenging work.
Physical yoga actions that include moving skin, fascia, muscle or bone demand effort and hard work on our part. The reward is we build the strength and flexibility needed for healthy daily movement.
You may recall us stating in previous articles that yoga moves us from effort into effortlessness. So how can we reduce the amount of effort required to hold Tadasana or other standing poses? Once we have created the capacity (strength and flexibility) in our bodies, physical actions such as those listed in the previous paragraph can actually work against us by further concretizing stubborn tension and holding patterns. The breath action described below awakens us to the power of our breath without using our mind to engage our tissues — no more mind over matter. Instead, the cellular wisdom of the body responds to the energetic flow of the breath, opening unconscious or hardened areas to its healing effects.
The “mountain” legs and alignment acquired during Tadasana are also needed in many other standing poses and inversions. So, improve your posture and body awareness by finding the breath action below in each of the postures. As B.K.S. Iyengar assured us, when “one feels light in the body, the mind acquires agility.”
Action: Inhale down your inner groins and your inner legs into your inner heels and big toe mounds. Exhale up your outer heels and outer legs into your outer hips. For more advanced practitioners, feel the outer and inner sides of the top of your femur bone (greater and lesser trochanters, respectively) evenly release back.
ADHO MUKHA SVANASANA (Downward Facing Dog Pose)
Begin on all fours with your toes close to the wall. Press into your hands and toe mounds and lift your hips upward as you straighten your arms and legs. Rest your heels into the wall if they don’t reach the floor. Find the breath action in both legs. Hold for five to 10 breaths. Rest in Child’s Pose.
SUPTA PADANGUSTHASANA I (Lying Down Hamstring Stretch I)
Lie on your back with both feet into the wall. Bend your left knee and place the belt around your toe mounds. Straighten your left leg upward. Inhale, find the action up your outer right leg. Exhale, find the action down your inner right leg. Repeat the breath and action for your left leg. Hold for five to 10 breaths, then repeat with your left foot into the wall and your right extended upward.
Begin with your left knee on the floor and your left toe mounds as close to the wall as possible. Step your right foot forward until the ankle aligns under the knee. Fully rest your palms on blocks. Exhale, find the breath action down the inner left leg to straighten it. Feel your heel move into the wall. Inhale, find the breath action up your outer leg to release the outer hip. Hold for three to five breaths. Release your knee to the floor or step your left foot forward. Repeat with the right foot back.
TADASANA (Standing Mountain Pose)
Stand with your feet pointing forward and a comfortable distance apart. Inhale, find the action up the outer legs. Exhale, find the action down the inner legs. Hold for five to 10 breaths.
SAVASANA (Corpse Pose with bolster under knees)
Place the bolster under your knees. Lie back and rest completely for three to five minutes.
PARIPURNA NAVASANA (Boat Pose)
Sit facing the wall. Lean back onto your sit bones as you lift your legs one at a time up the wall. You may hold the back of your thighs or place your hands on the floor to help support you. Find the breath action in the legs. Hold for three to five breaths.
Begin on all fours with toes close to the wall and hands slightly ahead of your shoulders. Lift your knees off the floor and straighten your legs. Exhale, find the action down your outer legs. Inhale, find the action up your outer legs. Hold for three to five breaths. Rest in Child’s Pose.
Winnipeggers Helen Maupin (righttojoy.com) and Candace Propp (natureofcontentment.ca) are certified senior yoga teachers and authors of the Creating Space: Yoga Actions book series. To purchase these print or ebooks, visit here. For yoga teacher training with them and Stacy Schroder, or to purchase the Yoga Actions teacher training facilitator manuals and student handbooks, contact sereneyogastudio.com.