I have many goals for the new year, and I'm excited to share this one. Over the years as a practicing yogi, I've learned lots of poses, or asanas. I've learned both how to shape my body into them, how to teach others these shapes, and what these shapes are called ...in English. Because my teacher training program encouraged the use of English names only in order to make the poses more accessible to Americans, I have so far learned very few in Sanskrit. Various teachers at various studios I've attended used Sanskrit names repeatedly in class, and through that repetition, I picked up some. But I want to learn more, so...
My goal for this year is to learn a new pose in Sanskrit each week, and use the Sanskrit name in my practice and my teaching. Each week I will focus on a new pose, tell you the Sanskrit and English names, describe the physical shape and the mental benefits.
Why take on this task? Is it important to learn these poses in Sanskrit? Well, this is a question I've asked myself lots of times over the years, and obviously my answer until now has been "no, not really, not important enough." But I've changed my mind for one simple reason. Using Sanskrit honors the antiquity and wisdom of the practice. Honoring the practice is an important way to keep ourselves balanced within it.
This standing pose looks simple, but really embodies the nuance and attention to detail that we aim to cultivate in all our yoga poses. In English it's called Mountain Pose. In Sanskrit, it has two names.
Tadasana is the term used typically in the Iyengar and Vinyasa styles of yoga, which emphasize the alignment and physical feeling of the pose.
Samastitihi is the term used in the Ashtanga tradition as a "call to attention", and emphasizes the mental focusing process useful before moving on to the next pose.
In this pose, stand balanced on your two feet together or hips-width distance apart, depending on which version allows the most stability and focus. Feel the four corners of each foot grounded into the earth. Engage the thigh muscles and turn them inward. Tuck the pelvis, and feel the abdominals engage. Lift the spine toward the sky, and pull the shoulders back slightly and allow the shoulder blades glide down the back. Relax the neck and forehead, and gaze forward.
Tadasana tests our ability to engage only as much as necessary, and focus on the simplicity of standing upright. It may help you understand when your desires are out of balance. For instance, if you stand in tadasana and find yourself wanting to move out of it immediately, ask yourself what would you rather be doing right now? If you'd rather be doing a push up or a headstand, you may over-desire movement. If you'd rather be sitting or lying down, you might tend to over-desire stillness. If you'd rather be checking items off your to do list, you might over-desire work. And so on. Tadasana teaches us to be here now in lightly engaged stillness.