Achieve and Receive Every Pose

In yoga, one of the first things you learn is how to stand. You learn to feel your feet on the ground, your body weight evenly distributed over the outer 'corners' of the feet, the length of the legs, the breadth of the back body. I attended a workshop years ago with Patricia Walden, who taught that we do a pose - getting ourselves into the shape of it and working the alignment - then we take a moment to receive the pose before coming out of it. For years, I tried to 'do' Tadasana. I tried to achieve the pose. I overaligned my feet, overlifted my chest, overrotated my arms. In the process of overdoing, I hardened my stance. Tadasana is a pose, like all poses, to be done and to be received. I was overdoing and underreceiving. Changing the perspective of your practice to include receiving the pose can lead your body to a place of harmony where hardness is balanced by softness.

On day 1 of cooking school, you may learn how to boil water. As yogis, I'm using Tadasana - Mountain Pose - as the primary lesson. What is Tadasana? A pose where you stand symmetrically on your two feet with your arms at your sides. Pulling together the instructions I've been taught and the ones I've composed for this pose, the ones I prefer are a mix of engaging and releasing. There is lengthening of the outer lines of the legs, a lift of the pelvis off the legs and a lift of the back ribs off the back waist. There is a drawing up of the top of the sternum and a drawing down of the bottom of the sternum. Then there is a softening of the front torso and throat. The collarbone is broad and the arms are allowed to hang like shirtsleeves from it. If you're tighter in the shoulders, a relaxation of the arms in this manner may feel freeing. If you're loose in the shoulders, a turning of the arms so that the thumbs point away from the body may provide structure where you need it. A soft face and soft gaze. A reaching forward of the toes and then a release of them to the ground.

Nuanced instruction aside (yoga nerds unite!), the idea here is to have an engaged and receptive body. What are we really doing? We're standing. We've known how to stand for quite some time. The difference is now we're standing mindfully. We're paying attention to the standing. No one should tell you your Tadasana is wrong. Your Tadasana is you standing. Once you get yourself into a mindful place where you're engaged and awake, then you concentrate on the softening - making yourself receptive to the pose and the world. It can feel quite awkward to stand facing forward in the midst of fellow people - in yoga class, in the grocery store and when standing in line for Stones tickets. But, if we choose not to hide in our phones, we challenge ourselves to live in the moment, to be engaged with the world and receptive to it. If we practice this simple but difficult practice of receiving, we soften towards harmony.