Standing at the top of the mat, feet together and spine elongated, Tadasana may seem to the outside observer the easiest and most basic Yoga posture of all. Standing still – that’s all it is, right? Keep reading to find out the meaning behind Tadasana, or ‘Mountain Pose’ and how it has a far deeper and more profound meaning to it, and why it could be the most important asana you practice today.
Mountains have always been something looked upon in wonder and fascination by humans. The unknown and unconquered heights of snow-capped peaks calling to be climbed and discovered, and for those who are brave enough, scaling a mountain can be a monumental, life changing feat, something that so powerfully reconnects human and nature.
Viewed as sacred and respected, many of India, Nepal and Tibet’s mountains are named after gods and deities. Nanda Devi, Kamet, Kangchenjunga, Mt Kailash, and ranges like Satpura and Vindhya, the Guru Shikhar peak, and of course Everest – known by the Nepalese as Sagarmatha, and Tibetans as Chomolungma. These mountains are more than just dreams on a bucket list for locals living close to mountainous regions. For them, these giant earthbound summits are home to sacred symbols, idols and a vital part of the essence of the East.
Lord of The Mountains
The Himalayas, separating plains of the Indian subcontinent from the Tibetan Plateau and occupying most of Nepal, derives its name from the Sanskrit words hima meaning ‘snow’, and ālaya meaning ‘dwelling’, ‘house’ or ‘abode’, resulting in the meaning ‘abode of the snow’. Himavat, meaning ‘frosty’, ‘icy’ or ‘snowy’, is the personification of the Himalayas, and this male entity later came to be known as Parvateshwara, the sacred ‘Lord of the Mountains’.
The lord of the mountains is known also by the abbreviated name ‘King Parvat’, and is the father of Ganga the river goddess, and Parvati, who eventually became Shiva’s wife. It is Parvati’s close connection to the Himalayas (with her name literally meaning ‘Daughter of the Mountains’), which makes her the goddess of not only fertility, love and devotion, but divine strength and power too, depicted by the natural and awe-inspiring power of the mountain regions. The goddess Parvati emits the same fierce yet loving power that other goddesses like Kali and Durgha display, yet her title as ‘Daughter of the Mountains’ means she is seen very much seen as the original form of Shakti (divine feminine energy) in parts of India, Nepal and Tibet; mother of all gods and goddesses, and female guardian of all humanity and creation itself.
Mentioned in ancient texts like the Puranas and the Mahabharata, mountain ranges of Asia are one of the most important and powerful symbols of progress, overcoming obstacles, finding great strength and attaining spiritual enlightenment. Perhaps it is the unknown aspect of mountain regions that makes them so alluring and inspiring, and something so connected to a sense of higher power and even the heavens. Echoing one of the morals of the Bhagavad Gita; to dedicate oneself to the task at hand without knowing the outcome, to be present to the moment and entirely enveloped in the now without needing to know what might come next – this is the ultimate example of one aspect of Yoga known as Karma Yoga – freedom and enlightenment through action and focus on the task at hand.
Other than thousands of years of ancient reverence and mysticism surrounding the mountains, mountain posture itself, referred to as Tadasana in Sanskrit, could be seen as the blueprint of our overarching postural habits and patterns.
Although our modern society is apparently more sedentary than ever, it is rare that any of us actually spends time literally just standing still. Just being. Constantly engaged in the pursuit of achievement, surrounded by noise and the various forms of social media we attach to – there never seems to be enough time to just stand still, which is why perhaps we need this practice more than ever. The practice of standing still can reveal our most basic and ingrained habits; where does the weight fall in your feet? Is your back hunched or are your shoulders relaxed? Are you clenching your fists or jaw, or holding your breath? Does your mind wander or ruminate, or is it focused on the task at hand? Are you in the moment here and now?
Iyengar is known to have said that the attainment of Tadasana makes other postures more attainable – and indeed, if we can be totally here and now in a posture requiring a small amount of physical exertion, the ability to be present and connected to the self in a more demanding asana may well be within reach.
If perhaps then, we can be completely present to the moment at hand when standing, feet together at the top of a sticky mat, spine elongated and gaze straight forward, we can begin to cultivate the sense of true stillness and quiet power the mountains of the East so perfectly display. To focus on the very task at hand, we can cultivate stillness within movement; resting for just an instant in the ‘now’ without needing to know what might come next. We can practice the ability to find stability, ease, contentment and non-grasping in a world of constant movement and ‘more, more, more’, and just like the Himalayas, we can cultivate our own pure, clear snowy abode, we can come home to ourselves.