I have been practising yoga for 28 years. During that whole time I have been doing standing poses. I can still get better at them!
Most importantly, what they have delivered to me over the decades has evolved, and still continues to evolve.
When I was a beginner, they were the main yoga poses that I did. I struggled with having the patience, stamina or strength to stick with them!
My hot head impatience was sure that the teacher was at least sometimes overdoing standing poses.
Finally, as I became more experienced, I have of course added in different families of asana (postures)…like inversions, forward bends, twists, forward bends, backbends, balancings, and jumpings.
I still find standing poses nourishing, but they are now not the only family of asanas that nourish me.
I used to wonder why standing poses are the first family of poses taught to a beginner, especially when most find them challenging. I now appreciate that they work in so many different ways that it makes total sense to start learning yoga via the practice of the standing poses.
As I said, when I started yoga I used to find standing poses a real struggle. Often during the pose I would wonder how much longer were we going to hold the pose before being allowed to release it!
Teaching elephants to dance!
My body seemed too stiff for standing poses. I found them hard to hold even for a few breaths.
I felt like an elephant when I jumped out into them. My arms and legs seemed to have minds of their own and go in all directions. I would perspire lots and become quite shaky and exhausted.
Many of us who start yoga are pretty unfit, with bodies that are thick and sluggish. At the same time, our minds are turbulent, and race from one thought to another.
Some of us take up yoga and we have a history or doing sports, but are muscle bound and inflexible.
The amazing thing about standing poses is that they strengthen and tone all the muscles groups in the legs and arms… no matter what your background.
Through regular practice you can build long, lean muscles in both the arms and legs. You would never confuse a bulked-up weight builder with a yogi.
Standing pose fixed my lop-sided pain, calmed my mind
Standing poses teach you to stand upright. Of course, nearly all of us labour under the illusion that we are already erect and upright.
For instance, before I started yoga, I tended to favour one side of my body, and drop weight down onto the other hip. It caused all sorts of issues from hip pain, lower back pain, right up to stiffness in one shoulder and one side of the neck.
I was unaware of what was causing the problem or would fix the pain… and it was something that no other type of health professional could diagnose or fix.
The central standing pose (called Mountain Pose or Tadasana) straightens the spine… and it steadily did a lot for my issues.
But Mountain Pose does much more too. It teaches one how to stand still, and steady. Learning to stand still has a profound effect on settling the mind.
The mental and physical benefits of standing poses
Yoga is a practice where you learn to still the mind.
Standing poses are “held” positions. They build stamina and strength and mobility. They are physically invigorating and mentally quietening.
The mind is taught to focus on various parts of the body and to concentrate in order to become steady while breathing normally. It’s all part of stilling the mind, and eventually the body.
Have you ever noticed that you fidget in your relaxation poses? Or you used to? That’s one way of noting that your mind is not still yet.
At first it is hard to quieten the mind because there are some many things going on, and so many sensations.
It is hard to breath normally because you are stretching and opening parts of the body that you may never have stretched or opened before.
Learning to manage your emotions
There will be poses that you like, and feel are easy, and you will tend to overdo and exhaust yourself.
There will be other poses that you feel you are hopeless at and you hate them. You just want to get out of them!
So there will be all sorts of emotions coming up as you try to stay in the standing poses.
Standing poses also take the body through a whole range of leg movements that help to reduce stiffness in the hips, knees, and ankle joints.
Many of the poses tone muscles in the side of the chest, and abdomen, as well as strengthen spine, shoulder joints and neck. They all improve circulation to heart, lungs, and abdominal organs.
There are physical and mental things happening due to the pose. While you hold the poses you are learning the art of becoming less emotionally reactive. This is called developing equanimity.
Building mental and physical resilience
Standing poses are often referred to as “grounding poses”. This means they earth the feet and steady the legs, but at the same time steady our minds and emotions.
In the process of all this, they definitely build physical and mental resilience.
Standing poses are of course weight bearing poses… holding up all of your body. As such, they help strengthen bones and joints.
It takes time to understand how to use the arches of your feet so you rebound the energy up into your legs and spine. In all standing poses there is a subtle shifting of weight from one side or the body to the other.
Over time I started to notice postural imbalances. I became far more aware and sensitive to how all my actions had effects in the body.
Standing poses ultimately deliver a positive, happy outlook
I also began to appreciate how all my actions led to thoughts that could be both positive and negative to my mental outlook, and ultimately my health and happiness.
While I continue to practice standing poses, I would say that increasingly my awareness is now directed internally.
When I was a beginner, I was preoccupied with becoming stronger and more flexible. I also tried to figure out what was required to make the shape of the pose… so my awareness was more external.
Now that I am steady in the poses I would say that my awareness has shifted to be more internal so that I now aware how standing poses can help integrate all the different aspects of myself to deliver a quiet reflective state of mind.
Wow! Until it actually happened, I would never have thought that standing poses would deliver me all this, let alone equanimity and reflection!
I’ve also come to appreciate how precise standing poses are one of the defining and wonderful aspects of the Iyengar style of yoga that we practise as Flametree Yoga.
My yoga journey continues… delivering more health and happiness with each passing day.
Flametree has a large timetable of LIVE online & in-studio classes. Flametree teaches genuine, modern classical yoga that fully delivers all the many benefits of yoga. It gets you into the correct positions to naturally help your body and mind work to maximise your health and full performance potential.
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