The classic version of the Mountain pose is as stable as any standing pose gets – you are just standing there on your two feet trying to keep the weight equally distributed from side to side and from front to back. If you can stand up straight, you can do Tadasana.
But if we change the form of the pose a bit, we can successfully use it to both train your balance AND strengthen the muscles that are directly involved in maintaining balance during standing and walking. There are two main ways to do it: to lift up on the balls of the feet and to stand on one leg. Today we will look at the first option.
Lifting up on the balls of the feel immediately changes the base of support, making it smaller. Balancing becomes harder, while ankles, feet and calves become stronger. There are several ways we can work with this action:
1. Heel raises: Inhale – lift the heel up, Exhale – bring the heels down. This is the most obvious, straight forward way to challenge the balance and strengthen the ankles.
2. Three stage heel lifts: Inhale – lift the heels up a bit, Exhale bring the heels down. Inhale – lift the heels up a bit more, Exhale bring the heels down. Inhale – lift the heels up as high as you can, Exhale bring the heels down. This action gradually builds up the challenge and gives the students confidence to progress.
3. Half-way heel raises: Inhale – lift the heels up, Exhale – bring them half-way down, Inhale lift back up, Exhale – bring the heels all the way down. This version is the most challenging of the three and requires more concentration.
To make your Tadasana more fun and more challenging you can also add arm movements to train your mental focus in addition to balance. There are three ways to do it.
1. Do not move the arms, keep the hands on the hips – this type of movement places emphasis on what’s going on in the feet and ankles.
2. Move the arms symmetrically (EX: forward-and-up or out-and-up) – this challenges the balance a bit more and helps you integrate the upper and lower body, making them work as a unit.
3. Move the arms asymmetrically (EX: forward+out, up+forward, etc.) – this is an example of mismatched movement that is supposed to engage both brain hemispheres and helps you train your mental focus on top of your physical body and balance. Often I find that students get so focused on what’s going on with their arms that they forget to worry about balance, which helps them do better. We often hear that balance poses help us become more centered and this is how we do it – by making our minds focus on monitoring the position of different body parts in space.
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The beauty of balancing Tadasana is that all those options are easily accessible to most students: young and old, athletic and sedentary, beginners and advanced. And combining and recombining what you do with your arms and feet keeps the practice challenging, fresh and interesting even with such a basic pose. Next week we will focus on one-legged Tadasana and the wonders it can do for our hips. Tune in!
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