Note: I’m really sorry this is coming out late. Due to the holidays (my favorite excuse) I’m slowing down a little bit. Come January we’ll be back to a normal schedule!
You say, “But Nisha, I am an experienced Yogi and have a perfect understanding of Tadasana and alignment. Why should I read this?” To that I say, the best way to ensure you have your practice down and are doing things safely, is to revisit the basics. Practicing doing things which you already know, only reinforces those good habits. It makes it second nature. If you stop and forget to check yourself, you may find yourself getting loosing a little bit that greatness you had created as a beginner. This also can go on to effect how you stand and carry yourself outside of your practice. Having proper alignment during practice is great, but it can’t undo the harm of poor posture in everyday life!
For my beginner friends, the basic poses really are the building blocks. Once you figure out basic alignment, and poses like Tadasana, you will find that other poses seem to make sense. If you know how to stand in Tadasana, you can figure out how to do Tree! The basics are you friend, so while you wan to have fun when you practice yoga, don’t forget to try and perfect even the simplest pose.
This post is perfect for me, I’ve been finding myself letting my feet turn out and slouching more lately. I needed this reminder to check myself, so I decided to share it with all of you! There’s a lot of writing in this too, but don’t be afraid! While I attempt to explain as much of this pose as I can, 90% of this should come naturally. If you stand regularly, and aren’t falling over, then you’re most of the way to Tadasana!
Let’s start down at our feet and work our way up. One thing to notice is, as we go through this pose and work our way up, your body will magically stack your next body part properly most of the time. So your knees and hips will be mostly correct, if your feet are correct.
You want your feet to be hip width apart. There’s a common misconception that this means your feet will be super wide apart if you have wide hips. This has to do with your bones, not the outer curves of your body. Think of the placement of your femur, that large bone that runs straight down the middle of your upper leg. That bone should be more or less vertical.
Some instructors say keep your feet together, I don’t understand this. While this should not cause any harm to your body, it seems odd. I also tend to feel pretty unstable with my feet together. If I’m ever in a class and an instructor says to do this, I usually keep a little bit of space between my feet. That being said, there’s nothing wrong with keeping your feet together. I just don’t do it.
We also talk a lot about the 4 corners of your feet. This is to help figure out where you want your weight to be. The 4 areas are:
- The large pad just below your big toe
- The pad below your little toe
- The outer edge of your heel
- The inner edge of your heel
You’ll notice that the 1 and 2 are connected, and 3 and 4 are connected. Really what you’re trying to avoid with this is letting the natural arch of your foot take your weight. Rolling in on the arches of your feet can cause some damage to your joints. The converse is true as well if you always roll your feet outward. (Perhaps I’ll write about this another day.)
Note: You can check if you have a natural tendency to roll your feet in or out by checking out the soles of your shoe. If one side is more word down than the other, you may have the habit of pushing too much weight on the inside or outside of your feet.
Before we move up, check your toes. I recommend doing this periodically anyway. Lift them off the mat. Relax them. Avoid gripping the mat with your toes or curling them! Now keep your feet parallel, as if on railroad tracks!
Let’s briefly discuss our ankles. If your weight is all properly distributed on your feet, then your ankles should actually be fine. If you’re not sure if your feet are right, take a look at your ankles. It should look like your ankles are coming straight out of your feet. You don’t want your ankles bending in or out. (This may be hard to see on yourself, but it doesn’t hurt to know!)
On to the knees! This is hard to explain without just showing you in person what I mean, but darn it, I will do my best. Try not to lock your knees. This means pushing your knees back straight where they just stop bending any farther. For some people, this also involves hyper-extending your knees. If your knees are curving backward, you’ve gone too far! This will take some playing around with, but it may also help to think about staying soft in your knees. You’re not bending them, but they’re not completely locked either. Play around with this on your own. (It may also help to talk to me or any other instructor about this to help you find out where that is.)
Note: If you stand with your knees locked for too long, you can over-stretch ligaments, and even pass out eventually. Sounds like a good habit to break now, doesn’t it?
Next stop: the pelvis. This is another one of those moments where you’ll have to do a little self discovery and find what works for you. I also know that tucking and tilting can be really confusing for some people, so I promise to make a video about those terms, what they mean, and how to do them. Tilting your pelvis forward and arching your lower back can put a lot of strain on your back. While I’ve never seen someone do this, tucking your pelvis too far and dropping your tailbone to completely straighten the natural curve of your low back isn’t so good either. If you’re totally confused, just think about what you would normally do when you stand up straight. Think about what your lower back is doing. Is it too curved? Is it too straight? Chances are, you’re fine. unless your low back is hurting or you’ve been told before that your alignment is whack, don’t worry!
For your upper back and shoulders, I had a teacher once who taught me this neat little trick. He would say that you do your cactus arms, where you bring them straight out like a T, then bend your elbows to 90 degree angles and keep your palms facing forward. Now bring your arms black slight and draw your hands down so they’re near your sides. Almost like you would have your arms if you were just standing with your hands relaxed at your sides. One key difference is that your upper arms may feel as though they’re turning out or forward a little, while your lower arms and palms can relax and face in toward your body. I find that my hands naturally hover a couple inches away from my sides when I do this properly. This is also a good way to stand up straight.
Keep in mind, you don’t need to thrust your chest forward. You sternum can be in a relaxed neutral position. (I know, that’s super cryptic.) Again, you have to play with it and find what works best for you. In my video I demonstrate what I mean.
Your neck! This is going to be hard to describe without showing you. I highly recommend checking out the video for this tip. Another teacher liked to say, imagine holding a big juicy grapefruit between your chin and chest. You’ll have space there, but you’ll need to hold it a little bit right? So you’ll tuck your chin ever so slightly in this pose. It may help to think of the vertebrae in the back of your neck as being straight.
Finally, we’re at your head. Just relax your face here. There’s nothing you need to do with your face, so concentrate on letting everything relax. Let your jaw relax, your scalp, your cheeks. Literally everything.
You are now in Tadasana! Like I said at the beginning, poses build on more basic poses, so once you’ve got the alignment down for one, they rest will come much easier!