When I first began yoga it was simply out of curiosity. I started slowly and only went to classes that were labeled as beginner.
After a few years and upon my move to Maine where I was back in college for an Elementary Teacher Certification I started to practice more on my own. With Coldplay and David Gray on constant rotation and a good amount of incense burned, yoga became as important to me as the other most loved parts of my life.
My knowledge base had grown enough to comfortably engage in a fulfilling home practice, but I continued to learn through the wonderful teachings of June at Nataraja Yoga, in the old building on Route 1.
I heard June’s voice come to me yesterday. I still hear her voice when I need to slow down in my life and on my mat. It’s funny, because I never made a connection with her outside of class. I’m not sure she’d recognize me if we bumped into each other on the street. Good teachers stay with you always. It’s a part of their gift.
I was asked recently by someone who has never tried the ancient practice where they should start. My advice is always the same.
Start slowly. Begin with teachers whose goal is non-judgement and never ever push into anything that doesn’t feel right. That’s how you end up getting hurt and I know plenty of people whose type A led them down that road. They quit without discovering the powerful centeredness that yoga creates within one’s being.
It’s a terrible shame.
As I embark on a weekend of Easter Bunny goodies and in an effort to locate the balance (missing as of late) I wanted to share one of the easiest yet often passed over poses; Mountain.
Often in yoga Mountain Pose is used as a resting point before venturing into the next flow. Its like hitting the pause button to catch ones breath before diving in to another round of sun salutations or triangles or any other sort of asana that the body is calling for.
Really, though, it is the beginning. The place where we should start.
With toes pressed evenly into the ground, heels cemented and teetering back and forth for a moment, find your balance.
Let the arms fall straight at your sides. Bend them a little, shake them out until they settle with fingers facing toward the ground. The hands should feel a charge. “Yoga hands,” they’re called, not wimpy or lax. Upper arms and shoulders can roll back and hands can open to the front of the room. I find more energy inhabits the arms when I open them, but I think it’s a personal preference.
Visualize the knee caps raised to the sky, the inner thighs rotate inward. Rock back and forth a little to check your feet. Really check them out. Are they solid? Are you grounded?
Gently tuck your pelvis and tighten the belly as you roll back your shoulders. Feel your chest raise and your neck lengthen. Legs and arms should still be strong.
Belly is still tightened, but soft. This can seem contradictory, but it’s not. You can feel the power deep in your belly, while thinking about softening it. It takes practice, but can be done.
The neck begins to straighten more, the shoulders drop, and by imagining a string being lifted straight from the crown of your head, the tip of your being is pulled to the sky.
Your face should be soft. Imagine the tongue resting in your mouth. Your cheeks are soft; your face looking straight ahead.
You can close your eyes.
In through the nose and out through nose.
In through the nose and out through the mouth if big energy needs to escape.
Continue to stand like a mountain and check in with your body for subtle adjustments to make yourself tall and strong. The challenge is to stay there. Still, yet strong. Fired up, yet calm.
The challenge is to see if you can find your mountain while off the mat; while standing in the grocery store or listening to the screaming of a four-year old whose every pair of pants are tickling her (OCD?).
As I mentioned earlier, my certification was in Elementary School teaching. It was never a certification in yoga. Since I’m not a certified teacher, please take this lesson with a grain of salt and most certainly don’t try this at home unless you are sure you won’t hurt yourself.
If you do think you’d hurt yourself in mountain pose, I would strongly suggest you get yourself to a class where you can be monitored by a professional.
You won’t regret it if you follow a plan that is similar to my own careful and richly rewarding beginning.
Before you know it you’ll be standing taller and breathing easier and singing “Om” without a giggle.
When that day comes you’ll understand all the fuss!
Om shanti shanti and namaste (with hands folded at heart center).