The standing postures are a kind of microcosm of the practice of asana as a whole (except for inversions, or upside-down postures, described in Chapter 10); you may hear that you can derive everything you need to know to master your physical practice from the standing postures. The standing postures help you strengthen your legs and ankles, open your hips and groin, and improve your sense of balance. In turn, you develop the ability to "stand your ground" and to "stand at ease," which is an important aspect of the yogic lifestyle.
The standing postures are very versatile. You can use them in the following ways:
✓ As a general warm-up for your practice.
✓ In preparation for a specific group of postures (we like to think of the standing forward bends, for example, as a kind of on-ramp to the seated forward bends).
✓ For compensation (or to counterbalance another posture, such as a back bend or side bend). For more information, see Chapter 15.
✓ As the main body of your practice.
You can creatively adapt many postures from other groups to a standing position, which you can then use as a learning (or teaching) tool, or for therapeutic purposes. Take, for example, the well-known cobra posture, a back bend that many beginning students find hard on the lower back (see Chapter 11). By performing this same posture in a standing position near a wall, you can use the changed relationship to gravity, the freedom of not having your hips blocked by the floor, and the pressure of the hands on the wall to free the lower back. Then you can apply this newly won understanding about the back in your practice of the more demanding traditional form of the cobra posture or any other posture that you choose to modify at the wall.
Now, that's a stretch!
A beautiful young woman named Heather came to one of my (Larry's) beginners' Yoga class in Brentwood, California, for her "first ever" Yoga class. It was clear right away that she wasn't very flexible; in fact, she was perhaps the most inflexible young person I'd ever seen. When I led the class in seated forward bends, for example, she literally couldn't touch her knees. In that moment, when she realized how tight she really was, she began to cry. I spoke to her after class and learned that she had been involved in competitive sports since age 5, and that now, at 17, she played on a state champion volleyball team. As athletic as she was, she had done very little stretching over the years . . . and it showed.
I recommended that she lean her buttocks against a wall with her feet about 3 feet away from the wall and just hang down, keeping her knees "soft," as in Forgiving Limbs (covered in Chapter 3). In this modified standing posture, she had an easy angle to bend forward and release her back and hamstrings. She practiced this standing posture every day and within three weeks, she experienced a dramatic change. For the first time, she could sit with her legs extended and reach her toes. With the entire class spontaneously applauding, Heather cried again, but this time out of joy.
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