The best way to approach standing postures is to start simply, and ie simplest standing stretches are those that do not require us to countei t gravity by tightening our lower extremities beyond what is needec 0
balance upright. This means that the torso is not bending backwa d, forward, or to the side. We'll start with the mountain pose.
the mountain pose
The mountain pose is the basic beginning standing posture (fig. 4.15), ft nn which all others are derived. To begin, stand with the feet together id parallel, and the hands alongside the thighs with the forearms n^ iy between supination and pronation (the thumbs toward the front). Crea' a firm base by pulling the hips tightly together in ashwini mudra and >y keeping the thighs tight all around. The quadriceps femoris muscles k p the kneecaps lifted in front, the hamstring muscles keep tension on ie ischial tuberosities and the base of the pelvis, and the adductor must es keep the thighs squeezed together. Keep the knees extended, but not hv] r"
extended beyond 180°. Find a relaxed and neutral position for the should' -s, neither thrown back artificially nor slumped forward. Just stand sma iy erect. This is the mountain pose. It will keep the abdomen taut without iy special effort and produce diaphragmatic breathing.
I Technical note: Most students do not have to be worried about hyperextensioi of the knees provided they keep some tension in the hamstrings. The few individi Is
I STANDING rOSTTRE\ 2.11
who can hyperextend their knees beyond 180' should be watchful not to lock them, but to maintain a balancing tension all around their thighs—especially between their hamstrings and their quadriceps femoris muscles—which keeps their lower extremities on axis. It should also be mentioned that some instructors, perhaps a minority, suggest keeping the knees "soft" for the mountain posture, by which they mean keeping them ever so slightly bent. What's most important is awareness. Do whatever you want but be attentive to the results.)
the side-to-side stretch
Next we'll look at a simple side-to-side standing stretch (fig. 4.16). Stand with your feet a comfortable distance apart and tighten the muscles of the hips and thighs to make a solid pelvic base. Raise the arms to shoulder height. Now stretch the hands out to the side, palms down, with the five fingers together and pointing away from the body. Observe the sensations in the upper extremities. At first you may tend to clench the muscles, trying to force the hands out, but that's too extreme. Just search out regions, especially around the shoulders, which, when relaxed, will allow the fingers more leeway for reaching. You are still using muscular effort for the side stretch, but the muscles you are relaxing are now allowing others fuller sway. Gradually, delicate adjustments and readjustments will permit your fingertips to move further and further to the sides.
F'gure 4.15. Mountain pose: the basic standing posture, •rom which all others are derived.
232 ANATOMY'OF HATHA YOGA
If you suspect that there is something mysterious about this, that som force other than your own muscular effort is drawing your fingertips ou a simple experiment will bring you back to reality. Stand in the san stretched posture and ask two people to pull your wrists gently from ea< i side while you relax. As the stretch increases, the feeling is altogethi different from the one in which you were making the effort yourse Stretching once again in isolation will convince you that nothing bi i muscular effort is doing this work.
Like the mountain pose, the side-to-side stretch is excellent training f diaphragmatic breathing because the posture itself encourages it. The ai i position holds the lower abdominal wall taut and the upper chest restrict* and this makes both abdominal and thoracic breathing inconvenient. ^ u would have to make a contrived effort to allow the lower abdomen to rel x and release for an abdominal inhalation, and you would have to make n unnatural effort to force the chest up and out for a thoracic inhalatic Students who tend to get confused when they try to breathe diaphragmatic; y in other positions learn to do it in this stretch in spite of their confusii 1. All the instructor has to do is point out what is happening.
Figure 4.16. Side-to-side stretch.
■i STANDING POS7VRES 233
Right-leil imbalances also become obvious in the side-to-side stretch. If students watch themselves in strategically placed mirrors, they will be acutely aware if one shoulder is higher than the other, if extension is limited more on one side than the other, or if there are restrictions around the scapula, often on one side. And with awareness begins the process of correction.
the overhead stretch
Next try a simple overhead stretch (fig. 4.17). Stand this time with your heels and toes together, and with your base again firmly supported by contracted hip and thigh muscles. Bring the hands comfortably overhead with the fingers interlocked, the palms pressed together, and the elbows extended. Stretch up and slowly pull the arms to the rear, lilting the knuckles toward the ceiling. You can feel some muscles pulling the arms backward,
F'gure 4.17. Overhead stretch, a simple and superb posture for learning to use the d'stal portions of the extremities to access Proximal parts of the extremities and the Core of the body.
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