What is the purpose of Yoga poses? For me, the purpose of Yoga poses is to create a healthy flow of energy through the body to transmit an aurora of vitality into the mind and soul. With each new practice, I establish an intention that every posture develops with pure, balanced space in the spine and, from this, the core’s energy is invited to move outwards into the limbs. This positive flow of energy transmits back through the nervous system to the mind in a healing manner rather than via a stimulation of struggle and ego.
To create this positive flow of energy, I like to picture how Mountain Pose (Tadasana) acts as a model of spaciousness within every other pose. When performed properly, Mountain Pose creates a balanced expansion of the vertebrae and spine in all directions-front, sides, and back.
Imagine Mountain Pose when performing all seated twists. Before rotating, sit with fluidity out of the sit-bones and place your vertebrae in complete balance so there is equal space in all planes. From this place of balance, the twist manipulates energy in healing directions instead of creating blockages. Often in seated twists, students sit or lean into one plane (ie leaning into one hip) causing an imbalanced line of space in the vertebrae. When one rotates with this imbalance, compression can occur in the vertebrae cutting off the benefits of energy flow and of the twist in general.
Visualizing Mountain Pose while performing plank poses (ie Chaturanga) creates healthy stability and awareness to how resistance needs to be applied against gravity. Many students place too much focus on the muscles and joints of the upper body which is natural since this area appears to draw most of one’s energy to maintain these poses. Unfortunately, focus is taken away from the core causing many people to sway and collapse the torso. This places a passive arch into the low spine and transmits heaviness into the rest of the body.
As mentioned, before sending energy out into the limbs, proper balanced flow of energy needs to be established in and around the spine. Core and abdominal muscles should be engaged in plank style poses to recreate the essence of Mountain Pose along the vertebrae. No arch, no collapse – instead, enjoy balanced, supported space. This core balance and integrity then transmits greater endurance into the limbs and other assisting structures.
Another great example of Mountain Pose acting as a foundation is in standing balance poses like Tree Pose (Vrksasana). Whenever one balances, core and stabilizing muscles contract to sustain steadiness. The body develops memory of these stabilizing effects and incorporates them into daily activities.
If we are in poor, collapsed positions while balancing, the body will memorize these collapsed positions and move through the day with energy being cut off. So before entering any balancing pose, first establish the spaciousness of Mountain Pose. Retain your focal point (drishti). Apply the necessary contractions of core muscles to sustain the balanced flow around spine, in the pelvis, and up through the skull. The balancing poses take on new life and lightness. Core muscles learn to contract around balanced energy and memorize this vitality.
The model of Mountain Pose can be applied to all Yoga poses – Forward Bends, Back Bends, Side Stretches, Inversions, and Twists. Regardless of the plane of movement taken by a Yoga pose, the vertebrae and spine should enjoy expansion and healthy, balanced mobility like Mountain Pose. Compression and blockages are self-defeating and make one prone to injuries.
Maintaining the essence of space and free flow creates a dimension of higher awareness and connection within the practice. Yoga postures take on new meaning and purpose as one proceeds with each practice placing focus on the internal layers and the healing energy that brings us joy.