Yoga Break: Finding Balance in Samastitihi & Tadasana

All right,  world! I’m back from my Passover break, and we’re kicking things off today with a focused look at Samastitihi/Tadasana and Urdhva Hastasana, the first two postures of Surya Namaskara A. While these poses may look easy, there is a lot more going on in them than meets the eye. Together, they prepare the mind and body to ease into the yoga practice and allow us to begin weaving breath with motion. Let’s take a look!

Tadasana vs. Samastitihi

In almost any yoga class, you can pretty much bet that at some point Mountain Pose (also called Tadasana) will be cued. It’s the one that looks super easy, where the practitioner is standing at the top of his or her mat with the feet hip-width apart (or sometimes together), standing tall, arms resting by the sides, and the crown of the head reaching up. In Ashtanga, we call this same posture by a different name: Samastitihi.

So, you ask, are they the same?

Well, the answer is that they are not different. In fact, the body is in the same position for both poses. Although you can’t see it, the quads are engaged, the core is drawing in and up, Mula Bandha (the area of the perineum) is tightened, the shoulders are back and down, the chest is open, and the tongue is loosened from the roof of the mouth. The weight of the body is distributed equally into all four corners of both feet, and the body is free of tension. There’s a LOT going on! The difference is that by using the term Tadasana we are referring to a physical stance, whereas Samastitihi is a call to the awareness of the practice.

Simply put: Tadasana is the execution of the posture and Samastitihi is becoming aware of your body and mind in the posture at that moment.

The How-To

Now that we’ve cleared up the difference in terms between Tadasana and Samastitihi, let’s dive in to the pose itself. I’ll also go right on to explain how to transition from Samastitihi to Urdhva Hastasana. As these are the foundation of the entire yoga practice, it’s important to make sure you are practicing with correct alignment. All it takes is a moment to set it up!

When you’re ready to give this pose a try, come to the top of your mat with your feet hip-width apart. I’ve noticed that some of my students tend to overshoot this distance, so a good rule of thumb is to leave about two fists worth of space between your feet.  Additionally, you may also bring your feet together with your big toes right next to each other and your heels just slightly apart. This is the way Samastitihi is practiced in Ashtanga, and it’s what I personally prefer. Whatever way you choose, the important part is that you feel grounded and stable.

Take a moment to rock your weight slightly from front to back, eventually settling on that sweet spot right in the middle where your body weight is resting equally on the firm foundation of your feet. Spiral the inner thighs towards each other and engage the quads. Tuck your tailbone just slightly to protect the lower back, and draw your navel in towards your spine to engage the core. Let your shoulders fall back and down away from the ears, and allow the crown of your head to draw up towards the ceiling. Relax your jaw, loosen your tongue, and let your arms rest effortlessly at your sides. If you like, you can also bring the palms to touch in front of your heart.

Notice all the places where your body is enaged and feel the weight of your entire self grounding down, stable and balanced. As you take three long, deep rounds of breath in this posture, allow your mind to rest and come to focus on the moment and the practice you’re about to begin.

On the next inhale, keep everything engaged and sweep the arms up, keeping them as straight as possible. Bring your palms to touch and let your head tip back to gaze at your thumbs. If your shoulders are a bit tight and you can’t reach your arms all the way up, don’t worry about it. Just stop when your arms are at a level height with each other. This is Urdhva Hastasana, or Upward Salute.

On the exhale, let your palms come down to rest in front of your heart. Feel the stability, feel the balance. Know that you are grounded.

Samastitihi For the Unbalanced

No, I don’t mean those of us who struggle with shaving in the shower or winning three-legged races at family reunions! I’m talking about those of us who are feeling a little less than grounded in our minds and hearts.

A.K.A. Me a lot of the time.

Samastitihi is AMAZING for bringing yourself back to the present moment and becoming aware of your physical sensations and surroundings. Not only does it help with physical awareness, but it also reminds us that we are in control of our bodies and that in any given moment, we can be stable. We can notice the ground beneath our feet and remember that no matter what kind of shitstorm is whirling through our minds, there is peace in this moment and we can be our own foundation.

(Plus, you can do it pretty much anywhere in public without getting weird looks!)

Now, go forth and practice! May you find stability, equanimity, and JOY in every aspect of your life this week. ❤

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