Why Standing Poses? Answer 1: Overcome Inertia and Get Moving
Traditionally, the practice of yoga asana focused on seated poses. The word ‘asana’ can itself be translated from Sanskrit to mean ‘a comfortable seat’.
Yet in Iyengar yoga, standing poses tend to dominate the practice of asana, at least initially.
There are many reasons for this, but we will explore just three over the next few blogs: namely, how standing poses can help us to:
• overcome inertia and get moving • improve alignment (next blog) • access other types of yoga asana (next next blog!).
Overcoming Inertia and Getting Moving
‘Yoga has its root in Indian thought, but its content is universal, because it is about the means by which we can make the changes we desire in our lives’ - TKV Desikachar
These days, many of us have sedentary lives, spending hours each day sitting in our cars, at work, at the computer, or watching TV.
This pattern can be particularly strong in the winter, when the couch and the TV can seem more attractive than going out or doing something more active.
From a yoga perspective, a sedentary lifestyle can be labelled as Tamasic, meaning that inertia predominates.
Tamas is one of the three gunas - qualities or attributes that exist in all human beings. BKS Iyengar describes the three gunas (Sattva, Rajas and Tamas), as follows1 :
• Sattva (the illuminating, pure or good quality), which leads to clarity and mental serenity • Rajas (the quality of mobility or activity), which makes a person active and energetic, tense and willful, and • Tamas (the dark and restraining quality), which obstructs and counteracts the tendency of rajas to work and of sattva to reveal.
BKS Iyengar’s description of Tamas could at first seem negative, but that’s not what he’s saying. Tamas is only a problem if it’s out of proportion. We need to be grounded and anchored, so we don’t want to eliminate Tamas completely. Yet at the same time, we don’t want Tamas to be dominant, or we might end up spending the whole winter sitting on the couch.
What we need is a balance of these qualities, and that’s where standing poses can be particularly beneficial. Standing poses require us to be grounded, but they also ask us to move and extend. And when we start yoga, it’s usually easier to find both groundedness and movement/extension in standing poses, than in other types of asana.
When we are both anchored and extended, the result is Sattva (clarity and mental serenity).
Take a standing pose such as Utkatasana (chair pose). Observe how you feel if you hold it for 30 seconds or more with the legs firm, hips released down, spine long and arms extended. It doesn’t take long to feel energised. And the mind state is different after Utkatasana, than before.
Try a whole series of standing poses. Perhaps for 10, 20 or 30 minutes. Compare how you feel afterwards with how you felt before.
If we are consistent, and make standing poses a regular part of our asana practice, we enable the benefits to flow on into other parts of our lives.
Ultimately, we may find that standing poses help us to balance our gunas, and achieve the greater sense of inner quiet and calmness we yearn for.