One of the things I’ve learned in almost 40 years of near-daily yoga practice and teaching is that all the fancy poses at the end of the book, all the gymnastic and pretzel poses, are present from the outset, hidden inside the basic “beginner” poses.
I once heard BKS Iyengar suggest that if we could truly stand in Tadasana, Mountain Pose, then there would be no need for any of the other poses. I think he was implying that if a person could REALLY stand well-grounded, upright, balanced, open in all directions and non-reactive, fully present, then the goal of yoga would already have been achieved.
Another name for Tadasana is Samasthiti. Sama means same, or equal, or even. It shows up in the word Samadhi. Sthiti means to stand. So Samasthiti translates as something like Standing Evenly or Steadily. It also implies duration or continuation over a period of time, and is related to the element of Earth.
In a cyclical notion of reality, where a phase of emanation is followed by a phase of duration, which is then followed by a phase of dissolution or resorption, Samasthiti inhabits or manifests the middle phase. In this view, Samasthiti is not so much an action that we perform, rather it is more a way of being. It’s not anything we do, it is simply how we are.
In actuality, these three phases of reality are not only sequential as I suggest above, but they can also be seen as three aspects of everyday reality that are always continuously present and active.
What I’ve noticed lolling around in the California yoga community all these decades, is that most of us are more comfortable with the ideas of emanation and duration than we are with the idea of dissolution, unless we can manage to imagine the dissolution as something like champagne bubbles fizzing off into the atmosphere, innocuous and even pretty. That the dissolution might be rough or nasty, we’re not so comfortable with. We tend to insist on the light, and deny the dark, even though intellectually we know better.
I recently attended a very good talk on karma and dharma as conceived by Indian thinkers over the last thousand years or so, as opposed to the way us modern Westerners have radically changed the meanings of those ideas to suit our own needs in our own time and place. What become clear during the Q & A portion of the talk was the seemingly-unquestioned assumption among many members of the audience that we moderns living in a free, democratic society have more freedom, more latitude, to imagine and choose a dharma, a life-path, than folks living in a more regimented, class-bound or feudal society.
I’m uncomfortable with that assumption for two reasons. First, I think it’s pretty hard to imaginatively insert ourselves into the mind and heart of somebody living in a village in India a thousand years ago, and actually “get” what it felt like to be that person in the universe they lived in with the choices and constraints they lived under every day. I can’t even really know what it’s like to be the Hispanic guy working in the vineyards over in Napa. (For that matter I could never really understand my first wife either, now married for nearly 40 years to another fellow …..Bless them!!)
Second, most of the audience that night, like most yoga-audiences in California, was overwhelmingly white, well-educated and probably somewhat privileged financially (Who else can afford to take two or three yoga classes every week?). So from their un-acknowledged position of white privilege, and having drunk the kool-aid of the Horatio Alger myth that anybody in America who works hard can get to the top, they imagine that they have more freedom of choice than I think they actually have. Thus their immodesty. This is my sociological perspective. My psychological perspective is that most of us are way more unconscious than we’d like to admit, and more constrained by our inner patterning than we want to notice. For most of us, our daily behavior is determined to some degree by ways of constructing and responding to the world around us that were laid down long ago, and that we’re usually unaware of. In other words, we react more, and respond less, than we know or than we would wish.
This brings us back to Practice, and Tadasana. See above. But it has to be Tadasana with a little more discrimination, a little more willingness to cut away the delusions of self-satisfied rectitude and aggrandizement that most of us bring to the practice. A little more modesty, knowing that change and growth and generosity are really hard, and will only ever be partial, and never complete. And also that there’s a certain amount of luck involved. Hence Tadasana with Swords.