For most yoga students, standing postures are critical poses to develop in their practice. The biggest muscle groups in the body are in the thighs and hips, and strengthening and lengthening them does the most work in the shortest amount of time.
Less obvious but just as important is the emotional and mental health benefits of standing poses. In Anodea Judith’s book ‘Eastern Body Western Mind’, she outlines how the chakra system parallels childhood and adult emotional development.
The first chakra, called muladhara (root support) is the most critical chakra to work on. In childhood development, muladhara corresponds with learning how to ‘operate the body—how to suck, eat, digest, grasp, sit, crawl.’ In adult development, muladhara is stabilized through finding means and ways to live independently. It supports our rights to ‘be’ and to ‘have’.
A healthy muladhara asserts our right to exist, to be here. It’s name implies it’s importance: We need to support ourselves and feel supported. We also need grounding, emotionally through a solid sense of self and physically through our legs. If the root is stable, the other chakras can be stabilized. If there are issues in the foundation, there is almost no hope for the chakras above it.
In the chakra system, muladhara is at the tip of the sacrum and the pelvic floor. The health of the pelvic floor means it can relax when it needs to and can engage when it needs to. Tension around this area can be caused by fear, weak legs, or the constant force of gravity pressing down into the pelvic organs. When this area is tense, blood and lymph cannot flow and the pelvic floor becomes dysfunctional.
This is an epidemic. To quote Judith’s book:
“Of all the losses rupturing the human soul today, this alienation may be the most alarming because it separates us from the very roots of existence. With jobs that are degrading, routines that are automatic, and environments that annihilate our senses, we lose the joy that arises from the dynamic connection with the only living presence we are guaranteed to have for the whole of our lives: our body.”
We can see this dysfunction by looking at pelvic floor disease. In the United States in 2008, 83,662 women were informed that they had a gynecologic cancer. The current lifetime risk of men developing prostate cancer is 16.7% (1 in 6). Without the lymph and blood flow to carry away waste and bring in nutrients, we asphixiate our pelvic floor.
The good news is we can do something about this. We need to develop our sense of worth. Our nervous system and emotional center needs to know it has the right to be here.
We also need to develop embodyment. When the mind is disconnected from the body, the nervous system clenches. Through neural-muscular enrichment, the brain senses the body is there and can relax. We experience life not just through our thoughts, but through our bodies.
Both of these needs can be worked on through standing poses. Developing strong legs that press into the ground helps us find our support, physically and emotionally. The English language has idioms that express this: ‘Stand your ground’ and ‘land on your feet’.
And standing poses generate shakti (energy) of the legs which revitalize muladhara. The core fascial line in particular energizes through the center of the pelvic floor, promoting circulation.
The basic standing pose is called tadasana. It’s the first pose in Iyengar’s ‘Light on Yoga’ and the first pose in the ashtanga system. Tadasana means ‘mountain pose’, and there is no root support greater than a mountain! So the next time you feel disconnected from your body, weak, or unsupported, spend a few minutes in tadasana.
Let the earth support you: you have a right to be here.