Attending to the Chest and Spine
in Tadāsana (Mountain Pose)
- Stand as you would in a queue during the day, without taking any specific care to your posture.
Photo 1 Standing in a slouch posture
- Sense the space in the chest as you inhale.
Ω Without changing anything, observe the position of your shoulders, the space in your chest, the flow of your breath, the softness of your eyes, and the state of your brain.
Now do Tadāsana:
- Widen your toes and feet. Feel the touch of the soles of your feet with the floor and ground your heels, the outer edges of your feet and your toe mounds.
Photo 2 Contact regions of the foot with the floor
- Move your tailbone forward into the pelvis and at the same time move the front of your upper thighs back.
In his teachings, B.K.S. Iyengar stressed time and again the importance of this apparently simple pose; he taught fine points about this pose even when instructing his most advanced students and teachers. Some of these subtle actions should be learned over time under the guidance of a competent teacher. Here we can only offer the most basic instructions.
- Elongate the spine; roll your shoulders back and down; move your shoulder blades in and activate your back muscles to widen the chest.
Photo 3 Tadāsana – the mountain pose
Moving the shoulder blades in means moving them forward toward the front (anterior) part of the body. Imagine someone is looking at your back and you want to hide your shoulder blades from her. Activate your back muscles to move the entire plates of the shoulder blades closer and closer to the ribs at your back. This action opens the chest and improves the breath.
- Exhale and concentrate on your spine; then, while inhaling, imagine an external pull, as if a string is connected to the top of your head and gently pulls it up. Feel how this creates space between each adjacent vertebra, as if an air cushion is formed between them. Sense the space in the chest cavity as you inhale.
- Maintain a stable pose but release any tension, especially in the diaphragm, face, eyes and shoulders.
- Mentally connect the back of your brain to your sacrum and then to your heels, and at the same time, open and lift your heart center at the center of the chest.
Ω Observe again: how is the flow of your breath now? How soft are your eyes? What is your mental state? What are the differences between the first casual, sloppy posture and a proper Tadāsana?
Opening the chest – or more precisely, increasing the dimensions of the chest cavity – has enormous effects on our overall disposition. We discuss in more length how opening the chest can rapidly change our mood drastically. This simple action can take us from gloomy and depressed mood to optimism and cheerfulness. When the shoulders are dropped forward and the chest is sunken, one feels restricted and probably even depressed to some degree. Indeed, depression is often associated with a rounded upper back and a tendency for a narrow chest. In a depressed mood, we tend to look down and our breathing is typically shallow. Research into the effect of yoga on depression shows significant relief of depression as a result of a routine yoga practice. Such a practice emphasizes chest-opening poses, and supported back bends; see [research on the effects of Iyengar yoga on depression].