The standing poses (asanas) group of asanas are called in Sanskrit Utthistha Sthiti – these poses are the basis for Iyengar Yoga practice. Standing poses open and strengthen the body, develop flexibility and build the muscle actions required for more advanced asanas. Beginners learn how to use the legs for activating the lower torso and how to use the arms for activating the upper torso. By extending the muscles of the legs and groins, one attains free movement at the hips. This allows the spine to extend freely and in the long run, will prevent back pain. By creating movement in the shoulder girdle, the shoulders retain their flexibility and the chest is broadened. This improves breathing and circulation. It keeps the body agile and light and the mind fresh.
Standing poses are a good starting point for learning yoga asanas: they are easy to imitate, involve more external action, and are less demanding mentally. In standing poses both the challenge and the rewards are more immediate and in a class environment, it is easy for students to observe the teacher and to see each other.
Standing poses are ideal for introducing the principles of alignment. When standing, our field of vision is broad, and we are more aware of the space around us. It is here that we learn to align ourselves by orienting our body in reference to the floor and wall planes and we correct the alignment of our limbs accordingly. In this sense, standing poses can lead us from Vikalpa (fantasy, delusion) and Viparyaya (wrong knowledge, illusion) to Pramana (valid knowledge).
Standing poses teach us to activate and integrate all our elements: we get rooting and grounding from our feet (Earth); we sense flow and movement within us (Water); we generate and release energy and enthusiasm (Fire); we open the chest and relax our skin to enable continuous, uninterrupted breathing and bring lightness (Air); and we create space in the body and develop awareness the inner and outer space (Ether).
Standing poses are challenging and rewarding. They develop willpower, strength, endurance, and stamina – all of which are fundamental elements of Yoga. Even if you are an advanced practitioner, do not discard these poses from your practice routine. Always return to the basics!