Many of the most important foundational poses of yoga are done while standing. Creating a strong foundational by using one or both feet and sometimes one or both hands helps to build awareness of our bodies in space and to improve our posture and alignment of various joints, particularly the ankles, knees, hips, spinal column and shoulders. Standing postures strengthen and add flexibility to the muscles of the legs and feet, as well as the side body and the core. They open the chest and shoulders, enhancing our ability to breathe fully, and counteracting hunched over positions so many of us assume during daily work and other activities. Standing yoga poses enhance our balance and help us focus the mind. In addition to the poses featured here, there is Eagle Pose (Garudasana) under the Bird Poses section, the standing positions in the Forward Folds section, and Double Tree (Yugalaka Vriksasana) and Double Warrior II (Yugalaka Vribhadrasana dvi) in the Partner Yoga section. In some yogic traditions, Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana) in the Dog Poses section and Dolphin (Makarasana) in the Inversions section are also considered standing poses.
Here are two challenging standing balance poses to develop your powers of concentration - Dancer, King of the Dance or Lord of the Dance Pose (<em>Natarajasana</em>) and Half Moon Pose (<em>Ardha Chandrasana</em>). Variations of the whimsical and beautiful Lord of the Dance Pose test your balance, while building strength in the legs and ankles, and stretching the muscles of the shoulders, chest, thighs, groins, and abdomen. Half Moon Pose really helps to focus your attention and improve coordination. Maintaining stability in this pose builds strength and flexibility in the muscles of the abdomen, ankles, thighs, buttocks, and spine. Consciously doing this balance helps alleviate stress by keeping your mind fully in the present moment.
Okay, I have to admit this is my all time favourite pose, especially when I am out in Nature. It seems to express that sense of joy, vitality, and prana or life force that the yogis all rave about. Other benefits of Extended Hand to Big Toe Pose (<em>Utthita Hasta Padangustasana</em>) include: straightening and strengthening the spine, lengthening and stretching the hamstrings, and enhancing concentration and balance. Many beginner and intermediate variations exist to help prepare the body for the full expression of this challenging pose.
Sun Salutations incorporate lunges. Lunges also prepare the body for other standing poses. These poses tone and strengthen the legs and back, while increasing the flexibility of groin and hip muscles. Lunges can help relieve back aches. The Revolved Prayer Twist is also known as Side Angle Pose (<em>Parivritta Parsvokonasana</em>) with hands in prayer position (<em>Anjali Mudra</em>). Revolved Prayer Twist stretches the back and really opens the spine, especially the area between the shoulder blades. Likewise, like other lunges, it promotes more flexibility in the hip muscles. This pose also opens the chest, thus improving one’s ability to breathe fully. It helps to strengthen the lower body and the core. Besides this variation from Low and High Lunge Positions, there are other variations of Prayer Twists that one can do from Chair Pose and Garland Pose.
Mountain Pose (<em>Taddasana</em>) is another foundational pose in yoga. All Sun Salutations begin with this, particularly the version known as Equal Standing (<em>Samastitihi</em>), with the hands in prayer position. It symbolizes grounded readiness. Many dismiss this position as easy; it is just standing there, after all. However, there is a lot going on if one is truly mastering the pose. Emulating a mountain, the upper part of the body reaches into the sky (rib cage away from the pelvis, crown of the head lifted), as the lower part grounds toward the Earth, the weight equally distributed on the four corners of the feet, with the feet hip width apart. The inner thighs spiral in and back with the tailbone pointed down so as to straighten the spine. We are relaxed and still and yet alert and ready for action, our body a line of energy connecting Earth and Sky. Mountain Pose is a wonderful way to enter the present moment and begin a yoga practice, as well as to improve posture and balance. During and after practice, Mountain Pose helps to integrate the benefits of other asanas. Extending the arms overhead provides added benefits - stretching the side body, the spine, shoulders, armpits and belly, toning the thighs, and opening the chest, making it easier to breathe fully.
<p>Squats: These poses build core and leg strength, tone the muscles of the lower body, and help to open and stretch the muscles of the hips, groins and chest. They benefit the cardiovascular, respiratory, urinary and reproductive systems. Holding these poses warms and energizes the body. Many of these poses are an integral part of Kundalini Yoga. </p><p>The Figure 4 Pose (<em>Eka Pada Utkatasana</em>) is a squatting version of Pigeon Pose, and thus helps to stretch and keep supple the hip flexor muscles. However, this is a safer version of Pigeon Pose for people with sensitive or vulnerable knees. Flexing the lifted foot protects the knee joint. A squatting Figure 4 also involves balance and core work. Once you gain confidence in this pose, it can be a lot of fun.</p>
Tree Pose (<em>Vrikshasana</em>): This standing balance strengthens both the thighs, calves, ankles and spine. It stretches the chest and shoulders, as well as the inner legs and groin muscles. It is reputed to cure sciatica and prevent flattening of the feet. It provides gives clarity of mind since one must really focus to remain in balance. No wonder it is my husband Ian Hatter’s favourite pose. There are many variations. Arms can be folded in front of the chest, with hands in prayer position (<em>Anjali Mudra</em>), with the gaze downward just over the fingertips, or straight ahead or upward. Arms can be raised skyward, with the palms facing one another or pressed together, with the gaze straight ahead or up, the crown of the head reaching skyward. Arms can be in Eagle Position or Cow-Faced Position, or Chest Opener Position. The raised foot can be beside the ankle, calf, or inner thigh. For additional challenge, make this into a bit of a backbend; or bring movement to the body, swaying side to side, waving the arms, etc. The most challenging version involves doing this pose with eyes closed.
<p>Triangle Pose (<em>Trikonasana</em>): This classic yoga pose stretches the muscles of the hips, groins, hamstrings and thighs, as well as the calves, shoulders, chest and spine. It also strengthens the legs, including the stability of the knee and ankle joints. It also stimulates the abdominal organs and improves digestion. Extended Triangle (<em>Utthita Trikonasana</em>) is reputed to relieve stress, anxiety, infertility and symptoms of menopause. When beginning to learn this pose, it helps to initially keep the gaze down, and then, as one feels more stable, balanced and open in the pelvis, one can turn the torso and gaze first to the side and then upwards. </p> <p> Pyramid Pose, also known as Forward Facing Triangle or Intense Side Stretch (<em>Parsvottanasana</em>), is a forward and torso twist that strengthens and lengthens the leg muscles, particularly the hamstrings. It is a superb stretch for active people who walk, hike, jog, run, cycle, or play various team sports. The hands can be in various positions - on the ground on either side of the front foot, hands in “T” or “airplane” position, hands clasping opposite elbows behind the body, hands in reverse prayer position, or hands clasped behind the back and extended. The latter three hand positions act to open and stretch the muscles of the chest, arms and shoulders, which tend to get shortened while hiking and backpacking, as well as while driving, working on computers, carrying children, or playing musical instruments. </p>
In Yoga, Warrior Poses (Virabhadrasana) require strength, steadiness, concentration and focus. They increase body awareness, and improve circulation and respiration, thus energizing and rejuvenating the whole body. There are several variations --- Warrior 1, 2 and 3, as well as Exalted Warrior. All of these poses involve standing, either in a lunge position or on one leg, with arms extended, held straight in various positions, and with muscles active and at the ready. Arms, hands and the gaze can be in various positions. All of the Warrior Poses can challenge our balance (particularly Warrior 3!). Perfecting them can help inspire the confidence we all need to help us be our true, authentic selves.