Before I started exploring yoga more deeply, I was only practicing on and off. I was a pretty avid attendee at classes in college the first year or two, but I started working full time while balancing a full load of classes every semester. My plate was too full to add in an hour of yoga twice a week.
Okay no, it wasn’t — you can almost always make time if you want to, let’s be honest. It just wasn’t a priority anymore. It was still something I loved the idea of, but I’d lost touch with the meaning I’d found in it. It happens.
If you truly do find yourself so short on time that you can’t dedicate an hour each day, or a few times a week to your practice, something is better than nothing. Our instructors in India told us that if nothing else, parvatasana or mountain pose (pictured above) is the best overall pose to hold. The many beneficial powers it holds for your body have given it this honorable ranking.
It’s not a fancy, advanced-looking pose where your body is all twisted and impressively balanced. It’s straight-forward. Mountain pose is basically downward-facing dog, but with the feet together instead of apart, and the arms extended a little more. It looks easy, but try holding it stable and steady for fifteen minutes! That’s where you get the benefits and build strength — and the ultimate goal with poses. As yogis, we aspire to be able to reach a level of comfort and stability in each asana.
This asana is a part of surya namaskara, or sun salutation, so breathing would consist of an exhale while taking the left leg back to meet the right following horse-riding pose.
Mountain pose strengthens the nerves and muscles in the limbs and back, according to “Asana Pranayama Mudra Bandha” by Swami Satyananda Saraswati. It also lengthens the body by stretching muscles and ligaments, enabling growing bones to grow longer. Vertically challenged people — we can still turn this around! Kidding, genetics, ugh. But we can extend the height a little at least.
Circulation is also stimulated in parvatasana. If held, you can literally breath your energy back and forth between two major chakras: the heart and root chakras. We did this as a part of active meditation a few times during YTT, and the feeling afterwards is incredible. But more of that later.
The adjustments for this pose, as you are able: try getting your heels touching the ground, extending the sides of your body by pushing your hands against the ground and arching the back as much as possible. It should be arched much more than mine is in the picture, but lower back pain prevents me. You can use a belt as a prop; someone can stand behind you and wrap the belt around your hips with both ends pulled through between your legs. As they pull, it will help your back to arch more and pull your legs more straight. The distance between hands and feet should be that of plank pose. You shouldn’t have to shuffle your hands around too much, but if the hamstrings are tight then you can as needed. You should try and work up to increasing flexibility, though.
How? Practice! You don’t get flexible in a day, just like anything else. While some people are a little more flexible than others naturally, it’s nothing that can’t be achieved. So for both increased strength and flexibility, hold this pose. Start with two minutes, then five, then work up to ten, twenty, and so on.
The thing about only focusing on one pose that I’ve found though, is that like me you might get too curious about the benefits other asanas possess. Before you know it, you’re doing an hour-long sequence anyway :) But start small and see how you feel from mountain. Maybe add in another pose or two and see how you feel practicing those each day. You’ll start to notice slight differences in your body and mood, and will gain physical awareness. You’ll acknowledge areas that need more work and will seek out more poses you can do to reach your next goal.