The more one dives into an asana practice, the more one realizes how truly similar all the different yoga poses are beneath the surface. After some time appreciating and digesting alignment instructions coming from teachers of different backgrounds, a great congruency unfolds in which the fundamentals of the various yoga shapes are seen as very similar.
Depending on what school you come from, there is one pose that is thought of as the blueprint for all other poses: Samasthiti. Pictured here by K Patthabi Jois, this posture is thought of as the baseline of equilibrium in bodily alignment and the teacher of all other yoga poses. Inside of a shape that appears to be quite simple is a fantastic container for mindfulness and a highly detailed guide for the integration that makes yoga postures so powerful in their ability to effect balance and harmony.
Samasthiti is a compound word, sama=equal, sthiti=standing. Very simple. Like any structure or piece of architecture, the body stands up because of an equal balance of oppositional energy. When cultivated consciously in this most accessible pose, the nervous system learns how to draw upon the oppositional steadiness in every pose. Forward bends, back bends, standing poses, inversions and twists are all different invitations to practice cultivating this balance.
In Samasthiti there are many energetic and anatomical pairs of opposites to be united.
Here are just a few:
The thigh bones press backward AND the sacrum draws forward.
The front ribs descend AND breast bone rises.
The top of the skull lifts AND the soles of the feet drop.
The knee caps subtly widen apart AND the heels subtly widen apart.
When any of these actions are practiced, the mind finds a quiet concentration and the body enjoys a fundamental stability. The amount of energy dropping equals the amount of energy lifting, inward rotation matches outward rotation, and most importantly, the sounds and length of the inhale matches that of the exhale. With some poetic license, one might propose that by working to balance these opposites in the physical body, we also somehow learn to balance anger with compassion, anxiety with calm and thinking with feeling. By becoming interested in the similarity between yoga poses, we magically get better at seeing the similarity between individuals and cultures.
When you practice Samasthiti, start by simply closing your eyes and feeling your feet. Try to find a sense of stillness where the shifts in weight become more and more subtle. The inner foot matches the outer foot, the balls of the feet match the heels, the right foot matches the left foot. When attempting to find this stillness the greatest skill in yoga is developed, the sense of humor in appreciating change. For after some time, the body will invariably move and the posture will have to start over with every new breath.
Like all other yoga poses, Samasthiti forces us to let go of having to do things perfectly so that they may unfold naturally and creatively. As things change in alignment or in life, they can either be greeted with a smile or clenched fist.
Samasthiti is a full body smile.
About the Author:
Jason Bowman is a writer and yoga teacher in San Francisco. His practice and teaching have been greatly influenced by Ashtanga Yoga as he’s learned it from Richard Freeman and Maty Ezraty and Vipassana Meditation as he’s learned it from SN Goenka. He has completed several trainings and silent retreats as well as many years of practice with all three teachers. The impression they’ve left can be felt in his strong ability to teach the physical practice alongside the philosophical with insight and character.
Jason leads several Yoga Alliance Certified teacher trainings as well as regular immersions, workshops, retreats and guest lecture series both at home and around the country. He is well known for his ability to be thorough while maintaining a light-hearted sense of humor. His classes encourage a personal examination of the space between theory and direct experience and his love for the practice shines through in his ability to teach with a concrete yet creative voice. Jason has a keen eye for detail and his classes are consistently fun and challenging while always in tune with the underlying internal inquiry that makes the practice so beautiful. Find him online at www.jasonbowmanyoga.com