- Setting the Foundation
- Posted 07 May 2017
Good alignment and balance in yoga poses depend on a solid foundation. In yoga, we consider the foundation to be whatever parts of the body are in contact with the ground (or with a prop on the floor such as a block). When engaging into any pose, we need to start by creating this contact consciously and by placing our body parts on the ground with precision and awareness. When we set our foundation with intention and good alignment, poses become stronger, but also more easeful, more balanced, and more free.
I consider the definition of the foundation (“the body parts touching the floor”) to be somewhat negotiable. If you are placing a foot or a hand on a wall for an assisted variation, it is very worthwhile to consider that hand or foot as part of your foundation as well, because that limb will contribute more effectively to your overall alignment when you treat it as part of the foundation. In one-legged balancing poses such as Warrior III, it is also quite useful to treat the lifted leg as part of the foundation, because engaging that lifted leg as if it were connected to the floor (or a wall) will also lend more balance to the pose, in the figurative as well as the literal sense.
There is another aspect to setting the foundation, which is the creation of a stable and balanced mental underpinning for the expression of each pose. Setting the foundation includes setting an intention for our practice, becoming conscious of why we practice yoga, and opening ourselves to the experience of yoga without goals or pre-conceived notions. In other words, setting the foundation includes cultivating an attitude of receptivity so that our practice is guided by our awareness of our body and mind, instead of being ruled by our ego.
When you establish such a receptive state of mind as you move into a challenging pose, you may notice that while a good physical and mental foundation probably does not decrease the intensity of the pose, it does tend to transform that intensity from something to be endured to something to be savored.
Try it now: Do a few cat/cow warm-ups and a high lunge on both sides before coming from Down Dog into Warrior I on the right side. Move into Warrior I like you always do, watching how you habitually place your feet. Do this on both sides before reading the next paragraph.
When you are done, come back, read to the end, and repeat Warrior I on both sides using the alignment cues provided below. Observe any differences in how you feel. From Down Dog, exhale your right foot forward, placing it closer to the right edge of the mat so that you maintain hip distance between your heels (when looking from the front of the mat). Classically, the front heel is supposed to point at the back heel in Warrior I, but if you think that Tadasana feels more balanced with your feet hip distance apart, the same logic applies here. Now roll your left heel down to the floor without turning your left foot out more than you have to (i.e., no more than 45 degrees; if that seems impossible, than shorten your stance front to back). Spread the toes on your front foot and root equally through all four corners of that foot as you inhale your hands to your hips, then exhale to bend your front knee until your front shin is vertical (or close; but never beyond vertical). Placing your heels hip-distance apart will make it easier to keep you back toes pointing forward and to square your hips towards the front of the mat.
Notice how your back foot has a tendency to collapse onto the inner arch. Actively move half the weight in the back foot into the foot’s outer edge while lifting the inner arch. Notice how that minor adjustment in your foundation travels all the way up your back leg to the hips, creating more stability in your back leg, and more spaciousness in your hips. On your next exhale, use that new-found spaciousness in the hips to scoop your tailbone by engaging your lower abs up and in, and then extend your arms overhead on the next inhale, keeping the hands shoulder-width apart. Continue whatever arch is happening in your upper back into your neck, starting at the base of the neck (rather than pivoting your head on top of the neck to look at your thumbs). Balance firmness and integration with a sense of spaciousness. Stay for 5 to 10 breaths or until your effort overwhelms your sense of surrender, observing how the changes in your foundation affect your experience of the pose overall. Return to Down Dog and repeat on your left side.