Brad's Iyengar Yoga Notebook
"You want to stand on your head and you don't even know
how to stand on your feet." -- B.K.S. Iyengar
Give your attention to mastering Tadasana from the very beginning of your practice.   Practice Tadasana in every line you have to wait in, at the grocery store, in the ticket line at the theater, etc.   All the points learned from Tadasana should be applied in each of the other asanas.   In each pose, keep asking yourself, "Is there Tadasana in this body part, in this body part," and so on.
Occasionally precede Tadasana with a thorough foot massage.   You have to do this to understand its benefit.   Practice interlacing the fingers of one hand with the toes of your opposite foot all the way up to the webs of your fingers and toes.   If this is difficult at first, practice it often.
The Tadasana of the feet and ankles
Always begin Tadasana by placing your feet.   Place your feet so that your great toes and inner heels are touching.   You can also do the pose with your feet hip width apart if balance is difficult.   Pull your ankles together so that your inner ankles touch if your anatomy permits.   Your second toes should be pointing forward and be parallel.
Lift and lengthen the soles of your feet from the middle of the arch of your foot forward on the floor or sticky mat.   As you do this, spread all of your toes wide.   Lengthen your toes forward as you spread them apart.   Never scrunch up or grip the floor with your toes in any of the standing poses.
Then lengthen each foot from the middle of the arch back through your heels.
After lengthening the soles of your feet both forward and back, broaden them side to side, even though this may be more of a feeling than a movement.   Try to feel your feet widen as much as possible from the centers outward.   Maximize the contact of your feet with the floor or sticky mat.   Notice that this is not the same as gripping the floor with your feet or toes.   Allow your feet to be soft.   Lengthening and broadening them does not mean tensing them.
Cut the outer ankles in.   Lift the inner arches of your feet.   If that action is difficult, you can get the flavor of it by raising your toes up and spreading them which will also lift the inner arches.   Then try to maintain that feeling even as you place your toes back on the mat.   Another useful exercise to get the feeling of lifting the inner arches is to loop a belt across the dorsum (tops) of your feet and then bring it under both feet and up along the insides of the feet.   You then pull it upward with your hands.   Press through the four corners of your feet and feel the lift of your inner arches.
Bring equal weight to all four corners of each of your feet.   Feel the weight of your body sink into your feet to flatten them and make them heavy.   Feel the skin of the soles of your feet.   Is each part of that skin touching the ground equally?   In Mr. Iyengar's language, your feet should be "stamping."
Instead of the "four corners" of the feet, we also sometimes use the analogy of a tripod, taking our weight evenly to each of the three places:
(1) the mound of the big toe (head of first metatarsal)
(2) the mound of the little toe (the head of fifth metatarsal)
(3) and the center of the heel (or the inner heel)
In Tadasana our tendency is often to shift our weight more into the balls of our feet and we need to bring it back into the heels with conscious effort.   Our weight should fall around the anterior part of our heels and not in the frontal feet hardly at all.   Feel the weight of your body in the bones of your legs (right down through your heels), not in your groins and not in the front of your thighs.   With your weight mainly on your heels see how the skin on the bottom of your foot, near the mound of your toes is free to open more.   Geeta Iyengar says if the bottoms of the feet go even a little wrong the spinal muscles and the muscles of the pubic region also go wrong.   Stand with as little movement as possible, watch the skin on the bottom of your feet, and see how much knowledge it can give you throughout your body.
In general, try to bring your weight a little more into your heels in all of your standing poses to draw yourself a little more into the back of your body since we usually tend to work too much from the front of our body.   This is true even in daily life while standing in a line -- ask yourself are you more on the balls of your feet with your hips out in front of your feet and your torso sagging?   Or can you draw your weight back a little more into your heels and be in the back of your body as much as you are in the front and lift your torso evenly from the front, back, and both sides?   Try this and observe how other people stand in daily life.
There is a tendency to allow our weight to fall to the outsides of our feet and let them roll outward.   Resist this by a strong inward action of your inner ankles, lifting the outer ankles to achieve this.   Don't be on the outer or inner foot, bring yourself as much as possible to be centralized on the bottom of each foot.   As much as you lift your outer ankles, lift your inner ankles upward equally.   As you lift your ankles, lift the arches of your feet as well.
Experiment with shifting your weight back and forth slightly between each foot in order to feel more clearly the point where your weight is equally distributed between them.   In any asana it sometimes helps to move deliberately out of alignment or balance to feel more clearly what it feels like to be in alignment or balance.
Make sure each shinbone is exactly balancing over its heel.   Take your weight onto your heels by shifting the weight of your body and taking your shins back and moving the front of your thighs toward the backs of your thighs.   Especially move your inner thighs back, pulling your groins back a little but having the feeling of softening or "hollowing" them.   Do not harden your groins.
Firm the muscles of your legs into your bones on all sides, both in your lower legs and in your thighs.   Have the feeling of "hugging" your bones with your muscles strongly.   As you squeeze your muscles inward, also feel as though you are squeezing them upward into your pelvis, particularly on all side of your thighs.   Lift your hamstrings toward your buttocks.   Lift your inner thighs toward your inner groins (the place where your legs meet your pelvis).   Lift the front of your thighs toward your front groins and draw them back into your femurs.   Lift your outer thighs toward your hips.   Lift not only your muscles but your skin as well.   Squeeze your inner thighs together.   Just keeping your inner thighs together and not stretching your legs strongly as described is wrong Tadasana.
The action of firming and lifting your quadriceps (front thigh) muscles should also raise your kneecaps.   Lift your kneecaps strongly upward and also feel as though you are drawing the tops them into your knees somewhat.   Open the backs of your knees strongly so there would be no space there if you put a block up against the skin.   Feel the skin at the back of your knees stretch both vertically and horizontally.   All vertical actions should be accompanied by expanding horizontal intelligence as well.
In any pose where your legs are kept straight, you should lift your kneecaps.   You may find that you have to keep "recharging" this action, pulling up your kneecaps each time they fall.   This is a good indication that you are human.   In all the standing poses, remember, if you can wiggle your patella (kneecap) with your fingers, you are not engaging your quadriceps.   Raise the inside and outside of your knees equally.   Lifting your kneecap is not the same as pushing your knee back and hyperextending your knee.   Hyperextension of the knee is when the top of the shinbone moves back further than the bottom of the thighbone.   Lifting your kneecaps and the front of your thighs (quadriceps) in fact helps to ensure that you do not hyperextend your knees.   Lifting your kneecaps involves tightening your quadriceps, not squeezing your kneecaps into your knees by tightening the muscles around your kneecap.   Get the feeling of both of these and ingrain the former.   The latter leads to hyperextension.
Your upper calves should press forward toward your shinbones rather than bowing back in order to move your shinbone slightly forward away from your heels.   You should maintain enough weight in the area of the balls of your feet to feel this forward moving action of your shins.   This action will also help prevent hyperextension of your knees.   Remember, while your thighs are drawing strongly back, resist forward with your upper calves and upper front shins to keep your legs straight.   This type of leg action may be called "Tadasana legs" or "Uttanasana legs" and is also found in other poses like Trikonasana.   However, the leg/knee action of Adho Mukha Svanasana is quite different.
To reiterate, there should be no heaviness in your calves.   Feel how easy it is to just press them back?   To just "rest on your calves" in Iyengar parlance?   Your calves and buttocks are partners who both move forward while being resisted back by your knees and internal thighs and groins moving back.   The movement of the calves forward is slight, but you must feel it.
Take the tops of your thighs back somewhat so they are directly above your ankles.   Draw the front skin of your thighs back into your quadriceps muscles, which draw back into your thighbones, which draw back to press against your hamstrings which are drawing forward.
In Tadasana, the tendency is for our thighs to roll lazily outward.   This is a common tendency in many poses.   You will probably need to roll your thighs slightly inward to ensure that the front center line of each thigh is facing directly forward.   This involves internally rotating your legs so that you are taking your inner thighs back more than your outer thighs.   Note that rolling your front thighs inward and rolling your rear upper hamstrings outward are part of the same action and augment each other.   Even though you're rolling your thighs inward, take your inner calves toward each other but allow your inner calf muscles to go back more.   Move your inner heel skin toward your outer heel skin and turn the back of each calf to follow that movement.
Remember that these leg actions are performed (with some variation) consistently in all of the standing asanas.
The Tadasana of the pelvis, hips, and torso
As you are drawing your thigh bones backward, draw your tailbone (sacrum) underneath and forward.   Lift your pubic bone upward toward your chest.   You want your coccyx bone moving both downward and forward, but the heads of your thighbones (femurs) moving back.   This tucking of the tailbone also applies to poses such as plank pose (where it is resisted by the rising thighs) and Caturanga Dandasana -- both of which are just variations of Tadasana really.
The buttocks in Tadasana and any other pose do not squeeze together toward each other.   Instead, they engage forward into the sacrum.   Tucking your tailbone under is a spinal action that begins by lengthening your lumbar spine.   It is not a buttocks-squeezing action.   You tighten and engage the top half of your buttocks, but not the lower half -- do not contract your anus.   Again, do not squeeze your buttocks together.   The tucking-under pelvis of Tadasana is everywhere in yoga.   It is used in Trikonasana, Parsvakonasana, Virabhadrasana, and other poses.
Lengthening your lower back helps you to move your sit bones toward your heels, your sacrum forward, and your hip points upward.   Note these are three parts of the same action.
A good summary of the three primary actions of the pelvis, hips, and thighs in this pose would be:
(1) Rotate your rear thighs outward (front thighs inward) to make space for your pelvis to tuck underneath
(2) Tuck your pelvis under into the space created (which you may also think of as lifting your frontal hip points)
(3) Compact your hips inward to seal those actions.
So, after you have established the pelvic actions, compact your hips, draw them toward each other.   Draw them and your outer thighs together and hold it all in one place.   But do not let that cause you to squeeze your buttocks together.
Level your pelvis in all three possible planes: front to back (so that your pelvis is neither tipping forward into the "swayback" position nor tipping back and allowing your low back to round), side to side (so that one hip is not higher than the other), and rotationally (so that your hips are square to the front).   This action is also particularly important in Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana and other standing poses where the extension of the legs in various directions tends to pull the pelvis away from its neutral position.
Lengthen both sides of your torso from your hips upward toward your armpits.   Feel as though your torso is lifting upward off your hips, out of your pelvis.
Lift your side ribs both forward and upward.   If you look at a skeleton, you observe that most of your ribcage is in the front of your body.   Only the spine belongs to the back of the body.   Show that in your posture.
Lift your sternum toward the ceiling and expand it side to side.   Whenever we lift or open the chest, we actually want to lift the manubrium (bone above the sternum) upward while we lower the xiphoid process (bone below the sternum) downward toward the navel.   Draw the skin overlying your front ribs away from your sternum.   Broaden your chest and collar bones.   Press the skin of your back in toward your sternum to assist these actions.   Project your shoulder blades through the front of your chest.   Opening your chest is always an action that is done primarily with the muscles of your upper back.   However, do not make the common mistake of squeezing your shoulder blades toward each other to open your chest.   You must broaden your upper back as much as you broaden your chest and collar bones.
One direction given in Iyengar parlance to help establish the proper movement in the chest is to "Circularize the armpit chest."   The "armpit chest" refers to the sides of the chest just underneath the armpits.   The image of circularization is used to explain that this area of the chest should be moving forward while the front of the chest should be moving upward while the shoulder itself is moving backward and the back skin of the shoulder is moving downward in a circle to lift and expand the chest.   Make this action strong, but don't let it cause your front ribs to jut forward or arch your low back.   This action should make the nook off your front armpits and the nook of your rear armpits level with each other.   Open the backs of your armpits to the front.   The "circularize the armpit chest" action also incorporates taking the shoulder blades forward into chest.
Pull the skin up the front of your torso to lengthen it.   Extend up the back of your body as much as the front.   Also elongate through the inner core of your body up through the crown of your head.   Elongate internally as well as externally.   These movements create maximal space within your body.   That's what Tadasana is about.
We work on lengthening the front of our torso a lot in yoga, especially in forward bends.   But in actuality, in almost all poses the goal is to lengthen all sides of the torso, especially including the area from the bottom of the ribs to the tops of the pelvis on the sides of the torso and the lumbar area.   Do not neglect these areas.
You should not deliberately firm your abdomen, although it does retain a degree of firmness naturally from the uplifting action in your torso.   Do not have it soldier-like tensed.
The Tadasana of the shoulders
Your shoulders should fall naturally down away from your ears and be aligned with your ears in the forward-to-back plane, neither rounding forward, nor being pulled back too strongly in a military-style position.   Broaden and separate your shoulders away from each other so you widen your shoulder bones to the sides.   Spread your collar bones to the sides and move your shoulders back enough to ensure they are aligned with your ears.
Draw your shoulder blades (scapulae) into your back and down your back toward the top of your rear pelvis while still maintaining space and breadth between them.   Also draw your floating ribs in the middle of your back downward toward your rear pelvis.   Do not allow these actions to compromise the uplifting of your torso.
Draw the skin on the tops of your shoulders back and downward toward your shoulder blades.   Do not tense your shoulders as you do this.   Relax them as much as possible.   Drop your trapezius skin.   As your trapezius skin drops, lift the top of your chest and "circularize your armpit chest" more.
To feel the correct Tadasana of the shoulder blades, sit on a chair with your knees under a table, put your hands underneath the table with your elbows at your sides, and pull the table gently upward with your palms.   Remember the shoulder blades belong with the back.   If you are lifting your arms overhead (Urdhva Hastasana), though you may extend your arms fully and strongly, do not let your shoulder blades be pulled along out of their correct position down the back.   Another way of saying this is to keep your shoulders lowered down away from your ears and the tops of your shoulders and collar bones broad -- do not let your shoulders hug your ears.   This is especially important in such poses as Adho Mukha Svanasana.
To understand the feeling of lifting your side ribs and sternum and drawing your shoulder blades down and into your back, extend your arms straight out to your sides and turn your palms upward strongly toward the ceiling (more from the little finger side of your palms than the thumb side).   This action will help you create the feeling in your chest and upper back that you should have in virtually every yogasana.   This lifting creates space in the torso for breathing deeply.   Another good exercise for feeling the correct action of the shoulder blades is to interlace your fingers behind your back, palms up, knuckles toward the floor, and stretch your arms firmly down toward the floor.   Feel your shoulder blades pull into and down your back, and raise the top of your skull toward the ceiling to elongate your neck and prevent your chin from jutting out.
Yet another exercise to work on the shoulders in Tadasana is to place your hands on your hips with your elbows pointing straight back to the wall behind you.   Then broaden your collar bones and feel how your shoulder blades press into your body and your chest opens.   Move your shoulder blades away from each other.   So, there are two important actions in this exercise: (1) your shoulder blades move inward by virtue of the actions you are doing, but (2) you still maintain space between them.
Learn to lengthen both your arms in a relaxed way, fully extending them.   As much as your chest moves upward, extend your arms down strongly.   Use the resistance of your arms moving down to help lift your chest.   However, do not pull your arms down toward the floor so strongly as to pull your shoulders down with tension.   Turn your biceps strongly outward in Tadasana, but keep your forearms and palms turning inward so that your palms face your thighs.   Have your palms out about six inches away from your thighs.   Move your upper arms slightly back.
The classical Tadasana is also done with your arms extended overhead, a posture called Urdhva Hastasana.   When you extend your arms overhead and lift them strongly, it aids in the feeling of your torso also lifting strongly.   Though you lift with your arms, do not lose the Tadasana of the shoulder blade.
The Tadasana of the neck and head
Look outward at eye level.   There is a common tendency to look downward with the eyes in this pose, even though the head is level.   Maintain a neutral head position.   From a side view, your ear canals should align with the center of your shoulders.   Have someone check this visually for you.
Gently press upward through the crown of your head.   Lengthen the line all the way up from your sacrum to your head.   Be as tall as you can be, like a kid trying to get on a carnival ride he's just a little too small for.   As your cervical spine lengthens, you will feel some stretch in your throat, but make sure there is no tension there.   Allow your neck and throat to soften.
Lift the back of your head (the base of your skull) away from your neck to lengthen your neck.   Keep your neck long on all sides without tension.
Your face, eyes, tongue, and throat areas should remain soft, as in all asanas.