Iyengar's difficulty rating: 1* out of 60*
“People do not pay attention to the correct method of standing. Some stand with the body weight thrown only on one leg, or with one leg turned completely sideways. Others bear all the weight on their heels, or on the inner or outer edges of the feet... owing to our faulty method of standing and not distributing the body weight evenly on the feet, we acquire specific deformities which hamper spinal elasticity.”
Although Tadasana is probably the simplest and most straightforward yoga posture shape-wise, following Iyengar's alignment instructions (touch big toes and heels, engage and lift up leg muscles, pull in stomach and stretch chest forward, distribute weight evenly across heels and toes) can force students to confront habits of standing and walking they've cultivated for their entire lives. As one might expect, this can be difficult and frustrating.
I began practicing yoga because I suffered from debilitating knee and spine injuries, and an engaged Tadasana was pretty tough for me at first. Bringing my inner feet to touch caused me to lose my balance. I modified by keeping my feet separated slightly, but just bringing them to parallel (pointing the same direction rather than splayed out) hurt my knees.
I later learned that these issues were symptoms of using my body as a collection of individual parts, rather than an interconnected whole. I was trying to make my feet parallel, but I wasn't also adjusting the rotation of my thighs. I probably couldn't have done so; my outer hips were tight and my inner thighs, knees, and ankles weak!
Today, as a yoga teacher, this kind of strength imbalance is one of the most common underlying issues I see in Tadasana. Attempting to correct symptoms (like externally-rotated feet) rather than addressing the underlying issue (tight outer hips and weak legs) usually causes painful symptoms to move to the next weakest point – often the ankles or the knees.
That was the source of two of my first big lessons in yoga: first, outer balance is a function of inner balance. Second, to alleviate suffering one must seek out and work through the causes of suffering. No shortcuts. Go deep – or go home.
Moreover, I discovered that sometimes learning subtlety requires being big and bold first. The best way to improve Tadasana isn't always Tadasana. When I work with beginners, I help them improve their basic standing position using other, more dramatic standing yoga postures that strengthen, balance, and bring awareness to their bodies.
A final note: Iyengar mentions that this pose may also be practiced with the arms extended overhead. I usually refer to this as a separate pose: Urdhva Hastasana (Upward Hands Pose). For a sense of what this looks like, check out the position of Iyengar's arms and chest in Vrksasana (Tree Pose).
How to improve your Tadasana (Mountain Pose):
Open your outer hips and chest with postures like Parsvakonasana (Side Angle Pose), Virabhadrasana 2 (Warrior 2 Pose) and Dhanurasana (Bow Pose)
Strengthen your ankles and feet with balancing postures like Vrksasana (Tree Pose) and Garudasana (Eagle Pose)
Balance your glutes and inner thighs with postures like Utkatasana (Formidable Pose or Chair Pose), Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-facing Dog Pose), and Salabhasana (Locust Pose)
Tadasana (Mountain Pose) prepares you for: