Finding your roots: Understanding the foundation for all asana practice
In the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali, the only mention of the asanas says this: “Steady and comfortable should be the pose.” (Sutra II.46)
STEADY and COMFORTABLE.
Get yourself grounded and you can navigate even the stormiest roads in peace.Steve Goodier
It’s only recently that I started realizing that to follow this sutra, and bring my practice to a new level, I had to understand the importance of rooting. What I mean by rooting is finding steadiness in our base, grounding ourselves into the floor to create a stable foundation for the pose, and ease in the body.
Our base is the foundation that supports the rest of the body, the connection between the floor that supports us and the body that moves and holds us. Our bodies in asanas are like trees: in order for a tree to grow up, it must establish deep and solid roots. Only with this strong rooting in the ground can the tree find softness and flexibility in it’s branches. Without it, a simple breeze could uproot it and make it fall. It is the same for us in asanas.
We must find solid and strong rooting at our base in order to reach lightness and grace in the rest of the body. We must let our weight root us down in order to lift up. How?
First, identify the roots in the asana. In standing poses, the roots are the feet. Spread each foot wide, stretching the toes out to increase the surface of your base. Plant each foot firmly, as if digging into and through the ground. Let your weight sink firmly and equally into the feet, keeping the pressure equally on the toes, heels, and both sides of the feet.
When I get into standing poses, I first let my weight completely “drop” into my feet, as if letting my whole body be very heavy and fall onto my base. From that heaviness in my rooting, I can press down to find length and lightness in the rest of the body, letting the transmission of forces through my bone elongate me into the full posture.
In adho mukha svanasana, the roots are spread between the hands and the feet. Too often, yogis do not use their base and let themselves simply “hang” in the pose. Over time, this can create tension in the shoulders (which carry the weight rather than transmit it) and lower back (which rounds in place of lengthening). Instead, if we root strongly into the pose, we can find lightness in the rest of the body and let the spine elongate and push the hips towards the sky. For this, spread the fingers wide and press the outer edges of the hands into the ground, spreading the weight away from the wrist joint. From this firm grip, push the floor away so that the shoulders rotate externally (i.e. the armpits want to kiss each other from the front of the body) and form a firm support. If needed, keep the knees bent and the heels of the floor, but firmly push the toes and balls of the feet into the floor. The opposite directions of force created by the push of the hands and feet will be transmitted through the body and meet at the hips, creating lightness, balance and stability in the pose.
In arm balances, rooting through the hands is key to lifting up. Spreading the fingers widely and pressing them into the floor not only protects the wrist joint, but also allows us to better use the intrinsic muscles of the hands to adjust our balance. From there, we simply need to bring our center of gravity over the base formed by the hands, and push against to floor to lift up.
Even sitting poses have roots! The ischial tuberosity, aka sitting bones, must be firmly anchored to the ground in order to find our length in the torso. A firm based is established when the sitting bones form a strong support for the pelvis and that by letting the weight of the upper body press into the ground, the spine can effortlessly lengthen.
And this is where the magic happen: when we press down, we lift up! By focusing on strong rooting, we find steadiness and ease in the pose. By keeping the roots heavy, we find lightness in the rest of the body.
I rarely teach (if ever) teach the bandhas to my students because I feel that when we explain them with words, people tend to simply contract certain muscles and think that they are “engaging their bandhas”. Instead, I prefer to let the practice of the bandha happen naturally, where it becomes not so much a muscle contraction, but an energetic lock. When we start understanding our rooting and find strong grounding in our asanas, mula bandha and udyana bandha simply happen. Then, the practice becomes not so much about DOING, but rather about BEING.