Know the Asana: Tadasana

Tadasana (palm tree pose) is a standing, stretching and balancing asana.

Physiological benefits

Humans, unlike most animals, carry their spine upright. The effect of gravity tends to compress every weight-bearing joint (all the inter-vertebral joints and those of the lower extremities). Tadasana stretches the whole body like one stretches a spring, thus undoing the compressive effect of gravity. The heightened compressive effect on the spine during pregnancy caused by the increased intra-abdominal weight is also reduced. Lubricants and nutrients flow more easily into the joints and pressure on the nerves emerging from the vertebral column is removed. This is helpful in arthritis and other lumbar and cervical problems.

The postural muscles usually have excess tone due to overwork and often become fatigued. Stretching resets muscle tone and relieves fatigue, helping to ease body ache, backache and aching neck and shoulders. It also removes stagnation and fatigue due to lack of adequate movement. Therefore, under the name of `Office Yoga', it is recommended that tadasana, along with other light practices, be performed after every one to two hours of concentrated work sitting on a chair in an office setup.

Tadasana is particularly useful for adolescents and sportspersons, as the stretching makes the muscles more supple, which increases the range of movement in the joints. The practice also helps to correct minor misalignments in the spine or legs, especially in growing children or young adults. It also stimulates linear growth in children. The stretching effect is very useful when the resting muscle tone is higher as in older people, and in arthritis and Parkinson's disease. It also stimulates mineralization of the bones (calcium deposits), helping to prevent osteoporosis.

The attempt to balance the body on the toes with or without the eyes open sharpens muscle coordination and cerebral control over the muscles. The overall effect helps to sharpen the mind and stir one out of a dull or depressive state, or relax a hyperactive state.

The upper part of the digestive system (oesophagus and stomach) is stretched vertically during the practice. Excess gas in the stomach is encouraged to either be expelled through the mouth or pass down into the intestines. If the practice is done after drinking plain or salted water, it opens the sphincter between the stomach and the intestine, allowing the water to pass through quickly. When followed by tiryaka tadasana (swaying palm tree pose) and kati chakrasana (waist rotating pose), the motility of the whole digestive system is stimulated, improving overall digestive function and relieving constipation in particular.

Tadasana encourages more air to flow in the upper region of the lungs, which is usually under-ventilated, thus helping in respiratory conditions. The alternate contraction and relaxation of the calf and thigh muscles pushes stagnant blood in the legs upwards. Lifting the arms above the head facilitates venous drainage of the area due to gravity, and the deep inhalation with elongation of the chest cavity pulls returning venous blood from all areas towards the heart, enhancing the efficacy of the circulatory system. This combined cardiovascular effect is useful in heart conditions, in debilitating conditions, for older people, and during pregnancy, particularly to relieve swelling of the feet. It is also useful in rehabilitation after prolonged sickness or surgery.

Tadasana should be practised as part of a balanced sadhana program as it is the only asana that has a stretching effect on the whole body. It can also be practised as part of a sequential set of practices as in poorna, laghoo and the mini version of shankhaprakshalana, as well as a counterpose to practices producing compression of the spine, such as the sirshasana series or sarvangasana. After prolonged relaxation of the body as in yoga nidra or extended shavasana, tadasana performed in the lying position awakens the muscles and restores normal tone.