by Swami Lalitananda
I’ve stood in the Mountain pose in peaceful settings – over-looking forested mountain lakes and on beautiful hard- wood floors inside studios. What is it like to do the asana on the street in the most poverty-stricken and drug-laden part of Vancouver? Our new yoga centre, radha, is directly beside the Venus, a porn theatre – a goddess of another sort – in the downtown eastside in Vancouver – a gathering place for the homeless, sex trade workers and junkies. I want to learn more about myself in the context of our new location, so I plan to do the Mountain pose on the street and observe my reactions.
As I prepare to leave the center and walk out into the street, I notice my mind getting nervous at the idea of standing still on the street in what seems like a dangerous area. Why do we have our center here? Who are the people on the streets and how did they get here? Is there a caste system in Canada? Why is there a difference, a space between us? Me and them. Separation.
I walk outside. No one is sitting on the Venus’ porch. I walk past the Pacific Pub – a man and woman stand outside smoking. At Main and Hastings, I’m in the heart of the action. A siren screams. My body jumps. A police car weaves its way through the crowd crossing the street. It’s a warm night. Two men go by with amputated legs. Another has an arm in a sling. A woman in a wheelchair.
I place myself near a building at a forty-five-degree angle. I’m close enough to a bus stop to have a reason for standing here, but I’m not part of the bus stop group. I have a view of the activity on the corner and I’m also facing the flow of foot traffic walking toward me. I’m struggling to stand straight. My arms have a power of their own. They want to bend and cross to protect the front of my body. It’s an effort to keep them at my sides. I feel exposed and too open. My eyes are darting around. I feel I’m an obstruction.
A man comes to the bus stop and looks me over as if I’m for sale, but then doesn’t seem to pick up that vibe. I keep standing. I want to shift my position and wriggle out of here. Remember the Mountain. Strength. Bring that into my body. I soften my focus, feel inside. Get firmer. I’m trying to disappear, but seem to stand out. Is it the nature of mountains to stand out by their silence and stillness?
A man walks by in the other direction. I notice his fists clenched and recognize it as his form of protection. We all have to do something. Two young girls dance by with tight clothes and lots of make-up, one with a smoke dangling from her mouth. She stops, picks up a big piece of plastic littering the street, giving me a quick glance.
I move to a second bus stop a little farther along. I stand at the end of the bench somewhat blocked by the structure but still able to see up the street. I feel safe here. I keep standing. I start breathing. It’s not about me. People are just here. I am in their home. I relax. Right now everyone is getting along. I am gradually seeing without being threatened, standing without wanting to run. I see a street full of life, a community. People greet each other. In the alley, St. Vincent de Paul is giving out coffee. People are lining up, getting coffee and hanging out.
I walk back through the streets to the center, feeling safer than when I left. I’m not naïve and I know I’ve only skimmed the surface. But I have healed something in me, softened by facing an underlying fear. Standing still is a step – being open to where I am. Meeting on common ground.
How to Do Tadasana: The Mountain Pose
The Mountain Pose
- Standing still like a mountain sounds simple but means controlling the usual physical and mental restlessness, being centered in the present moment.
- To warm up the body, stretch in a variety of ways so you can relax into stillness.
- Relax the mind by doing spiritual practice before the asana. Swami Radha said about the Mountain pose, “You can find everything you need to know about yourself through this one pose.”
- Stand in the Mountain pose, with the idea of “Standing still: looking without, looking within.” What does it take to maintain an inward focus even as you keep your eyes open?
- Do a spiritual practice, such as chanting or Divine Light Invocation or meditation. Then practice standing still with “Mountain awareness” at a bus stop or on the street. Observe what you learn about yourself and the world around you.
- Take the position of the Mountain, reflecting on “Sacred Mountain, center of the universe.” Can you get in touch with this feeling wherever you are?
SWAMI LALITANANDA is a teacher and author of two books, including The Inner Life of Asanas. For five years, she was the Director of Radha Yoga & Eatery in Vancouver, a space that embraces art, culture, yoga and community. She lived and studied with Swami Radha for over 20 years. Swami Lalitananda took sanyas in 1996 and is dedicated to making yoga accessible and significant in everyday life