I have a thing for mountains and water. Seeing mountains with homes studded into the hills like little jewels looking down on the ocean makes my spirit sing. This landscape is my happy place. It may have started when I was a little kid. My mother grew up in a house tucked into a hill overlooking the Allegheny River in Pittsburgh. As we crossed the bridge over the Allegheny to visit my grandparents, my heart would leap at the sight of the hills and I would eagerly search the mountain until I could pick out their house. As I got older, Costa Rica was my muse: mountains and ocean together and no snow! I couldn’t get enough and I went back many, many times. Eventually I landed in California where I can see my favorite view every day. Somehow it feels necessary for my existence to see something natural that is much bigger than me.
Last Friday night, I stood on the pier watching the Santa Monica mountains burning. There were two large sections in flames, and then suddenly there was a third. The speed in which it spread was hard to process. On Saturday afternoon, I couldn’t even see the mountain. The smoke was so thick, I could barely see out my window, probably 10 miles away from the fire. On Tuesday I was happy to see that the mountain was calm and clear. There was a bit of haze, but no smoke, no flames. I hoped that meant that everything was under control. About a half hour later, an enormous plume of smoke rose over the mountain. So much changes so fast. I immediately thought of mountain pose.
Mountain pose is like the Rodney Dangerfield of yoga—it doesn’t get much respect. It seems simple, too easy. It doesn’t make a very impressive Instagram photo. But yoga is not supposed to be about Instagram photos. It’s supposed to be a practice that brings you into deep communion with yourself. You can get to know yourself better. You start to understand why you do what you do. Mountain pose is perfect for this work.
Let’s go back to the Santa Monica mountains. They were on fire. Many homes on the mountain were destroyed. Many people who lived on the mountain lost everything — not only their material possessions, but also their sense of security and their personal space on this earth. Some lost their lives. Vegetation disappeared, and animals were displaced or died. Almost everything on the surface of the mountain changed. Yet the mountain itself is still there. It is still magnificent. It is still rock solid. It still inspires awe. A mountain can experience many different things that are ever-changing: wind, rain, warm sunshine, snow, the growth of beautiful flowers and trees, humans hacking away at it to create tunnels or roads, violent storms, fires, the gentle patter of animal feet. Season after season, the mountain experiences change. But it is still the mountain.
Stand in mountain pose. Your feet should be apart so that your ankles, knees, and hips are all in alignment. Don’t do that “big toes touching” thing. You need a strong, grounded stance. Let your arms hang at your sides. Close your eyes if you’re comfortable, and press your feet firmly down into the ground. Energetically lift the arches of your feet. It’s just an impulse. Let that energetic impulse travel from your feet all the way up your legs then through the pelvic floor and all the way through the center of your body, so that you’re engaged from your feet to the top of your head. Notice how you feel. Do you feel grounded and strong? Do you feel kind of airy like you aren’t fully here? Whatever it is, it’s OK. Allow yourself to feel what you feel. If shoulders allow, turn your palms out and slowly begin to raise your arms until they are overhead. Keeping the arms in a V position may be more comfortable for the shoulders, but it’s OK to bring them shoulders-width apart also. Keep your feet pressing down into the ground, keep the internal energetic lifting, and breathe through your whole body, from feet to fingertips. Breathe and feel. That’s all you have to do. Stay awhile. As you breathe and feel, remember the mountain. The mountain has been through so much, has seen so much, yet it’s still there. It’s strong. It’s magnificent. It’s beautiful. Just like you.