Tadasana: Embodying the Mountain and Reimagining Perspective

On a crisp and cool December morning I drive east with the morning sun in my eyes towards Gresham, Oregon, an outlying community of Portland.

I bask in the mystique and dominating view of Mt. Hood, Oregon’s most magnificent mountain. It stands tall and proud, holding a repose of equanimity regardless of season, weather or circumstance. It is unwavering, yet adaptive. Its gaze has been fixed and steady for over half a million years, looking toward the Pacific Ocean to the west, Oregon’s high desert to the east, its sister mountains to the north and south, down its robust flanks, and up towards the heavens. Though bathed in silhouette at that morning hour, the mountain’s ever-present radiance and glow shines brightly for all within sight.

A weekly ritual takes me to Gresham where I model myself after that mountain.  I do my best to embody its characteristics and radiate the same light that I have absorbed from it to young people behind locked doors who don’t have the luxury of that view. 

I offer yoga to those relegated to a transitional facility who suffer from abuse or mental illness, or both.

As is normally the case, NPR is the soundtrack on that particular Wednesday morning drive. Just before 9 am, Frank Deford gives his wry sports commentary, which is usually followed by the news at the top of the hour.

On this day however, the news is pushed back for a special live broadcast from President Obama. The air suggests that this may be a historic moment as the topic of the speech is Cuba.  I pull into the facility's parking lot as he begins his talk and am moved and inspired as he so coolly announces that the United States is ‘normalizing’ relations with Cuba. 

In school, I learned the history of the relations between the two countries, and why the United States chose to act as they did, but it seemed archaic when I first learned about it 25 plus years ago, and even more so today.  Finally, after over half a century, the winds of change would blow some peace and understanding between the two nations.

When I teach yoga at this facility, I usually resort to improvising my offerings as I never know who or how many kids may show up.  As I unroll the mats in anticipation of the students arrival, I decide to set perspective as the theme for that day’s class. 

A few minutes later, a small, and mostly enthusiastic group walks through the door and settles onto the mats.  As we begin by standing in Tadasana, mountain pose, I describe the view of Mt Hood that morning, and invite the students to imagine themselves as the qualities that it epitomizes.  I announce the news that I had just heard and suggest that if one of the most rigid and unrelenting entity's on earth could dramatically change their perspective on something, we as individuals should surely be able to do the same.

I lead the particularly engaged group through some basic sun salutations, then some standing and seated poses. At the end of the class, we all sit in a comfortable seat and I speak a little more about Cuba. Careful not to veer too overtly political, I state the obvious, that the United State’s long-standing conviction or belief that things should be a certain way with her Cuban neighbors may have been apt and appropriate at a time, but that time had long since passed.  I posed a final question to the students before they laid down in shavasana: “is there a long-standing conviction or belief in your life that no longer serves you and can you shift your perspective to see things from another point of view?”

After the class, a boy who at first arrived reluctant to be there and distant had shifted his perspective on the day, and genuinely thanked me for my presence.  He told me that there was something within himself that perhaps he should reassess and that he would ponder the question throughout the day. Having come up with that question on the spot, it would take me a full week to authentically answer it for myself, and yes, I too had held some things far too long that I needed to let go of and look at differently.

Driving west towards Portland, the glorious Mt. Hood was now in my rearview mirror.  The sun had risen and the mountain was truly illuminated.  I could make out its contours and snowfields, its ridges and valleys. I thought more of the great mountain, a landmark that has loomed over me my entire life. I reflected on my awkward attempt to ski down it in high school, my camping trips and hikes around it as an adult in the summers and falls, cross country skiing at nearby Timothy Lake in the winters, and the monumental view that I once had from the top of the mountain at dawn in the spring.

I relished the short moment that I had that day to actually see as the mountain. I took in the 360 degree views of the brilliant Cascades to the north and south; Portland, the Coast Range and the Pacific Ocean tucked somewhere under the clouds to the west, and the high desert warming itself to the east. I tilted my head back and looked up at the infinite sky, then took a deep breath and looked down to really recognize and acknowledge where I was presently standing. 

Deeply humbled, I imagined what the mountain had seen in half a million years: forests, glaciers, fires, regenerations, peoples; all coming and going in perpetuity. Before that moment, I had only seen the mountain in my limited adventures; differing seasons over a few decades and a smattering of different vantage points.  Now that I was not only seeing from a different physical space, but also from a different point of view, I began to truly realize the enormity of perspective.

header photo credit: NASA Satellite

Max Ritchie has been a long time collector of perspectives.  His journeys from Anchorage to Zanzibar and hundreds of places in between have revealed great wisdom from a wide spectrum of humanity.  His teachers have included beggars and Buddhas, policemen and pilots, and laborers and law makers.  He lives in Portland, Oregon where he enjoys writing, music, the natural world and Yoga. Talk to him on Twitter @maxritchie or see the world from his perspective at http://instagram.com/maxjritchie