NAVIGATING YOGA > Vrkasana, a.k.a Tree Pose
This week’s yoga pose, Tree Pose, is one of my favorites to teach—it is always a great way to introduce balancing exercises, as it focuses on engaging your body from the ground up.
To begin, root down through your feet. While standing with your feet apart, press your weight into your heels and relax your toes. Engage your left leg by flexing those muscles, not so tight that you lock your knee, but enough to feel those muscles work. Begin to stand on that leg by lifting your right heel to your left ankle. Balance at that point. Focus your gaze on a particular spot in front of you that is not moving. Engage your core by bringing your belly button to your spine, and drop your tailbone underneath you so that you are balancing from your center rather than from your lower back. When you’re feeling balanced, you can start to inch that heel up a little higher up your left leg. If you’re feeling really balanced, reach down with your right hand to grab a hold of your right ankle, draw the foot up to place the sole of your foot against your inner thigh. Engage your hips by squeezing your inner thighs together and bring your right knee inward slightly so that you’re not hyper extending your hips or your low back.
When you think of a tree, you undoubtedly think of roots and a trunk reaching skyward. When you’re practicing this posture, think about rooting down through your feet to engage your lower body, allowing your entire body to lengthen skyward from your toes to your heart center and ultimately through the crown of your head for a straight spine. When lifting your arms up overhead, think about your arms as your branches springing high as if they can reach forever. Let this action extend you a little taller out of your waist. Remember to engage your belly, pulling your navel to your spine and rolling your tailbone underneath you to take pressure off your lower back. We engage our belly to balance in yoga so that we’re not relying on our lower lumbar spine to balance.
If you’re feeling really balanced, close your eyes. With your eyes closed, bring that gaze inward to focus on your breath. Taking an internal scan of your body with your breath, breath into any areas of tension, any areas of anxiety. Begin to slowly let the fear of falling drift away. If you feel like you’re going to fall, engage your center by activating your abdominal muscles and find that breath once again. When you fall off the path in life, you continue to breathe, move on, and try again. The same goes for life on the yoga mat: when we begin to feel ourselves sway and lose balance, it’s important to keep your intention—to remind yourself why you’re practicing yoga. Keeping balance in your practice is about finding balance within yourself. Stay in this posture for five intentional breaths and silently affirm, “I move through life, anchored within myself.”
To release from this posture, bring your hands down to your heart in prayer position; maybe repeat that affirmation once again to keep the positive vibes flowing. Press your feet together and bow your chin to your chest, thinking of ways to balance your life off of the mat as well as on. Breathe, relax, restore. Namaste.
Shandara Gill, or Shanie, is a yoga teacher in the greater Santa Cruz area. She teaches more than 10 classes a week at the Westside, downtown, and Cabrillo Toadal Fitness locations. For more information about Shanie and her classes, you can visit toadalfitness.com or email her at [email protected]