Vrksasana (Tree Pose)

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There are many ways in which we can work with our physical body in yoga. There are great asanas (postures) for opening parts of our body, for stretching various muscles, for strengthening, and for working with balance.

I especially love helping people find just the right pose that helps them work with something that is a challenge. Two consistent requests I get are for postures that help with balance and postures that can help with tightness in the hips. Vrksasana, aka Tree Pose is a perfect one to work with balance and hip flexibility for any person.

The form of the pose is achieved by lifting one leg and placing your foot in one of three positions. First option is to leave the toes on the floor and place your heel against the inner ankle of the standing leg. This is a good place to start for those who have difficulty with balance. The second option is to place the foot on the inside of the calf of the standing leg, being careful to place this below, rather than on the knee joint. The third option is to place the foot to the inside of the upper thigh. In whichever location you place the foot, the foot and standing leg press into each other to create stability along with helping the bent leg open to the side.

Tree pose is a standing asymmetrical balancing pose, meaning that your two legs are doing different things. Your standing leg supports all of your body weight, working to keep that knee from bending and holding you in balance. Weight bearing in the hip and leg bones and enhancing balance are both important benefits of this pose. The lifted leg flexes that hip (lifting that leg towards your trunk) plus externally rotates and opens to the side, lengthening muscles on the inner leg and working the gluteal and other muscles of the hip. The hands can remain in front of the chest or extend up overhead, creating a higher center of balance for the pose, and making the lungs work a little harder while breathing fully as you hold the pose.

Here are some great ways to work up to the full pose: First try it out while on the floor. Practicing opening the leg out on the floor tells you how far you can open the knee to the side without distorting the pelvis. If you can’t get the bent knee to the floor without the other hip lifting, the same thing will happen when you are standing. Working with this on the floor with your pelvis and back supported will let you stay here for some breaths to see if you can potentially open further. If you find that your leg will not open further without lifting the other side of the pelvis off the floor, this will inform you of how far you can open while standing so you do not take your pelvis out of alignment.

Next, you can do this pose with one hand lightly on a wall, door, post, etc., to aid your balance. You will be doing all the weight bearing that is so great for your standing leg, and will have the security of catching yourself so you don’t fall out of the pose if your balance needs some work. While it can be valuable to work with the hip opening by standing with your back against the wall, this will not be of benefit if you want to work with balancing better within the pose.

A third variation is to do the pose without any outside assistance, while keeping the hands in front of the chest. The final variation involves taking the hands up and overhead. You can open the hands to shoulder width if that feels more comfortable or bring them together if possible. Find and maintain your balance for 5 or more full breaths on both sides, and enjoy embodying the tree this holiday season.


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