Tree Pose (Vrksasana) is one of the most recognizable classic yoga postures demonstrating the beauty of balance, focus, and serenity. Often considered an introductory asana for teaching basic balance techniques, subtle alignment applications can be readily overlooked when participants view this pose as ‘easy’. Starting from the ground up, here are some important anatomical adjustments and tips to improve the integrity of your Tree Pose.
Relax your hold on the earth: Like most standing balance postures, participants often over-compensate stabilization efforts in the foot by ‘grabbing’ down into the mat with the toes. This aggressive contraction by the toe flexors can quickly develop into uncomfortable lactic acid in the bottom of the foot. Instead, fan the toes outwards to increase the surface area of your foot. You can also step off to the side of your mat using a firmer surface to balance on.
Keep the play in the knees: We are encouraged to feed energy down into the earth in standing poses with the intention then to expand vertically through the crown. This grounding motion is often mistaken for driving the knee into full locking extension. When the knee locks, we tend to allow the thigh muscles to go flaccid resulting in reduced ability to stabilize and counteract subtle shifts in body position. Maintain a very slight amount of softness in the supporting knee to sustain thigh muscle engagement.
Watch for hip dips: When we balance on one foot, the free hip natural drops due to lack of support. The outer hip muscular on the opposite hip is designed to counter this and shift the pelvis back to neutral. If we allow the pelvis to drop on one side, the spine is taken into a scoliosis-like curve. When we then contract core muscles around this undesired curve, we essentially foster a spinal imbalance. Wherever the free limb is placed, insure that your opposite outer hip muscles engage enough to restore equal hip lines.
Ballooning bellies: A large proportion of the population deals with lordosis (deep lumbar arching of the lower back). In Tree Pose, it is very easy to stand with the belly pushing forward. This collapsed arch is due to the pelvis dropping into an excessive anterior tilt and is very prominent in those with lordotic tendencies. Counter this collapse by visualizing the front bottom ribs tucking in, a slight lift of the pubic bone, and a subtle lengthening of the sacrum towards the heels.
Crowding the neck. The traditional arm position in Tree Pose is to reach high overhead with the hands together. But consider how so many people suffer from chronic neck and upper back tension. This high overhead reaching elevates the scapular bones and exacerbates this upper back and neck tension. Instead, open the hands to shoulder width – turn the palms facing each other – draw the shoulder blades down the back – emphasiz lifting through the crown instead of the arms. From this motion, you will generate lift and space while lengthening the neck and reducing tendency towards neck tension.
Where the eyes go, the nose follows. Simple rule! Be mindful of eye position in Tree Pose – as much as possible keep the eyes looking forward or slightly above horizontal. Looking down causes the head to collapse forward placing tension in the neck. The posterior neck muscles are phasic muscles, not postural muscles, therefore they easily develop tension when asked to hold up chronic collapsed head positions. As well, looking down diminishes the necessary cervical arch in the back of the neck and we gradually, over repeated poor posturing, lose the natural setting of proper spinal lines.
A final note for Tree Pose, avoid placing the foot directly against the knee as this can send direct negative pressure into the outer connective tissues of the supporting knee. For more information on Tree Pose, click here.