If practiced safely, shoulderstand (salamba sarvangasana) offers a plentitude of benefits—including promoting thyroid function, restoring your legs through the inversion, and stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system to calm you.Read more
Whether you’re in a time crunch or just in need of a one-minute yoga break, look no further than tree pose. This is the perfect asana to sneakily do while brushing your teeth or taking a break at the water cooler. Most yoga poses reveal interesting complexities when broken down into their essential elements—tree pose is no exception. Upon first glance, vrksasana may appear relatively simple, but it’s also a pose that can really wake up your sense of balance. As I tell my students, some days you’ll find a bit more wind in your branches than others! Additionally, vrksasana can illuminate differences between the left and right side of your body which you otherwise may never have noticed.
Spring is now upon us—the weather is warming, the trees are beginning to bloom, and the seeds of the May flowers are being sown. What better time to root your own body in a new variation of tree pose? Whether this is the first or hundredth vrksasana you’ve planted, here are a few tips and variations to make this your most solid tree yet. Read on for tips to ground your tree, and variations for your leg, arm, and gaze placement within the pose. Here we work from the roots up!
Start by shifting weight into one foot. Gently bend opposite knee, then pick this leg off the ground. Bring the sole of this foot to…
a. Anywhere on your lower shin (NOT on the knee). Notice if the knee of this leg is pointed more forward, and try to send it straight out to the side to help open up your hip. Concentrate on pressing the sole of your foot into your standing leg, but also gently pressing leg into sole of foot.
b. Anywhere on your upper thigh (again, not on the knee!). Just as before, try sending knee out to the side and concentrate on mutual pressure between sole of foot and standing leg.
c. Your opposite hip for half lotus. Only do this variation if you don’t have any knee issues or you know you’re comfortable in a seated half lotus. Wedge your heel towards your opposite hip bone, keeping the foot slightly flexed. Your knee of this leg should be able to remain pointed down towards the floor with leg fairly relaxed.
Once you’ve got your vrksasana roots planted, it’s time to grow your branches. The hands and arms present many opportunities for creativity in this pose:
a. Try bringing palms together into prayer. Let the thumbs rest lightly against your collarbone.
b. Grow your tree branches by extending palms to the sky and reaching through your fingers.
c. Bring palms behind your back for reverse prayer hands. Here, the pinky-side edges of palms are against the back. This is also a great stretch for the wrists.
d. Eagle arms. Take an eagle and throw it in your upper branches! Combine the arms for eagle pose with the legs of tree. Cross right elbow under your left, then (if possible) continue to wrap right palm around to connect with left. Here, press elbows gently away from you to get a nice stretch through the upper back, between the shoulder blades. Switch sides after a couple breaths; unwind your arms and wrap back up by sending left elbow under right, and wrapping left palm around to connect with right.
The gaze is a way to make your tree pose more progressively challenging.
a. Look down at a spot on the floor to help stabilize your tree. (Avoid looking at other windy trees!)
b. Send your gaze up.
c. Finally, perhaps close your eyes just for a breath or two.
Just like the many species of trees on Earth, you can create so many different variations of vrksasana by playing around with different options for your legs, arms, and gaze. Similarly, just like the natural trees change with the seasons, so too might your own tree pose. Remember that every day is different, and that “windy” days are fine when they happen.
In your next tree pose, feel the stability of your grounded foot. Let that base help you to be strong and grow tall through the rest of your pose. Breathe and enjoy being a tree!