Before I knew what yoga was I often stood on one leg. Friends would ask why I stood on one leg and I always answered, because it feels good!
When I walked into my first yoga classes in San Francisco, tree pose, or Vrksasana, got my immediate attention. I resonated with it right away because I had been practicing it my entire life. Many of the poses in class I could not do at all. I kept thinking, my body just doesn’t go into that shape! Thankfully, when it came time to stand on one leg I felt right at home.
Tree pose is one of those poses that is deceptively simple. At a first glance it seems like you’re just there, hanging out on one leg. If you have some sense of balance it’s easy to just hang out in your hips and not really work to make the pose come alive. As a yoga teacher now I see this so much. It’s almost like students use this posture as a resting pose while they are waiting for something more challenging.
Here’s the thing, we can make any yoga posture more challenging by engaging our muscles, refining our alignment, and shifting our gaze. It is up to us to decide what kind of practice we want to have and how we want to relate to the poses.
When I think about celebration I immediately think about expanding out. In order to fully expand we have to be grounded in something. This is how energy works; it doesn’t just grow from nothing.
When I practice tree pose I bring a great deal of attention to my standing foot, this is my connection to the earth, where I root down and stabilize. When I am grounded in my standing leg I have the opportunity to take my energy up and out, creating a lift in my chest and lengthening in my spine. When practiced with intention, tree pose is the ultimate celebratory posture!
Try it right now. Start standing in mountain pose, tadasana. Feel your feet on the floor. A hard surface is best here. Make that connection. Keep your breath full and steady, inhaling and exhaling through the nose. Focus on your left foot, press it down a little more and on and inhale bring your right foot to the inner left thigh. If it doesn’t reach place it on your inner left calf or rest it gently on your left foot. Place your hands in prayer position in front of your heart. Focus your gaze in front of you. Pick a spot that isn’t moving and stare at it.
From there hug your leg muscles to the bone, square off your hips, slightly lift your abdomen and chest, press your thumbs into your chest while sliding shoulder blades down the back. Continue with slow, long breaths.
Imagine you are pulling energy from the earth up through your feet, through your body and releasing it through the crown of your head. Continue in the pose for up to 90 seconds and then change sides.
If you waver and fall it is perfectly fine! Some days are better than others and the practice is to stay with the breath and enjoy being in your body, it’s not about what it looks like or doesn’t look like. Learn to accept where you are at any given time and celebrate your body and your practice.
There is always some movement in every yoga pose. They are alive, even in tree pose, which seems static. There is always the beat of the heart, a flicker of an eye, and the breath flowing in and out.
Notice your energy after tree pose? Do you feel more connected to the earth and to yourself? Did you allow yourself to shine up and out from that place of connection? Keep practicing and see what happens.
Photo by John Mark Arnold