If you've ever tripped off a curb or slipped on a patch of ice, you probably understand the benefit of having a good sense of balance. Practicing balancing poses in yoga, such as Tree Pose, will help you gain both physical and mental steadiness and poise.
Tree Pose improves focus and concentration while calming your mind. Its Sanskrit name, “Vrksasana” (vrik-SHAH-suh-nuh), comes from two words:
- “Vrksa,” which means “tree”
- “Asana,” which means “pose”
The word “asana” can also be translated as “seat.” Many of the original ancient yoga poses were seated postures. As the practiced developed, standing poses were introduced, but the seated, meditative aspect still remained. Tree Pose, with its calming and meditative benefits, is like a standing variation of a seated meditation posture. Keeping calm and focused while balancing on one foot will teach you to sway gently like a tree in the wind, steady and sure no matter what the outside circumstances may be.
Benefits of Tree Pose
Tree Pose stretches the thighs, groins, torso, and shoulders. It builds strength in the ankles and calves, and tones the abdominal muscles. The pose also helps to remedy flat feet and is therapeutic for sciatica.
Like a tree, extend your roots down and blossom your arms up toward the sun. The stronger the roots, the taller the tree.
Most notably, though, Tree Pose improves your sense of balance and coordination. Regular practice will improve your focus and your ability to concentrate in all areas of your life, particularly during those times when you might normally feel “off-balance.” This pose has a positive impact on the grace and ease with which you approach all circumstances, even outside of your yoga class. It teaches the benefits of a meditative state of mind, and is a gentle reminder that you can bring calm focus and clear-headedness to all situations, not just when you are practicing a seated meditation.
Due to the balancing nature of the posture, do not practice Tree Pose if you are currently experiencing headaches, insomnia, low blood pressure, or if you are lightheaded and/or dizzy. Those with high blood pressure should not raise their arms overhead in the pose. Always work within your own range of limits and abilities. If you have any medical concerns, talk with your doctor before practicing yoga.
- Begin standing in Mountain Pose (Tadasana), with your arms at your sides. Distribute your weight evenly across both feet, grounding down equally through your inner ankles, outer ankles, big toes, and baby toes.
- Shift your weight to your left foot. Bend your right knee, then reach down and clasp your right inner ankle. Use your hand to draw your right foot alongside your inner left thigh. Do not rest your foot against your knee, only above or below it. Adjust your position so the center of your pelvis is directly over your left foot. Then, adjust your hips so your right hip and left hip are aligned.
- Rest your hands on your hips and lengthen your tailbone toward the floor. Then, press your palms together in prayer position at your chest, with your thumbs resting on your sternum.
- Fix your gaze gently on one, unmoving point in front of you.
- Draw down through your left foot. Press your right foot into your left thigh, while pressing your thigh equally against your foot.
- Inhale as you extend your arms overhead, reaching your fingertips to the sky. Rotate your palms inward to face each other. If your shoulders are more flexible, you can press your palms together in prayer position, overhead.
- Hold for up to one minute. To release the pose, step back into Mountain Pose. Repeat for the same amount of time on the opposite side.
Modifications & Variations
Practicing Tree Pose can be a great way to gain balance, grace, and poise — for beginners and advanced students. Try these simple changes to adapt the pose to your current abilities:
- If you are unable to bring your foot to your thigh, rest your foot alongside your calf muscle or the ankle of your standing leg, instead. Rest the toes of your raised foot on the floor if you need extra assistance balancing.
- If you are very unsteady, try practicing the pose with your back against a wall for extra support. Alternatively, you can place a chair next to the standing-leg side of your body and rest your hand on the back of the chair for extra support.
- For a greater challenge when your arms are overhead, close your eyes. Practice balancing without using the outside world for reference.
In order to fully gain the meditative benefits of Tree Pose, it's important to stay grounded and calm in the pose, while still maintaining alignment. Here are a couple of tips to help you stand up as tall as a tree:
- Take your time. As with any balancing pose, it's often easier to come into the pose slowly and with awareness. If you enter the pose quickly, you are more likely to lose your balance, which makes it more difficult to re-gain your balance once it's been lost.
- Mountain Pose (Tadasana) provides the structural foundation for Tree Pose. Thoroughly review the instructions for Mountain Pose before practicing Tree Pose.
- Work the pose from the ground up. Balance your weight entirely across your standing foot — across the inner and outer ankles, big toe and baby toe. Then, bring your awareness to the shin, calf, and thigh of your standing leg. Find alignment in your hips, tailbone, pelvis, and belly; and then in your collarbones, shoulder blades, arms, and neck. Extend the pose through the crown of your head. When you are ready, you can then raise your arms overhead.
- Never rest the foot of your raised leg directly on your knee or at the side of your knee joint!
- To help with balancing, bring your awareness to the center line of your body — the vertical line that runs directly through the center of your head, neck, and torso.
- Although regular practice of Tree Pose will tone the abdominal muscles, weaker abdominal muscles can make it difficult to balance. Add extra core-strengthening work into your practice to help with balancing (and with the rest of your standing poses!). Some examples of core-toning poses are Boat Pose (Navasana) and Plank Pose (Kumbhakasana).
Root Down to Rise Up
By regularly practicing balancing poses, you gain concentration, focus, poise, coordination — and a steady and balanced mind. Tree Pose connects you to the earth, as you root down through your standing foot. As you balance in the pose, feel the slight and gentle sway of your body. Just like a tree in the breeze, you'll grow in confidence, standing tall as you face life's challenges with grace and ease.