The Root of All Things Good

Article originally appeared in the Winnipeg Free Press (co-authored by Helen Maupin, Candace Propp, Stacy Schroder)

Trees are patient creatures.  They live a long, quiet time,
and they know how to stand firm through all the changes
of day and night, climate and season.      Zo Newell

Photo by Wayne Glowacki

A long healthy life of stability and ease is a primary goal in any yoga practice, which is why Vrksasana, or Tree Pose, is one of yoga’s most recognized postures.  As an extension of Tadasana (Mountain Pose), the essence of Vrksasana is to claim for oneself a tree’s attributes — strength, balance and flexibility.  The Vrksasana practitioner emulates a mountain’s solid grounding while simultaneously balancing her/his trunk and limbs with ease … no matter how windy or chaotic life may appear.  

As a metaphor for overall wellness, trees depict our human need to be both rooted to the earth as well as to bend flexibly with the winds of change.  In Vrksasana, one foot is firmly planted on the ground, thereby tapping into Earth’s energy, which strengthens our trunk (legs and spine) and allows our branches (arms and mind) to feel, breathe and adapt easily through daily and seasonal events.  

Vrksasana is also a truth-telling pose as you will discover when you attempt to balance on only one foot.  If the hip of the bent-knee leg is tight, you will not be able to move this leg out to the side as in the image below.  A common pitfall is to stand on the outer hip and force the lifted knee sideways, which tilts the pelvis and over arches the back.  Instead of forcing your body to do what it is not yet ready for, first consider practicing some of the more common hip-opening poses such as Sukhasana, Baddha Konasana, Gomukhasana, Upavistha Konasana, Virabhadrasana II, Eka Pada Raja Kapotasana and Agnistambhasana.  

Finding your balance in Vrksasana, may also mean only lifting your foot to your inner calf rather than your inner thigh.  To add a further challenge to the act of balancing, your ankle joints may pronate or supinate, which indicates the need to strengthen them.  All of these tips reduce our chances of being injured.  No matter what your physical practice, starting where you are at and honouring your body’s current capacity allows your body to teach you its truth.  

To stand firm in one’s life as well as in a yoga pose requires a stable and flexible physical core and mental attitude.  Vrksasana rejuvenates and brings equilibrium to our mind and body by strengthening our feet, ankles and legs; improving circulation, concentration and balance; and relieving sciatica.

Action:  Bring your weight into the tripods of your feet — big toe mounds, baby toe mounds and the centres of your heels.  From this press into the feet, feel a rebounding lift through the centres of your legs and up your spine.

For more advanced practitioners, press into the inner edges of your big toe mounds, and sense if you are standing on the inner edges (lesser trochanters) of your thigh bones.

 

Photo by Wayne Glowacki

TADASANA with ARMS LIFTED (Mountain pose with arms lifted)

Press through the tripod of both feet (big and little toe mounds and centres of heels). Feel the rebounding lift up through your legs. As you lift your arms over head, lengthen your spine (crown of head moves away from tailbone). Hold for 5 to 10 breaths.

Photo by Wayne Glowacki

Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana II (Hand to Big Toe pose II)

Begin in Tadasana. Find the actions. Lift your right arm over head and rest the palm at the wall. Bend your left leg and externally rotate it as you place your heel onto the chair. Toes and knee point upward. Now that you are in the pose, find the actions again.  Hold for 5 to 10 breaths and repeat on the other side.

Photo by Wayne Glowacki

VRKSASANA – Beginner variation (Beginner’s Tree pose)

Begin in Tadasana and find the actions. Start by using the support of a wall. Place your right foot alongside your left inner calf. Either place your right knee into a wall or move your back close to the wall, as above, so your hands can use it for support. Once you have your balance, you may wish to lift one arm overhead, or take both hands away from the wall. Find the actions again.  Hold for 5 to 10 breaths and repeat on the other side.

Photo by Wayne Glowacki

VRKSASANA  (Tree pose)

Start in Tadasana and find the actions. Place your right foot alongside your left inner thigh. Lengthen your spine as you lift your arms overhead. Find the actions again and hold for 5 to 10 breaths. Repeat on the other side.

Winnipeggers Helen Maupin (www.righttojoy.com) and Candace Propp (www.natureofcontentment.com) are 500-hour certified yoga teachers and authors of the  Creating Space:  Yoga Actions book series. For yoga teacher training with them and Stacy Schroder register at www.sereneyogastudio.com.