SmartMat Pose of the Week – Tree Pose
One of the most popular balance poses in Yoga classes is Tree pose, Vrksasana. Tree pose simultaneously provides us with a physical challenge of balancing on one leg as well as the mental challenge of staying centered, focused, and non-attached even if your physical balance appears tentative.
As is true in most Yoga poses, we can gain inspiration on how to do it by looking at the name of the pose. If we explore the anatomy of a tree more closely, we notice that though it may appear strong and sturdy, it is not at all rigid. Trees sway in the wind. They are sensitive to their environments. Yet, to protect themselves, they often develop extensive root networks in the earth to ground themselves, which in turn allows them to grow more fully towards the sunlight.
Similarly in our pose, we seek to find the right balance between rooting down into our foot to rise up through our upper body. To do this however, we need to position our legs in a particular way so that the weight distribution in the standing foot is properly balanced. Let’s take a closer look.
Where To Place Your Foot on the Standing Leg
A key factor in the alignment of tree pose is where you place your foot on the inside of the standing leg. While there are a few options to choose from, there are some positions that are better to avoid. We’ll look at just three options here.
If you’re able to do the full pose, typically, the foot is placed on the inside of the inner thigh of the standing leg and can even be used to rotate the thigh flesh back, creating more space for you in the pelvic floor to descend your tailbone, creating even more anchoring. This foot position would look something like this:
If this version of the balance felt too difficult for you, you could opt to place the foot on the inside of the calf muscle of the standing leg, making the balance slightly less challenging. This option would be useful for people who have very tight hips. It might look something like this:
Many individuals, however, choose to put the foot on the inside of the knee of the standing leg. This is not ideal as it may displace the position of the knee cap on the standing leg, causing destabilization and un-due pressure on that sensitive area. This version looks like this:
Keeping in mind this important detail of where to place your foot on the inside leg in tree pose, we now want to understand how to hold the balance once the legs are in place. And just like how studying the roots of a tree might give you more information on the health of the whole plant, when we look at the weight distribution of the bottom foot, we gain some invaluable information about whether or not the pose is in optimal alignment. This is where the SmartMat technology can really help us out. Let’s take a closer look.
Root to Rise
Tree pose is an asymmetrical pose, and it’s easy to fall into the habit of pressing the foot you lifted off the floor so strongly into the standing leg that it actually pushes the hip of your standing leg way out to the side. This is accompanied by a lot of excess weight being held in the outside edge of the standing foot, and the inside edge of the foot may even be peeling off the mat:
With this unstable base, the yogi is likely to slump in the upper body and fall out of the pose. (Imagine if you saw a tree leaning very heavily to one side. It might indicate that it’s not as rooted as it could be, and might be more susceptible to falling over.)
To avoid this, the yogi uses the weight sensors in SmartMat to determine when she’s established equal weight in all four corners of the grounded foot. Simultaneously, she hugs both the foot on the standing leg and the standing leg itself to the middle of the body as if trying to “drink energy” up the roots and into the core of the body. When this muscular action of drawing up and hugging the midline of the body happens, the yogi can more easily lift her arms overhead and stretch up – just like a tree growing its branches towards the sunlight. Root to Rise.
Centered Body, Centered Mind
When we pay attention to our base, our roots, we learn a lot about the health and integrity of the whole being. When we adjust and hold optimal alignment in tree pose by distributing the weight evenly in the foot and hugging the midline, we center our bodies. And as the energy flows upward, we open the gateway to a more focused and centered mind.
We root into our base to rise up past the ordinary thoughts of our mind. With a proper base in place, a yogi can hold this pose for quite a long time, and may even begin to feel it as a meditation. As usual, it all starts with the roots. More stability equals more freedom.