Posts by: michael vetter
Tree Pose: What’s in a Name?
Vrksasana, better known as tree pose, is everywhere these days. If you read any article about yoga online or in the paper, chances are it will be accompanied by a stock photo of a beautiful, smiling woman with one foot placed delicately on her inner thigh or calf. The asana has basically become a visual stand-in for yoga itself. I was in a department store recently that had tree-pose-shaped mannequins, each one outfitted in the latest high-end yoga apparel. Most people encounter Vrksasana fairly early in their yoga practice. It is probably the simplest balancing pose to learn as a beginner, and it can be easily modified based on a person’s ability level. At first, tree pose can be challenging even for people who are otherwise very physically fit. Balance is something that is rarely developed outside of a yoga practice, and it takes time to learn how to “stick” Vrksasana without flailing around (hint: the foot needs to press into the leg just as much as the leg presses back into the foot). Eventually, though, most people get the hang of it, and the time comes to move on to more “advanced” balancing poses.
For more experienced students, Vrksasana often seems like a distant memory from their days as a beginner rather than a regular part of their practice. I have seen students in my classes roll their eyes a little when I say we’re going to do this pose (and I must admit that at one point I was doing some of that eye-rolling myself). But like most of the other “basic” standing poses, Vrksasana is not as simple as it seems at first glance. Thanks to Kim and Winnie, I’ve been looking at this pose a lot more closely in the last couple of months. What I’ve discovered is that it isn’t just about putting your foot on your leg and trying to stand still for as long as you can. For me, this pose is all about what’s going on in that standing leg (you know, the one you’re usually not thinking about while you’re yanking your foot higher up onto your thigh). As the arches of the standing foot stretch and lift away from the floor, the kneecap of the standing leg lifts as well, and the thighbone moves back into the hamstring and grounds into the pelvis. From this solid and firm foundation comes the sensation that one is drawing energy up from the ground and into the leg, allowing the torso to lift effortlessly as the arms go up and over the head. It is at this point that one begins to understand why it is called tree pose: just as a tree pulls energy up from its roots, so too does the body achieve a sense of lift and lengthening from its relationship to the earth. Too often people are so focused on balancing and having their foot as high as possible on the leg that they let the standing leg bend and sag, eliminating any upwards movement of energy in the body as they struggle to hold their weight up and keep from collapsing towards the floor. They may look a lot like the women in the newspaper, but the true intention of the pose just isn’t there. So the next time you’re in Vrksasana, think about how you can go beyond your old conception of it as just a “beginning” balancing pose or a diversion for models and mannequins. You may think you have tree pose mastered, but I promise you that there is still room for a lot more growth (pun fully intended).
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