The strength of a tree is easy to see on a windy day. The rushes of wind may rustle the leaves and bend the branches, but the tree remains firmly rooted into the earth.
You can find the same grounding in vrksasana, tree pose, a balancing posture that helps you develop a strong inward focus. Once you cultivate this sense of grounding, you will carry it off the mat into the rest of your life. No matter what winds blow around you, you can remain stable because you have developed deep roots within yourself.
This inward focus of vrksasana can be achieved through drishti, gaze. With drishti, your eyes are open and focused on one, unmoving point, but your gaze is reflected within. You see the point you are looking at, but don’t fixate on it. In this way, drishti teaches you how to be part of the world, but not of it.
The stability of your eyes represents the condition of your mind. Moving beyond your thoughts with steady and constant breathing, your eyes will become still and soft. Your body only has to follow the lead. Conversely, if you allow your gaze to bounce from one thing to the next, your mind continues in a state of rajas, overactivity. Sattva, balance and harmony, takes us to a true state of Yoga. That balance is what drishti helps you to achieve in a pose like vrksasana.
Here at Hale Pule, we talk about asana with three designations: essence, anchor and strength. This is a simple tool to remember the intention of the pose, where your body is grounded and the muscles you engage for proper alignment. These components will support optimal energy flow and a sustainable practice throughout your life.
Vrksasana from the ground up
If you are new to vrksasana, start with your drishti focused on an unmoving point slightly up in front of you. As you grow more comfortable in the pose, bring your gaze to the tip of your nose.
1. Stand in tadasana, mountain pose, feet hip-width distance, toes pointing straight ahead. Keep your spine tall and in its natural curves.
2. Shift your weight to your left leg and engage your left quadriceps. Keeping your hips straight ahead, bring the heel of your right foot to your left ankle, the ball of your foot on the ground. Your knee will point out in this variation at an angle dependent on the flexibility of your hips. Keep your foot here in the beginning and skip to step 4 or progress to step 3 if you feel steady.
3. Bring your right foot up your left leg to a height that is comfortable for you. It may reach your thigh or rest below your knee. No matter where it is, press your standing leg and foot into each other for greater stability. Keep both hips level and the knee of the standing leg straight, but not hyperextended.
4. Bring your hands to anjali mudra, prayer position, lining your thumbs up against your sternum. You can keep your hands here or move ahead to the next step.
5. Extend your arms, externally rotating your upper arm bones so your shoulders are open and pinkies face inward slightly. Keep your shoulders neutral, arms fully extended with elbows straight (separate your hands as much as you need to find the alignment). Eventually you may bring your hands together, but it is more important to maintain alignment. Hold whatever arm variation you choose for 15 to 20 breaths.
6. Release the pose by reversing your steps: Bring your hands back to anjali mudra, then lower your leg to again stand in tadasana. Repeat on the other side.
Common trouble spots
Base foot turned out. You are most stable when your resting foot points directly ahead. This may require retraining the muscles in your buttocks and legs to a balanced place with a practice like sit down/stand up.
Hips turned to get the knee to the side. When a tree grows, it seeks to expand up, not twist. Follow the tree’s lead and keep your hips facing forward and don’t worry about which direction your knee is pointing.
Gaze dropped down. Where you look, you’ll go. Keep your head up on top of your shoulders in alignment with your spine and your gaze focused on the tip of your nose or at a spot straight in front of you.
Palms facing forward. Externally rotate your upper arm bones so your shoulders are open and pinkies face inward slightly.
Shoulders up toward the ears. Keep your shoulder blades moving down your back to maintain an open chest.
Arms behind the ears. This hyperextends and weakens the front of the shoulder joints. Keep your arms slightly in front of your face for the best alignment and extension through your torso.
A grounded nature in life comes from developing a sattvic asana practice. Attend our Advanced Yoga and Ayurveda Intensive this October 24-November 3 to bring Yoga into all parts of your life.