Transforming the Past to Reach toward the Future through Vrksasana – Tree Pose
Mindfulness training teaches us to stay in the present moment, unfettered by the actions of the past and the potentials of the future, neither of which we have any control over anyway. There is power in staying rooted to the present moment, as it is here that we are truly living, embracing all that life has given us to experience in this very moment, distracted neither by worry or regret. Yet it is useful to also envision that present moment as a bridge, not isolated but rather as a portal through which the wisdom we have gained in the past can be transmuted in such a way to help us to reach toward the promise and hope of the future. Vrksasana, or tree pose, can be a potent and powerful tool in helping us to accomplish this very thing.
Vrksasana, or tree pose, is both a standing and balance pose that invites us to pause for a moment and meditate on the inherent qualities of a tree. To be strong, a tree must have both an extensive root system (built on the past actions of the tree, where the roots are grown deep into the earth) and branches that reach toward the sky (with the new branches literally representing the tree’s future promise of growth and potential).
To experience Vrksasana or tree pose in this metaphorical way, it’s important that the key actions of the pose are firmly in place, those biomechanical actions that both help to create and solidify the shape and enhance the pose so that the yoga practitioner can experience more. The physical and metaphorical goal of Vrksasana/tree pose is one and the same: to root the standing foot strong into the earth to enable the arms to stretch strong toward the sky.
Here are the key actions to consider when practicing this yoga pose.
Key Action #1: Ground the Standing Foot
Of all the key actions of Vrksasana, grounding the standing foot strongly into your mat is perhaps the most important, as this action sets the foundation for the rest of the pose. Here, it’s helpful to think of the foot as having four corners: pad directly below the big toe, pad directly below the pinky toe, left edge of the heel, right edge of the heel. To create a strong foundation, the practitioner needs to distribute his or her weight evenly into all four points, creating a solid base.
- Tadasana (Mountain Pose): Building awareness of the four corners of the feet.
- Uttanasana (Forward Fold): Building foot and weight distribution awareness while pressing legs to straight.
- Prasirita Padottanasana (Wide Leg Forward Fold): Rooting the feet into the ground while isometrically pressing the legs toward one another to build strength and balance.
Key Action #2: Foot into Thigh, Thigh into Foot
Pressing the bent leg foot into the standing leg thigh and simultaneously the thigh into the foot is a key action of Vrksasana that also is intrinsic to the creation of the shape into the pose. Applying firm pressure in both directions not only encourages the outer rotation of the hip for proper alignment but also helps the practitioner maintain balance and steadiness while holding the pose.
- Modified Trikonasana (Triangle Pose): Placing the lower hand on the front-leg shin rather than on the floor builds awareness of the power of that point of contact (between hand and shin). The practitioner is encouraged to leverage this point of contact to twist more deeply and lift the chest more strongly to the sky.
- Utthita Hasta Padangustasana (Extended Hand to Big Toe Pose): Focusing one creating contact/pressure between hand and foot throughout the various stages of the pose for balance and also as a hip opener.
Key Action #3: Firm the Core, Lengthen the Spine
Firming the core and lengthening the spine are key actions of tree pose (Vrksasana) that form the foundation necessary for the arms to extend toward the sky (the next and final key action). There are two actions here to focus on: lengthening the spine out of the pelvis and hollowing out the belly (so that the navel isometrically presses toward the spine).
- Dandasana (Staff Pose): Lengthening the spine out of the pelvis and engaging abs in an upright position.
- Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Bend): Lengthening the spine and engaging the abs in a forward fold position, focusing on hollowing out the belly in order to go deeper into the fold.
- Baddha Konasana (Bound Angle Pose): Lengthening the spine and engaging the abs in a bent-leg forward fold, using the pressure of the arms on the thighs and engaging the abs more strongly in order to go deeper into the fold.
Key Action #4: Stretch the Arms toward the Ceiling, Biceps behind the Ears
The final key action of tree pose or Vrksasana, the action that enables us to reach toward that uncertain but hopeful future, is the action of straightening arms to toe ceiling in the final full form of the pose. To achieve this, the shoulder blades must be drawn down the back to create space between the shoulder and ears, which allows the biceps to be pulled behind the ears to create a lovely straight line from standing foot to fingertips.
- Salabhasana (Locust Pose): Focusing on opening the shoulders and moving the shoulder blades down the back.
- Setu Bandhasana (Bridge Pose): Opening up the shoulders to create space between the shoulders and the ears.
By creating a strong foundation in Vrksasana or tree pose, we are able to “root” in order to “rise,” to achieve our best possible rendition of this classic yoga pose. Just as in everyday life, transmuting our past to develop a strong and robust root system gives us the strength to rise toward the future, whatever gifts and challenges that future may bring.