Vrksasana is among the first poses you practice as a yogi, and it is one of those that give big satisfaction from the beginning. A classic, it looks pretty and never too boring. In fact, it challenges your sense of balance and, thanks to the several existing variations, you can give it a change if one day you feel you want to funk up your practice a bit. At the basis of every versions of Vrksasana is the concept of “rootedness”, of connection to the ground and, in a wider sense, to the Earth.

For many beginners, balancing poses are not that easy. Sometimes it is hard enough to do an asana with two feet on the ground, let alone standing on one foot only, trying to balance everything else. The key to successful balancing lies in cultivating awareness of your grounding.

In yoga this concept is expressed as Pada Bandha, but what does that mean exactly?

Pada Bandha

Pada bandha is a term coming from the Sanskrit pada, “foot,” and bandha, meaning “lock,” or “harness.” It consists in a yoga technique in which the soles of the feet are placed on the ground so the weight is evenly distributed in the triangle formed by the big toe, little toe and ankle. Through this foot lock we can activate the energetic connection between our body and the earth, in this way drawing prana from the earth, at the centre of the foot and into the foreleg, up to our hip joints.

Pada Bandha works on our first chakra, which is directly connected with the “secondary” chakras in our feet, and it is fundamental in order to ground on the floor and feel strong on our feet when we practice standing balance yoga poses such as Vrksasana.

How to practice the foot lock

Stand in Tadasana (Mountain pose) with your feet hip-distance apart and parallel, your core activated, chest open in a natural way, and arms relaxing down by your sides. Eyes closed if this helps you focus inward. In this position concentrate your attention on your feet: activate them, spread your toes, then lift them. This increases your awareness of the four corners of the foot. Once you feel them grounding into the floor, lower the toes so that they are long and active. You will notice that the arches of your feet naturally begin to lift. In this situation your weight will be evenly distributed, and you’ll feel that your standing posture is supported starting from the feet, which are strong and active on the floor.

Vrksasana (Tree pose)

From Sanskrit vrksa meaning “tree” and asana “pose”.

As above-mentioned, Vrksasana requires a sense of “rootedness” and centering down through your core. If you attempt to balance on your right foot without focusing on Pada bandha, your weight will easily fall on the outer leg and outer foot, and the inner edge of your foot will lift. Before you know it, you will find yourself lying on the ground!

How to enter Tree pose

Start on Tadasana. Your feet, your legs, your center, everything is activated at this point. Remember to open your eyes if you closed them earlier, otherwise balancing might become a remote dream (talking from experience here!). Afterwards, start shifting your weight on the right foot and, on the inhale, lift the left foot. If it’s the first time you practice this pose, try it gradually. Place your foot on the ankle, and if you can do it easily, move it to your calf, or directly to your inner thigh (heel close to the groin). You can experiment with the position of your hands and arms as well. Press your palms together in Anjali mudra (prayer position) in front of your chest at the centre of your sternum, and then try to extend your arms over the shoulders, and finally bring your palms together in Anjali mudra above your head. Gaze at a point in front of your eyes; the closer, the easier will be to focus and to find your balance.

No matter what your version will be, you’re fine!

For those who have tight groins and inner thighs, problems externally rotating the hips, or also issues in finding balance, lifting the bent knee too high may cause them to lose the correct alignments. Therefore, in this cases it is much better to lower the foot against the standing leg.

Give yourself time to internalise the practice. You may assume it’s a pretty basic asana, but each of us is different. As for every other asana, it can be easy for someone, but much more difficult for others.

Whatever you choose as variation, don’t forget the alignments!

Let’s scan your body from your feet upwards, and check you’re on top of your alignments.

First of all, practice Pada Bandha with the foot on the floor. It is active and strong, literally the root of your tree. Standing leg is strong too.

Secondly, your lifted leg is externally rotated (hip to be exact) with the foot pressing against the inner thigh of the other leg and viceversa.

Third, check your hips: they are squared, your frontal hipbones maintain their parallel alignment.

Tailbone down and lengthen your spine.

Also, don’t forget your center, your core! Another important element to feeling centered is abdominal tone, which provides the core strength necessary for the pose. If the abdominals are weak, they provide no support for the low back in the posture. Practice gently drawing your navel back toward the spine and up.

Open your chest and relax your shoulder. Draw your shoulder blades down your back.

Almost there. As above-mentioned, choose the position you prefer for your arms and hands. Anjali mudra in front of your sternum or above your head, or also raising your arms overhead, palms facing each other.

Finally, last but not least, your head and neck. Keep your neck long by having the chin parallel to the floor, slightly inward I would say. Gaze at a fixed point in front of you, and bring all your focus to that point.

Now. Why you should practice Vrksasana

Vrksasana strengthens the legs and the spine, opens the hips, groins, and chest, and fortifies your Muladhara chakra. Moreover, through the practice of balance, you develop concentration, as well as steady and calm your mind. Tree Pose brings you back to your inner side, and connects you to the earth.

Wanna do a funkier Tree?

If you’re already familiar with the classic Vrksasana version, you can try one of the many variations you find everywhere in the web, or just ask your yoga teacher!

I personally get excited about this one:

Ardha Padmasana Vrksasana (Standing Half Lotus Pose)

So, the above picture, where I wear my focused-looks-like-pissed face, is Ardha Padmasana Virksasana, also know as Standing Hald Lotus Pose.

It is a slightly more advanced pose as it involves both balance and quite a good deal of flexibility.

The lifted leg is brought into half lotus pose with the foot or ankle resting on the front of the opposite thigh close to the groin. The hip is in external rotation. Different arm variations can be used to provide additional benefits. The variation I chose helps open the shoulder for instance. The arm on the same side of the lifted leg is brought behind the back to bind with the foot in front. The free hand can be taken into a mudra (here Gyan mudra) or lifted towards the ceiling.

To conclude I’d like to cite a quote by Mary Oliver:

Can You Imagine?

“For example, what the trees do

not only in lightning storms

or the watery dark of a summer’s night

or under the white nets of winter

but now, and now, and now—whenever

we’re not looking.  Surely you can’t imagine

they don’t dance, from the root up, wishing

to travel a little, not cramped so much as wanting

a better view, or more sun, or just as avidly

more shade—surely you can’t imagine they just

stand there loving every

minute of it, the birds or the emptiness, the dark rings

of the years slowly and without a sound

thickening, and nothing different unless the wind,

and then only in its own mood, comes

to visit, surely you can’t imagine

patience, and happiness, like that.”

Mary Oliver

Vrksasana gives us the possibility to become trees. Rooted, calm, directly connected to the Earth. Can we imagine being happy and patient where we stand? Can we stand rooted, not wanting things to be different when storms and discomfort come along? Are we able to really live in devoted connection to Mother Earth?

Eight yoga inspired exercises for opening the shoulders

Who doesn’t have a cranky set of shoulders?
Hunching is the body’s natural way of protecting itself from outsiders by physically closing off access to the vital organs.
Following you find my favourite yoga inspired exercises that can help you release your shoulders, and leave you with a sense of openness to your chest. This will definitely improve your posture and your breath will start come deeper and more easily.

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