At this time of the year, I feel the most connected to Earth and to nature. Maybe it’s because the days are getting longer and weather is warmer, or maybe it is because we celebrate Earth Day this month. Whatever the reason, a connection to Earth and all living things is an important part of the deeper meaning of yoga.
The pose this month is Vrksasana (vrik-SHAHS-anna), or Tree Pose. The roots of a tree go deep into the earth, yet trees also reach their highest potential as they reach toward the sun. As you practice this pose, think less about all of the proper alignment points and more about the spiritual and emotional component of it.
Start by kicking off your shoes and heading outside. Find a nice flat surface on the grass, dirt or sand. Start by standing with both feet parallel. Lift your toes, fan them out, place them back down and wiggle them around a bit. Really feel the earth beneath your feet. Maybe you are looking out at some redwood trees, a body of water, or a green mountain top. Wherever you are, appreciate the space you are in.
Now, get ready to head into the pose. Lift your right knee slightly while keeping the ball of your right foot on the ground. Turn the leg out from the hip socket. You can keep your right toes on the ground to keep you steady, or you can slide the sole of the right foot up the inside of the left leg. It can be somewhere on the inner left shin or all the way up on the inner left thigh, just not at the knee. Keep your hip bones pointing directly in front of you. Don’t let the right hip hike up or turn out to the side. Then push the standing leg into the sole of the foot. Notice how that helps you feel more stable. That standing leg is strong and stable like the trunk of a tree. Send some energy down the leg and out the foot as if you are growing roots connecting you to the earth below you. Press palms together at the heart and feel your core engage a bit. See if you can find something stationary at eye level to help you stabilize.
From there, grow your tree. Your arms are the branches. Many people reach their arms overhead in a V shape. Another option is to make a cactus shape with your arms. My favorite variation is to keep palms pressed together and lift them high overhead making a tall skinny cypress tree. To intensify this even more, look up reaching energetically toward the sun. Think about lifting up toward your higher self.
This is a great pose if you would like to improve your balance. You can modify and intensify in so many ways meeting your body just where it is on any given day. Fully believing in the mind/body connection, I am convinced if we increase our balance, we will improve our brain in other ways too.
Start where you can and increase the difficulty over time. When I teach Tree Pose in a class, I almost always have people add movement to the pose, swaying back and forth (as though with the wind). As we knock ourselves off our center of gravity, it takes stabilizing muscles to find it again. Have fun with this pose. If you fall, land softly on the earth and enjoy the connection.