Week 1 – Meeting the Posture
Tree Pose or as you may better know it: Vrksasana
For the first month we focused on a major strength building pose, so this month I wanted to switch it up a bit and play around with some balance. I LOVE balance postures, in fact I find myself standing in some version of tree pose quite often when I am standing still, like maybe in line somewhere for instance. You may not feel the same way about balance postures which is really all the more reason to practice them!!
There are many versions of this posture and a lot of different ways you can approach the month long challenge of working with it daily. Most importantly have fun! This is a great pose to help with strength and balance in the legs, and to help you find a more centered, steady, and grounded self both on and off the mat.
So now what are we doing all month? Ok so here is the plan for the challenge….
Day 1 – Take a photo of yourself in the pose, (that is mine ^^ up there) you can share or not, totally up to you, but this will help you get a visual of yourself in the posture so you can see what the shape looks like in your body and where you might need to adjust it. Remember we have a hard time really knowing where we are in space so the photo lets you have the view of the teacher, and now we can start to dissect the pose and find the best version of this shape in your body. After you’ve practiced the pose, and checked out your photo, jot down your goals for the pose along with anything else that comes up, was it hard/easy, did you love/hate it, no rules here just a quick jot of whatever comes up. For this pose there are a lot of different things you can work on throughout the month by doing different variations of the posture.
Everyday for the rest of the month commit to practicing this pose. It doesn’t need to be a full yoga practice, just give yourself a little warm up and stretch, remember to be nice to the body and to listen. Then for the pose of the month (or POTM for short) allow yourself a few breaths to settle in and find the shape, once you come to stillness hold the pose for 5 slow, even, deep breaths. Come down and allow for a moment of pause before jumping up – think mini savasana – settle the body – and that’s it!! Now pat yourself on the back for committing to your practice today! I encourage you to take the time to jot a note everyday and track your journey but that may not work for you, and that’s ok, make this your journey.
My goal here is less about getting better at the pose and more about the journey of the pose throughout the 30 days. No doubt we will improve a posture by practicing everyday, but the practice of yoga is less about the shapes we make in the body and more about what comes up during those shapes. I encourage you to take this time to connect to your body, your mind and your practice in a deeper or at least different way. I am looking forward to taking this journey along with you.
Here is today’s mini practice introducing this month’s challenge….
Week 2 – Why should I?
So… we know that yoga is good for us, and we know that we usually feel better after spending some time on the mat, but do you know why? If we are going to spend time every month practicing a posture let’s take a minute and start to get to know it a little better…..
Tree Pose is one of those poses anyone can do, with lots of variations this balance posture can work for everyone! My most important advice for balance postures is to have fun with them, yes we are going to fall out, and wobble around, and lose our focus – that is why we practice after all. So if there is one thing you make sure you do every time make it a smile, it’s impossible not to have fun with it if we have a smile on our face.
Aside from having fun and helping to create a mood of playfulness, tree pose has a lot of other really wonderful benefits for the body.
- FIND STRENGTH – this pose helps to build strength from the bottom up…we are working the feet, the ankles, the legs, core and the spine. Building and toning these muscles will help us in daily life and in the rest of our practice.
- IMPROVE POSTURE – standing tall in tree pose on the mat will have you standing taller in life off the mat. This pose is a surefire way to improve your posture, coordination, and balance on and off the mat….something that is super important as we move through life, maintaining balance can mean maintaining independence as we age.
- RELIEVE STRESS – when we practice this posture it takes focus and concentration, by bringing our attention to this task other stresses can fade away. As we become more stable and patient trees you may find yourself more and more like a tree off the mat as well.
After a week of practicing have you noticed any changes or improvements in your own practice. I’ve noticed this week that I often find myself in reclined tree pose when I am laying down to fall asleep each night, not surprising to find myself there in sleep, since I often find myself standing in tree pose randomly during the day as well.
Here is the video for the week 2 mini practice, or you can join the Facebook group to catch the live mini class each Friday at 8 am!
Week 3 – Pitfalls and Modifications
As much benefit as we can gain from our yoga practice, we have just as much chance to injure ourselves if we are not being mindful of the body in the poses. We can push our flexibility to improve and gain strength in more difficult poses, but we do all have some structural limitations and our bodies are not built to move in some ways. This is why our teachers give so many alignment cues for poses to help us with a few things: finding our body in space; learning to manipulate the body safely while maintaining alignment; and helping us to adapt the pose for our body and our practice level in that moment. Very often in class I speak about knowing the direction we are headed even if we arent there yet, the directions let us guide our body safely towards the way we want to go while allowing for the time needed to travel there.
Honoring our bodies is the number one most important thing to remember when you show up to the mat. Our ego getting the best of us is often what leads to injury, we see another student or the teacher taking a pose further than we should and we want to do it to. I think we all go through this in yoga, becoming aware of this ego takeover can allow you to start to drop the ego and focus on your own practice. For a long time I refused props in class not wanting to be the fat girl in class and need help, wanting to show everyone that I can do it! Man am I glad I realized that props are amazing and that no one else cares what I am doing, if anything they are thinking similar thoughts…look at that person I wish I was like them…chasing that ego around the room totally focused on themselves just like I was. (This is true in life off the mat too btw!)
When it comes to Tree Pose there are a few things we want to be really mindful of while we practice.
- My number 1 is to watch the knee!! Our knees are designed to bend not push side-to-side, if our foot is resting against the standing leg’s knee we are putting side-to-side pressure on that knee which is going to really anger that joint and cause us issues and injury down the line. I find that often we end up with our foot here when we are pushing for something the body doesn’t want, try lowing the foot to the calf until you build strength and flexibility to move the foot higher onto the thigh safely above the knee.
- Even weight distribution. This pose is all about finding balance on the standing leg, this takes a lot strength in the foot and the ankle, you may notice when you practice this posture the standing foot doing a few different things – maybe your gripping the mat with the toes trying to hold on, or maybe you are leaning back into the heel of the foot more, that ankle may feel unsteady and cause you a little wobble. Play around with really grounding through that foot, pressing into all four corners, taking the kickstand variation where the heel rests against the ankle and the toes stay on the ground can help you play around with the standing foot without the more difficult balance aspect of the pose. As you continue to practice you will build the strength in the feet and legs to help you stay firmly rooted to the earth.
- No core engagement. When we engage the core it helps us keep the spine long and protects our lower back. Especially as we add the arms and maybe reach for the sky we can lose that alignment in the upper body, if we neglect the core the chest may reach forward with the arms, dumping into the low back and causing our weight to shift and disrupt our balance. The core is key in yoga to help keep the alignment in the spine that allows us to flow through our practice safely and providing the most benefit for the body. Just like Tadasana or mountain pose work your way up the body finding alignment and engagement from the toes to the crown as you grow your tree and send your arms to the sky!
Here is the video from our week 3 mini practice, we get to tree pose at the end, but today I offered some variations to sun salutations as well in honor of the solstice tomorrow.
Week 4 – Variety is the spice of life
One of the things I love most about yoga is that it is for ANY body. Where there is a will there is a way, and a pose can always be modified to work for you. When we think of modifications or variations of a pose we often think first of making a pose easier or more accessible, and that is part of it, but as our practice advances and grows we can also use variations to challenge us and take our practice further.
We have already talked about some variations in tree pose as we’ve moved throughout the month. We have taken reclined tree pose in our warm ups, removing the balance aspect and allowing the body to feel the shape. We also talked about 3 leg variations, placing the heel on the ankle, the foot on the calf, or the foot on the upper thigh, and a few different arm placements, hands on the hips, prayer at the heart, or growing our tree and reaching for the sky. These are the same variations we see most often in our classes.
Today in our mini class we added a few more options for ways to continue to challenge us as our practice continues to develop. We talked about bringing in a chair to help aid in balancing, if you are moving from heel on the ankle to foot on the calf you can help make this more accessible by using a chair to help support the lifted leg. To challenge the core we added a side bend to our tree, shifting the body out of a straight line adds a whole new level of balance! Another leg variation is half lotus, rather than pressing the lifted foot against the standing leg it comes to rest on the front of the thigh. We ended today with another arm variation – eagle arms, I know for me as soon as those elbows enter my line of site I start to wobble if not fall out completely – all part of the fun of balance poses though! Check out the video below to see these variations in action.
We have a few more days before the month is over, head on over to the Facebook Group and share your progress, maybe pics from the start and end of the month if you took them, or anything else you learned along the way.