THE TREE POSE

I didn't even realised until a couple of weeks ago, when I went to try a new yoga class, that I had been completely neglecting the tree pose. Somehow it disappeared out of my practice, which is weird since it is actually one of my favourites; it's a very graceful and meditative pose that naturally draws your attention inwards (it's tough to balance on one leg with a wondering mind!).

So, a couple of weeks ago in the class I got into the tree pose and... I was so wobbly that I could barely stay up there!! what? I am normally good at the tree, love staying there forever... the more I thought about it, the more I became convinced that my sudden lack of balance was both the cause and the effect of the tree's departure from my routine: there is no balanced body without a

balanced mind

. But enough about me and more about the tree...

The tree pose is an extremely versatile standing balance pose that can be done literally by anyone (toddlers to pensioners, couch potatoes to olympians) with great benefits: apart from gently cultivating balance and a sense of poise, the tree pose improves flat feet and tones the ankles and knees. In fact, weakness in the joints inadvertently results and shows in lack of balance.

Here are basic tree pose instructions:

♥ Stand with your feet parallel and hip-width apart (tadasana)

♥ Lift and spread the toes, press the four corners of the feet into the ground and lift the arches

♥ Engage all leg muscles (imagine as if you were to jump off the ground, but you don't)

♥ Shift your weight onto the left foot

♥ Bend the right leg at the knee and lift

♥ Place the sole of the right foot against the left thigh with the toes pointing downwards

♥ Press the right foot and left thigh against each other to create resistance from which to fully engage muscle energy

♥ Join hands in front of the heart in anjali mudra

♥ Look at a fixed, unmoving point ahead of you to aid balance

♥ Stay here for about one minute, then repeat on other the side

A few important points on alignment:  as always, the balance starts at the foundation. Pressing firmly through the four corners of the feet will ensure that all sides of the ankles are engaged and this MUSCLE ENERGY (more on this later) will naturally travel up through the calves, knees etc, all the way to the top of the head.

When muscles are not properly engaged, there is a tendency to drop into the hip of the standing leg: the hip juts out to the side and the whole weight of the upper body descends on it, spine misaligns... it's not great. To correct it, engage your legs muscles as described in the paragraph above. It then becomes a lot easier to level out and SQUARE THE HIPS and, in fact, the whole body will suddenly feel a lot lighter and more balanced. Place your hands on the hip bones to check that they are both at the same height.

It may not be possible to place the foot of the bent leg all the way up the thigh. In this case, place the foot against the calf but avoid placing it against the KNEE: it may be tempting and temporarily comfortable to do so, but it could ultimately end in injury and tears.

Some variations:

♥ For beginners or those a bit out of practice: holding onto a wall or a chair is not cheating! if your balance is not up to scratch, practice the pose supported for a while until you develop a good balance.

♥ The next step from hands in anjali mudra is to extend the arms up over your head (IMPORTANT: avoid raising arms over head if suffering from high blood pressure!): either keep palms together, or hold arms parallel with palms facing each other, or extend arms wide in a V shape with palms facing each other.

♥ If you feel well balanced with arms up: open the chest , look up slightly, keep chin parallel with the floor and gently bend backwards. avoid tilting head back: try joining hands behind the head and pressing the head against the palms. feel the expansion.

♥ Back in upright position: to take it a little bit further and get a little stretch in, place the right arm down on the bent knee (right hand/right knee, left hand/left knee - tricky otherwise), extend the left arm up, then slowly begin to move the left hip to the left and stretch the left arm to the right over the head creating a kind of bow shape, feel the whole left side of the body stretching.

♥ And finally, you can really challenge your balance by standing in the tree pose with your eyes closed!

Here we go, the tree pose! I have now worked the tree back in to my daily routine, and it is quite amazing what effect it is having on me: a balanced body, swiftly followed by a more balanced mind.

Watch this space for the tree partners :)