Tree Pose (Vrksasana):
Tree pose is the quintessential yoga posture to improve balance. And balance is important. Even the slightest improvements in balance can lead to significant health benefits, especially for older adults. In this population, improvements in balance could make the difference between a serious fall and no fall at all.
In addition to the obvious balance benefit, regular practice of tree pose can help tone and define the muscles in your core. Core strength is key to a happy, healthy body; master yogis have known this for thousands of years. Because of this ancient knowledge, core-strengthening exercises like tree pose are a central part of most hatha and vinyasa yoga classes.
In Sanskrit, tree pose is known as Vrksasana (Vrik-SHAH-suh-nuh). It is the combination of two words—vrksa, meaning “tree” and asana, meaning “posture,” “pose,” or “seat.” You can think of tree pose as an alternative to a seated meditation posture. Because this pose requires balance, strength, and concentration, it teaches one the power of reaching a calm, focused energy.
How to Do Tree Pose (Vrksasana):
Follow these five steps to gradually master tree pose:
Begin in mountain pose (Tadasana), standing straight with your feet shoulder-width apart and your arms at your sides. Distribute your weight across both feet.
Exhale deeply and shift your weight to your right foot. Now bend your left knee and place the sole of your left foot against your inner right thigh, close to the groin, with your toes facing downward. If you are not able to move your foot all the way up to your thigh region, modify the pose by resting the sole of your left foot alongside your right calf or ankle instead.
Keep your pelvis directly over your right foot. Now engage your core muscles to help stabilize your hips. This will allow you to move from your midline and better control your posture and balance as you hold this pose.
Inhale and stretch your arms sideways to form a “T,” with your palms facing down. Then take a slow, deep exhale and bring your palms together in prayer position in front of you. For a greater challenge, raise your arms overhead and reach your fingertips to the ceiling. Now rotate your palms inward and hold this position. You may also choose to move your palms together in an overhead prayer position.
Keep your balance by focusing your eyes on a fixed point four to five feet directly in front of you. Breathe steadily from your belly for 30 seconds to one minute. Then release yourself into mountain pose by lowering your left leg to the ground and resting your arms at your side. It may feel good to gently bounce your right leg on the ground to relieve any tension before switching sides.
Benefits of Tree Pose (Vrksasana):
Each year, one-third of adults over 65 years of age suffer from a fall. Yoga interventions in this population have shown great promise, improving both balance and physical mobility in this vulnerable population and reducing the rate of self-reported falls.
Yoga instructors love tree pose because of its versatility–it can be used by the young, the old, and beginning and advanced students alike. Variations in where each student holds their hands, arms, and feet make this an effective and challenging balance pose for all levels.
In addition to protecting folks from bad falls, core-strengthening postures like tree help to activate and tone muscles in the core region that are commonly ignored, including the upper rectus abdominis, lower rectus abdominis, longissimus thoracic, and external obliques.
In a 2014 study published in the journal of Complementary Therapies in Medicine, researchers found that certain yoga poses similar to tree pose, specifically mountain pose, chair, and warrior 1, all have a significant impact on the firing patterns of the abdominal muscles.
So all you yoga lovers out there, take note: there is clear, convincing evidence that yoga provides a plethora of health benefits beyond the breath. Just the tree pose alone can help improve your balance, lead to better posture, and strengthen those oh-so-important core muscles.
Some other body benefits of practicing tree pose regularly include the following:
- Calms and focuses your active mind
- Strengthens the muscles in your ankles, calves, and thighs
- Elongates your spine
- Stretches your chest, shoulders, inner thighs, and groin
- Improves posture and lessens the appearance of rounded shoulders in older adults
- Prevents slouching (your spine will thank you!)
- Relieves the symptoms of sciatica (pain that originates in the lower back and travels to the back of the legs)
- Reduces the symptoms of plantar fasciitis (pain and inflammation in the heel and bottom of the foot)
The Do’s and Don’ts of Tree Pose:
As with any pose, you should always maintain correct posture for Vrksasana and be able to modify it as necessary. Follow this do’s and don’t list to make the most of tree pose:
- Do use a chair for support if you are a beginner or have any issues with your balance. Simply modify the pose by moving a chair next to the right side of your body and standing next to it. Place your right hand on the chair for support then bend your left knee and slowly move into tree pose. Move the chair to the left side of your body when you are ready to repeat the posture with the opposite leg.
- Do practice the pose with your back against the wall if you are a beginner or feeling a bit unsteady on your feet.
- Do activate your core muscles (following the directions in step 3). The stronger your core muscles are, the more likely you will be able to hold this pose with poise and skill.
- Don’t rest the sole of your foot against the kneecap of your standing leg—this puts unnecessary pressure on the joint.
- Don’t rush into this pose. You will find that it takes patience and a profound sense of awareness to hold this particular balance pose for an extended period of time. Remember, once you lose your balance, it becomes more difficult to regain it. So take your time and move into the pose purposely and gracefully.
- Don’t practice tree pose if you have insomnia, experience lightheadedness or dizziness, or suffer from frequent headaches or low blood pressure.
- Don’t raise your arms overhead in this pose if you have high blood pressure.
Follow-up Poses for Tree Pose:
In yoga, it’s all about the flow. Once you master tree pose, give these related postures a try:
1. Warrior II pose (beginner’s level):
After releasing from tree pose and coming into mountain pose, lightly jump your feet apart about three to four feet. Now raise your arms, making them parallel to the floor, keeping your shoulder blades wide and your palms face down. Next, turn your right foot to the right and point your left foot to the front of the mat at a 90-degree angle. Align your left heel with your right heel, activate your thigh muscles, and bend your left knee slightly so that the center of the kneecap is aligned with your left ankle. Hold the pose for 30 seconds to one minute. Then repeat on the opposite side.
2. Chair pose (beginner’s level):
Start off in mountain pose. Take a deep breath in and raise your arms perpendicular to the floor. Now slowly exhale as you bend your knees and angle the backs of your thighs toward the floor, keeping your knees firmly together. Lean your torso forward slightly over your thighs, tuck your tailbone downward toward the floor, and elongate your lower back. Now comes the challenging part: hold the pose for 30 seconds to one minute to tighten and strengthen the muscles in your glutes, thighs, and calves.
Vrksasana is a focused, empowering balance posture for the graceless and graceful alike. In a typical yoga class, you will find that some students struggle with this pose and become easily frustrated with their lack of balance and coordination. On the flip side, other students embrace the challenging nature of this pose, slowly collect their thoughts, and beam with pride as they personify the strength and confidence of a tree. No matter what your skill level is, remember that even the slightest improvements in balance and core strength can have a noticeable and positive effect on your overall health. So stand tall in your regular practice of tree pose.
1. Youkhana S, Dean CM, Wolff M, Sherrington C, Tiedemann A. Yoga-based exercise improves balance and mobility in people aged 60 and over: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Age Ageing. 2016;45(1): 21-29. doi:10.1093/ageing/afv175.
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3. Ni M, Mooney K, Harriell K, Balachandran A, Signorile J. Core muscle function during specific yoga poses. Complement Ther Med. 2014;22(2):235-243. doi:10.1016/j.ctim.2014.01.007.
4. American Council on Exercise. 7 chair yoga poses for better balance. https://www.acefitness.org/education-and-resources/lifestyle/blog/5478/7-chair-yoga-poses-for-better-balance. Updated June 2015. Accessed December 19, 2017.
5. American Council on Exercise. Building core strength with yoga. https://www.acefitness.org/education-and-resources/lifestyle/blog/6338/building-core-strength-with-yoga. Updated March 2017. Accessed December 19, 2017.
6. American Council on Exercise. A beginner’s guide to yoga: 5 widely practiced poses. https://www.acefitness.org/education-and-resources/lifestyle/blog/5295/a-beginner-s-guide-to-yoga-5-widely-practiced-poses. Updated February 2015. Accessed December 19, 2017.
7. National Institutes of Health. Getting it straight: Improve your posture for better health. https://newsinhealth.nih.gov/2017/08/getting-it-straight. Updated August 2017. Accessed December 19, 2017.