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Tree Pose: The Complete Guide

Both a strengthening and balancing posture, Vrksasana helps you focus on activating your leg and core muscles.


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It’s no wonder Vrksasana (Tree Pose) is one of the first balance poses that many yogis practice. It helps you stay grounded and centered, and it helps you find balance—the primary goals of yoga. Vrksasana asks you to balance on a single leg while placing the sole of your opposite foot along the inside of your standing leg or on the floor (anywhere but on your knee!). As simple as it may seem, this pose challenges you to continuously engage your mind and body to stay balanced.

Focus on mindfully pressing your standing foot into your mat. Activate your core as you lift your leg and lengthen your spine. Experiment with where you put your arms. Maybe they extend out like tree branches, maybe you keep them on your hips for balance, or press your hands together in Anjali Mudra (Salutation Seal) at your heart. Notice any tiny adjustments that your ankles or legs might be making to help you maintain the pose. Finding your drishti (gaze), a still spot to focus on, will help you find a stronger balance.

Vrksasana strengthens and tones the legs and feet; opens the hips, groin, and chest; and fortifies your muladhara (first or “root”) chakra. Through the practice of balance, you develop poise, concentration, and coordination, and you steady and calm your mind. Practicing Tree Pose brings you back into your body, connects you to the earth, and helps you develop a sense of safety and stillness.

The principle of satya (the practice of truthfulness) teaches us to think, speak, and act in alignment with what is true. Tree Pose offers a chance to practice this principle by aligning yourself with the truth in your own body. There is no way to fudge or fake Vrksasana.

Though praise and blame, gain and loss, pleasure and sorrow may “come and go like the wind,” as the Buddha said, happiness comes if you can “rest like a great tree in the midst of them all.”

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Tree Pose basics

Sanskrit: Vrksasana (vrik-SHAH-sah-nah)

vrksa = tree

Pose type: Standing posture

Targets: Lower-body strength

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Benefits

Tree Pose is a strengthening posture that can help build confidence. This pose can improve your posture and counteract the effects of prolonged sitting. On your standing leg, this pose strengthens your thigh, buttock (glute), and ankle. On your lifted leg, this pose gently stretches your entire thigh and buttocks.

Other Tree Pose perks:

  • Boosts energy
  • Strengthens your core
  • Stretches around your shoulders and your back (latissimus dorsi)

 

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Step-by-step instructions

  1. Stand in Tadasana. Spread your toes, press down through your feet, and firm your leg muscles. Raise your front hip points toward your lower ribs until you feel a gentle lift in your lower belly.
  2. Inhale deeply, lifting your breast bone. Exhale as you draw your shoulder blades down your back. Look straight ahead or slightly down at a drishti point, a spot that does not move.
  3. Place your hands on your hips and raise your right foot high onto your left thigh. Pause as you settle into the pose and soften if you feel tension anywhere.
  4. Open your hips by drawing your right knee back and toward your side. Play with how far you can open your knee without twisting your pelvis to the right.
  5. Bring your pelvis back to a neutral position, squared to the front, with the tailbone down and hip points slightly lifted.
  6. Bring your hands to your heart in Anjali Mudra. If you feel balanced, stretch your arms overhead. You may hold them parallel with palms facing, open wide in a V shape, or with hands clasped and your index fingers pointing up.
  7. Breathe as you hold the pose. Notice the muscles of the foot, let, buttocks and abdomen adjusting slightly to keep you steady.
  8. When you are ready, bring your hands back to your heart and return to Tadasana.  Repeat the pose on the other side.
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Explore the pose

Beginner’s tips

  • Practice Tree Pose while standing a few inches from a wall on your straight-leg side. Even if you don’t touch the wall, the proximity of it helps you feel confident you won’t fall out of the pose. But if you wobble, you can simply reach out a hand and rebalance yourself.
  • To avoid falling out of Tree Pose, you need to explore and understand your hip-opening capacity. If your hips aren’t naturally open and you force the lifted knee to point straight out to the side, your entire pelvis will twist in that direction, pulling you out of alignment. Your hips should be level and facing forward, even if it means your knee is not rotated out as far.
  • When you reach up, keep the arms aligned with the ears. Taking your hands too far back may shift your center of gravity and cause you to fall backward.
  • Lean into the metaphor of the Tree, embodying the roots below, the strong trunk, and the full flowering of your upward reach.

Be mindful!

  • Don’t turn out the foot on your standing leg. This can misalign the supporting knee and hip. Keep your toes and knee facing forward.
  • Never place your foot on the opposite knee. Rather, keep the foot above or below the knee in order to protect the knee of the standing leg.
  • If you have shoulder pain, numbness, tingling, or shooting pain when you lift your arm, try keeping your hand on your hips.

Deepen the pose

Challenge yourself by closing your eyes as you balance in Vrksasana. You can also challenge your balance by touching the palms overhead.

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Tree Pose variations

Photo: Christopher Dougherty

Tree Pose with foot on calf

If maintaining balance in Tree is challenging, place your foot on your calf rather than on your inner thigh.

Photo: Christopher Dougherty

Tree Pose with kickstand

Another option for when your balance feels off: Keep the toes of your non-standing leg on the ground and press your foot against a spot just above your ankle creating a kickstand.

Photo: Christopher Dougherty

Tree Pose in a chair

Sit toward the front of a sturdy, armless chair. Bring one leg forward with your knee mostly straight. Bring the other knee out to the side, opening your hip. You can use a block under your lifted foot or simply bring that ankle to the opposite shin. Your arms can be raised into a big V shape. Hold for several breaths, then repeat on the other side.

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Preparatory and counter poses

To prep for Tree Pose, focus on poses that open your hips. Also, practice your drishti to develop the habit of keeping your attention centered in balancing poses.

Preparatory poses

Tadasana (Mountain Pose)

Virabhadrasana II (Warrior II)

Utthita Trikonasana (Extended Triangle Pose)

Baddha Konasana (Bound Angle Pose)

Counter poses

Tadasana (Mountain Pose)

Prasarita Padottanasana I (Wide-Legged Forward Bend)

Balasana (Child’s Pose)

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Your body in Tree Pose | Anatomy

Several “stories” take place simultaneously in Vrksasana. It is both a balancing pose and, secondarily, a hip opener, explains Ray Long, MD, a board-certified orthopedic surgeon and yoga instructor. The pose also unites the various parts of the body, from the foundation formed by the standing foot through the palms of the lifted hands. Tree Pose asks some parts of you to ascend while others remain rooted to the ground.

In the drawings below, pink muscles are stretching and blue muscles are contracting. The shade of the color represents the force of the stretch and the force of contraction. Darker = stronger.

An anatomy illustration shows the body in Tree Pose: Vrksasana
(Illustration: Chris Macivor)

Straighten the standing leg by activating the quadriceps. The gluteus medius automatically contracts when you balance on one leg. Engage the muscles of the ankle and foot to stabilize the standing leg.

Pay attention to how the other leg feels. The hamstrings activate to bend the knee; the adductor group presses the sole of the foot into the inner thigh of the standing leg; and the hip abductors, gluteals, and deep external rotators contract to draw the knee back and externally rotate the femur. The bent-leg foot pressing into the thigh stabilizes the standing leg.

The pelvis connects to the spine through the erector spinae muscles along the spine. Engage the deltoids, the main shoulder muscles, to lift the arms, and the infraspinati (part of the rotator cuff) to externally rotate the upper arm bones. Draw the shoulders away from the ears with the lower third of the trapezius and press the palms of the hands together evenly.

The balance of the pelvis results from the interplay of various muscles that move the hip—the adductors, abductors, extensors, flexors, and rotators. Move up the body to the back and balance the activation of the erector spinae and quadratus lumborum with that of the abdominal muscles on the front body. Draw the shoulder blades toward the midline and down the back. Then activate the pectoralis minor and serratus anterior muscles to lift the chest.

Excerpted with permission from The Key Poses of Yoga and Anatomy for Vinyasa Flow and Standing Poses by Ray Long.

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Put Tree Pose into practice

Ready to put Vrksasana into practice? Here are a few flows to try:

Inspire Stability & Fluidity with This Short Tree Pose Flow

7 Poses That Help Deepen Your Awareness to Release Your Psoas


About our contributors

Teacher and model Natasha Rizopoulos is a senior teacher at Down Under Yoga in Boston, where she offers classes and leads 200- and 300-hour teacher trainings. A dedicated Ashtanga practitioner for many years, she became equally as captivated by the precision of the Iyengar system. These two traditions inform her teaching and her dynamic, anatomy-based vinyasa system Align Your Flow. For more information, visit natasharizopoulos.com.

Ray Long is an orthopedic surgeon and the founder of Bandha Yoga, a popular series of yoga anatomy books, and the Daily Bandha, which provides tips and techniques for teaching and practicing safe alignment. Ray graduated from the University of Michigan Medical School and pursued post-graduate training at Cornell University, McGill University, the University of Montreal, and the Florida Orthopedic Institute. He has studied hatha yoga for over 20 years, training extensively with B.K.S. Iyengar and other leading yoga masters, and teaches anatomy workshops at yoga studios around the country.