The traditional expression of tree pose (vrksasana) is powerful in its simplicity, is easily modified for beginners, and offers an excellent way to improve core strength and balance. But if you are practicing only one style of tree pose, you may be missing out on an opportunity to deepen your practice.
Consider incorporating one of these variations into your next yoga class. In nature, after all, there are myriad varieties of trees.
1. Twisted Tree Pose
With your left foot planted on your mat, open your right hip and choose the placement of your right foot (onto the floor, a block, your opposite ankle, calf, or inner thigh). Draw your hands together in prayer at your heart and find your balance. When you feel stable and settled, open your arms out to the side so they are parallel to the floor. Turn your palms up to feel more energized, or down to feel more grounded.
Keeping your lower body stable and hips square to the front, twist your upper body to the right. Hold here for three to five breaths, noticing how the energy of the twist changes your experience in tree. Return to center on an inhale, then release. Pause to notice any physical or energetic shifts, and then repeat on the opposite side (beginning with your right foot planted on the mat).
2. Windy Tree Pose
It is often said that a tree that doesn’t bend will break. Enter your traditional tree variation (one foot on the floor, block, ankle, calf, or inner thigh), and settle into the posture. Bring slightly bent arms in front of your torso and begin to wave your hands, wrists, and arms. Allow them to flow freely. If you have any shoulder challenges, keep your hands below your shoulders. If not, your hands might want to reach toward the sky. Make sure each hand crosses the centerline of your body at least once, as crossing the centerline is great exercise for your brain and helps with focus and concentration. Channel your inner tree, envisioning your arms as branches blowing in the wind.
3. Falling Tree Pose
Many students enter tree pose with a hard and fast intention to not fall out of the pose. Sometimes that attachment to what they think of as a “perfect” tree can strip the posture of its deeper meaning. At the first sign of a wobble, students tend to overcompensate—falling out of the pose not because of that initial wobble, but because of their subsequent reaction.
Challenge this mindset by intentionally losing your balance once you enter tree, and then noticing your reaction. See if you can be gentle with the wobble, smiling at it with grace. You might just find that you can keep your balance when you let go of your resistance to falling. Ask yourself if the shakes, wobbles, and falls aren’t actually an important part of this pose.
4. Rooted Tree Pose
For years you’ve been practicing tree with one foot pressed against your inner thigh. You are convinced that this is the fullest expression of the pose. Flip the script on your tree during your next practice. Return to your beginner’s mind. Try lowering your foot to your inner calf or ankle, perhaps even allowing your toes to settle into the floor next to your standing foot. Imagine that both sets of toes are roots. Draw energy and power into your body from the earth. Feel connected, held, and completely supported. As Donna Farhi says in her book Bringing Yoga to Life: The Everyday Practices of Enlightened Living: “In truth, it matters less what we do in practice than how we do it and why we do it.”
5. Midnight Tree Pose
After you’ve been practicing tree for some time and your balance is strong, try closing your eyes once you’ve entered the posture. Notice your body, mind, and spirit there in the darkness. What stories do you start to tell when your tree goes dark? Reflect on why closing your eyes challenges your balance and changes your experience of the posture. Where else in your life have you lost your balance when your perception shifted? How can you stay connected to your physical and spiritual core during times of discomfort?
When practicing any variation of tree, remember to press evenly into all parts of your standing foot. To prevent collapsing into the standing hip, feel as if your hips are drawing toward the centerline of the body. Zip up from pelvis to navel. If your shoulders creep up toward your ears, let them soften. And most importantly, of course, don’t forget to breathe.
Which tree variation is your favorite? What does it teach you on and off the mat?