When my yoga instructor takes Tree Pose, I follow suit (virtually!) thinking that I'm in for a restful couple of breaths. Half right, I enjoy a relaxing wave as I inhale and exhale — but, after a few moments, I'm almost always interrupted by a shaky standing leg.
Despite what I've assumed in the past, Tree Pose isn't just standing on one leg. For starters, Mara Olney, certified yoga instructor and owner of LÜM Health Studio, points out that all the balance and stability required to keep steady actually strengthens my standing leg, glutes, and the ligaments and tendons in my feet, too.
"This pose tones your calf muscles and quads on the leg you are standing on, and because you are balancing on one foot, your ankle-stabilizing muscles are working hard, getting stronger, and keeping your ankle joint healthy. Because this is a hip-opening pose, you are also improving mobility in your hip joints when practicing Tree Pose."
Although Tree Pose can be found in any yoga flow, Olney says it's often incorporated into Vinyasa and Hatha yoga classes because it's a versatile move that offers many transitional possibilities. But you don't need a whole flow to reap the benefits of this move.
"You can also practice Tree Pose all by itself. Balancing poses are amazing because of their ability to instantly bring you into the present moment. If you feel anxious and don't have time for a full yoga practice, stand in Tree Pose and focus on relaxing your eyes and deepening your breath, and you will gain control over your anxiety very quickly."
To truly capitalize on Tree Pose, make sure you aren't leaning on your standing leg, Olney suggests — this can cause your hips to tilt. She says the goal is to keep your pelvis squared and stable by thinking about pushing your foot into the Earth to ground down.
And if you struggle with balance, try holding onto a wall to remain stable, she adds.
To truly feel the benefits of Tree Pose, Olney offers step-by-step instructions on practicing the pose ahead.
- Begin standing with your feet hip-width apart.
- Lift your toes, fan them out, and set them back down.
- Begin to engage your legs and core muscles. In balancing poses like Tree, keeping the core tight is essential for building and maintaining a strong balance.
- Begin to shift your weight into your right leg.
- Set your eyes on a single point of focus six feet in front of you, forward and down, to help with balance.
- Pick up your left heel with the ball of the foot still grounded.
- Turn your left toes and knee out, to open the hip. If your balance needs some work, keep your heel resting on your right ankle. Otherwise, lift your left foot and rest the sole of your foot against the inside of the right standing leg, either above or below the knee. Avoid stamping your foot into the knee joint.
- Bring your palms together to touch at your heart centre.
- Stay for at least 3-5 breaths, and then repeat on the second side.
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