Saturday, October 29, 2005

Tree Pose Check-up

It's Saturday. If you're like me, you've already been out to the store for something you need around the house this weekend.

If you're back in a store later today, look carefully at how people stand while they're waiting in line.

A very common posture looks like this:

  • most of the weight is shifted into one leg,
  • the leg that is bearing the most weight is hyper-extended at the knee joint,
  • the pelvis is shifted forward so the standing leg is not plumb, when viewed from the side, and
  • the pelvis is tipped so it appears that the contents of the abdomen are spilling forward and out.
Understanding these four postural features is helpful in conducting the tree pose (vrksasana) check-up I am recommending today.

Why do people do this when they stand? I believe it's a combination of muscle weakness, the desire for convenient stability, and habit.

Let's start with stability first. If you stand with most of your weight in one leg and you sink your weight so you feel heavy, you'll notice you become more stable. You can stand this way for a long time because you're "hanging" in your joints. The joints lock out and you need little muscular effort to maintain the position.

It's convenient. It's stable. And it's a habit; you're accustomed to it. Bad news: it's also tough on your joints.

This body pattern is also static. It's not dynamic.

The energy of life flows. But hanging in your joint inhibits the flow of prana. Energy gets congested. Muscles weaken. Attentiveness is dulled.

Soon you don't even notice that you're spending much of your life with the front of your pelvis tipped down and your abdomen, lacking tone, protruding. It's the well-known and much despised "abdominal pooch."

Once you adopt this common stance in daily life, it's easy to habitually express it in tree pose...for the same reasons, convenient stability and weakness.

It's ironic then, that you can, and should, increase your stability by lifting up, by lengthening your spine and whole body up. When you do this, you:

  • create space in the joints (prana flows),
  • align the skeleton so that you become structurally stronger (hard work with the muscles is not needed),
  • avoid undue wear and tear on your joints,
  • don't need to shift large body segments around to counter-balance the "sag" in balancing poses, and most importantly
  • are supported by gravity when aligned with its flow; you're buoyed up, rather than dragged down.

So don't surrender to gravity and sink into standing poses.

Now stand near a wall and come into tree pose. It's time for your tree pose check-up.

Reach out an touch the wall any time you need it. The adjustments I'm suggesting will probably throw you off balance at first.

First, check to see if your groins are hard. (See my previous Daily Yoga Tip.) It's more likely that your groin on the straight leg side will be hard and protruding. Hang onto the wall, you'll need to do enough of a forward bend (see the hips move back?) to soften the hard groins.

I'll caution you. If you've been "hanging" in tree pose for convenient stability, this forward bend to soften the groins will confuse your balance. So stick with it. Don't bail out early. Softening your hard groins will reveal your "hidden backbend."

Next, put a micro-bend in the knee of the straight leg. You'll notice right away that this requires you to use leg muscles. You proabaly won't like it. It reveals knee hyperextension. Hyperextension is easier, by far.

Lastly, without shifting your pelvis forward again, tuck your tailbone and draw the circumference around the navel back.

Then reach the arms over head and lengthen the side ribs, pulling the torso up out of the pelvis. You should feel light!

If you have difficulty with any of these instructions, that difficulty provides the revealing function of this tree pose check-up. That difficulty shows you where you've been "hanging out," surrendered to the pull of gravity, rather than "growing up" like a majestic tree, supported and buoyed by perfect alignment with the flow of the universe.

Don't just read about it. Get up. Experience it. Experience yoga!

Kevin Perry

p.s., Vrksa means "tree" in Sanskrit. Therefore, vrksasana is tree pose. But what's adho mukha vrksasana? It literally means "downward facing tree pose." What's that, you ask? It's handstand or full arm balance.

This points to one of the problems with learning the Sanskrit names of yoga poses: we know poses by their common English names, which often have no correlation to the literal English translations of the Sanskrit word roots. We'll help you sort it all out at the Experience Sanskrit workshop coming up one week from today in Dallas.

You won't want to miss this fun, four-hour workshop at the Surya Center for Yoga. Register today at The price has already gone up to $60. So get in now, before the workshop sells out. You get a 100-page companion course guide to use and take home with you.

Find out more at

p.p.s., This is a very special greeting to my 10-year old daughter Richelle, who lost a tooth (a molar, in fact) on Thursday. In honor of this auspicious event I will give my Daily Yoga Tip readers a mantra to recite. This is a mantra that invokes and honors Lord Ganesha, the elephant-faced deity, who is always portrayed with one broken tusk. Ganesha is known as the remover of all obstacles.

The mantra goes like this:

Aum ekadantaya namah
Namah mean "I bow to you" or "greetings, salutations." Ekadantaya means "One who has one tusk."

Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami says that "Ekadanta refers to one tusk in the elephant face, which means God broke the duality and made you to have a one-pointed mind." He also recommends that you repeat this mantra 108 times, with "sincere devotion," concentrating on the meaning, every day for 48 days. Be sure to do this practice, after you've bathed or washed your limbs, at the same place and time.

Remember, if you don't want to repeat this mantra, you can still remove the obstacles to achieving the state of yoga. Patanjali says "To overcome the obstacles and their accompaniments, the intense application of the will to some one truth (or principle) is required." (YogaSutras I:32) You can focus your meditation on any single truth.

p.p.p.s., We're also conducting the Experience Sanskrit workshop on March 4, 2006 at Golden Heart Yoga in Annapolis, Maryland. Find out more about Golden Heart Yoga at And we're staying an extra day for an asana workshop on Sunday. Make plans to attend now.

Copyright 2005. All rights reserved, Mo Yoga LLC.


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