At first I was going to share with you that the sensation of my standing ankle burning after a looong balance sequence could quite possibly be my least favorite physical sensation in asana practice. Then my brain offered up, “What about abs though?! Whew!” True. Another thought chirped in its two cents, “And how about those hot, shaking quadriceps in a full knee-over-ankle Warrior 2 hold?” Can’t deny that. The truth is, most of my yoga practice is very challenging work and I would only dare venture that maybe 5% of it is “easy.” I would say then that one of the most powerful benefits of practice is not when things are “easy” (they get more easeful over time and understanding), but when we practice the art form and skill of patience, willingness, kindness, and deep inner belief. In that way, Tree pose, or any other, can be an exploration of our inner landscape and can become a place to kindly shape and create qualities like ease and playfulness that we might like to see more often within ourselves and the world at large.
-From Tadasana (Mountain Pose), shift your weight to your right leg and maintain the standing foot and knee aligned forward.
-Keep purposeful resistance in your standing leg, pressing down through your heel and also drawing energy up the leg. Keep your knee unlocked by pressing your standing shin mildly forward and sucking your kneecap up to engage the quadriceps.
-Rotate your left leg outward, creating an opening in the hip joint. Place your heel up the standing ankle with your toes still tucked on the floor for the most support. Then, slide the arch of the left foot up against the curve of your calf, or finally, draw the left heel up the inner thigh toward the notch of the right groin. Press foot and leg into each other.
-Draw your low belly and ribs in for core support, tilting your frontal hip points slightly up to lengthen your lower back and maintain firmness in your lower abs.
-In a subtle energetic direction, rather than a big physical action, lengthen your right frontal hip point and the skin of your left inner thigh, all the way to the left kneecap, away from each other, while still maintaining length in the low back. This ushers in a more spacious feeling through the hips and a blossoming-open experience in the balance.
-Hold your hands at hips to decrease effort in your shoulders and tone down the demand of balance. For further challenge, bring your hands to your heart or into an expressive variation overhead.
-Practice calm, purposeful gazing with your eyes by focusing them on one specific spot ahead of you. Keep your gaze soft, not piercing. To explore the practice of balance even further, shift your gaze up to your hands or to the ceiling above or behind you.
-Work with rather than against the inevitable and natural wiggles and wobbles of balance by committing to smooth, steady Ujjayi breathing and a soft face. Feel free to even add in a soft smile when you’d rather place frustration on your mouth instead Good humor is truly advanced yoga.
By: Hanna Riley, Courtesy of Bala Vinyasa Yoga.