Tree Pose Variations - "Go Out On a Limb" by Trying Something Different
Hey Readers! In this blog post, I will describe several different variations for tree pose. Tree pose, known formally as "Vrksasana" (pronounced as Vrik-SHAS-uh-nuh), is a super common yoga pose. It is an asymmetrical, standing balance pose. Your left and right legs are doing different things while in this pose (hence "asymmetrical" in the description of the pose). In this pose, pretty much every muscle of your standing leg (i.e. the leg you are balancing on) is contracting in some way (concentric, eccentric, or isometric) to help you balance. The hip of your lifted leg is in external (aka lateral) rotation and flexion. Your core should be engaged in order to help you balance and to stabilize you. Steady your gaze on something that is not moving (i.e. a "drishti"), and steady your breath as you hold this pose.
Below are some different options you can try to vary up your tree pose. And variation is good for us humans! So, "go out on a limb," and challenge yourself to one, or more, of these tree pose variations. Whatever option(s) you choose, make sure you give the same experience to both sides of your body.
Lifted Leg Placement
One way to vary your tree pose is to play with where you put your lifted leg. When I am teaching, I refer to these variations as "low branch, medium branch, high branch, or floating branch." The toes on your lifted leg could rest gently on the floor/mat beside your standing leg ("low branch" - picture 1). You could place the foot of your lifted leg on the inside of the calf of the standing leg ("medium branch" - picture 2). You could place the foot of your lifted leg on the inner thigh of your standing leg ("high branch" - picture 3). Or, you could float the foot of your lifted leg so the foot is near your standing leg, but not on it ("floating branch" - picture 4).
Picture 1. Tree pose with "low branch"
Picture 2. Tree pose with "medium branch" (along with arms out to a "T" and eyes closed)
Picture 3. Tree pose with "high branch"
Picture 4. Tree pose with "floating branch"
Another way to vary up your tree pose is to change the location of your arms and hands. You could place your palms together in Anjali mudra (aka harmony mudra; prayer hands), as shown in pictures 1, 3, and 4 above. Personally, I feel like this arm/hand position is the most stable, since pressing your palms together can help with balance. You could also lift your arms up into a "V" shape. Or, you could put your arms out to a "T" (as shown in picture 2 above). If you put your arms out to a "T" shape, you could challenge your balance by alternating looking over each shoulder.
Another way to change up your expression of tree pose is to make your arm branches "sway in the wind", while maintaining (or trying to maintain...) your balance. This variation really helps to engage the stabilization function of your core muscles to help keep you balanced during the unpredictable movements. Windy tree also helps to build stabilization endurance in your trunk muscles, which can help with posture and other movements in your body. In pictures 5 - 7, I show how you might move your arms around while holding tree pose with your legs. You might notice my facial expression changing as my arms continue to move, and this is because I am having to work really hard to keep myself stable in this pose. You might also notice that I chose to use a "medium branch" with my lifted leg in pictures 5 - 7.
Picture 5. Windy tree
Picture 6. Windy tree
Picture 7. Windy tree
In this tree pose variation, you actually close your eyes once you find some stability in the pose. Closing your eyes will challenge your balance like crazy! Plus, it really forces you to rely on your own stabilization and strength to maintain the posture rather than using your drishti (i.e. focal point) to help you balance. Picture 8 below, and picture 2 earlier in this post, show examples of "Midnight tree" with my eyes closed.
Picture 8. Midnight tree
Tree On a Block
Another tree pose variation is to balance your standing leg on a yoga block. This will add some instability, requiring you to engage the stabilization function of the muscles in your trunk more fully. I actually find that I can maintain my balance a little easier when my standing leg is on a yoga block, and this is likely due to the increased activation of my stabilizing muscles. Picture 9 below shows me doing tree pose on a yoga block. You will also notice that I chose the "medium branch" with my lifted leg and anjali mudra (aka harmony mudra; prayer hands) with my arms/hands.
Picture 9. Tree pose on a block.
Tree Pose with a Coregeous Ball
In this tree pose variation, you actually balance the foot of your lifted leg against a Coregeous ball (or something similar), which is pressed into the calf of your standing leg. The coregeous ball adds some instability to your lifted leg, causing you to more fully engage the stabilization function of the leg muscles in your lifted leg. If you are unfamiliar with the coregeous ball, I highly recommend you invest in one. These therapy balls are super versatile and can be used in many different ways. The coregeous ball is designed to be used for self-myofascial release, but it can also be used for core work and restorative poses. Stay tuned for a future blog post that will go over some different ways to use the coregeous ball. In the meantime, you can check out the coregeous ball on the Tune Up Fitness website (click here).
Picture 10. Tree pose with coregeous ball
Add in Breath Work or Meditation
In this variation of tree pose, you would add a breath work or meditation practice while holding any variation of tree pose that you prefer. For example, you could add in sama vritti breath (aka equal breath), or you could do a counting meditation with your breath (e.g. inhale for 1, exhale for 2, and so on, until you get to 10 or 20). If you are unfamiliar with breathing and/or meditation practices, check out my blog post about breathing/meditation to re-balance the autonomic nervous system (click here).
Tree pose is a super common standing, balance pose. There are so many options you can try to change up your expression of tree pose. Remember that it is very common to fall out of a balance pose, especially if it is new to your yoga practice. When you lose your balance and fall out of the pose, simply take a breath, let it go, and come back into the pose. Do not judge yourself for falling out of the pose. Yoga is a "no judgment zone." Also, it is okay to "wobble" while you are holding the pose. The wobbling you feel is due to all of your feet, ankle, and leg muscles contracting in some way to help you balance and keep your leg lifted. As one of my teachers, Tami Roberts, always says, "wobbling is winning." So, "go out on a limb" and spice up your tree pose by trying one, some, or all, of these variations.
As always, the information presented in this blog post is derived from my own study of neuroscience, human movement, and anatomy, and yoga. If you have specific questions about your balancing ability or trying balancing yoga poses, please consult with your physician, personal trainer, or physical therapist. If you are interested in private yoga sessions with me, Jackie, you can book services on my website ("Book Online" from the menu at the top of the page), or you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information about my services. Also, please subscribe to my website so you can receive my weekly newsletters (scroll to the bottom of the page where you can submit your email address). This will help keep you "in-the-know" about my latest blog releases and other helpful yoga and wellness information. Thanks for reading!
~Namaste, Jackie Allen, M.S., M.Ed., CCC-SLP, RYT-200, RCYT
Costa, K. (n.d.). Tree Pose (Vrsasana): 5 Ways to Get Creative. Yoga International. Article link here.
Rudick, L. (n.d.). How to Build a Sequence Around Tree Pose. Do You Yoga. Article link here.
Tune Up Fitness (n.d.). Coregeous ball- Iris. Link to coregeous ball here.
Yoga Journal Editors (2017). 4 Challenging Yoga Tree Pose Variations for Better Balance. Yoga Journal. Article link here.