This ancient, reliable pose is often the first balance posture you learn in yoga class. It is a relatively simple posture and strengthens your legs and spine, as well as opening your thighs and hips. When you practice balancing poses, you learn some practical lessons in how to be grounded, find your center, stay focused, and steady your mind. Plus, the process—falling and trying again—helps develop patience and persistence, humility, and good humor.
The Mythology behind the Posture
When the demon king Ravana kidnapped Sita, he naturally assumed that she would fall in love with him. He offered Sita one gift after another, but she said no to them all. She refused to spend even one night inside Ravana’s beautiful palace.
“I am your prisoner, not your guest,” she said, “and I will never be your wife. Remember, I am Rama’s wife and he will find me. And when he does, you will wish you had never set eyes on me”.
“I’m a patient man,” replied Ravana. “Every day I will ask you to accept me. You have one year. After that, if you still refuse, I will cook and eat you.”
Outside the palace, stood a forest of Ashoka trees and Sita made this her home, surrounded by Ravana’s guards. Ashoka trees are symbols of love in Indian folk tradition. The guards were ordered not to harm Sita physically, but they could use psychological methods to break her down. They told her that Rama would never find her, and even if he did, he would not want her back after she had been with Ravana. “Forget Rama,” they said. “Think of all that Ravana could do for you.
But Sita sat, with her back against a tree, breathing slowly and waiting. She concentrated her mind on Rama. Every thought, breath and beat of her heart said “Rama…find me.” She sent her love into the trees, imagining their leaves broadcasting Rama’s name to the world
Trees are patient creatures. They live a long time, and they know how to stay strong through all the changes of day, climate and season. Those trees spoke to Sita: “Stay strong, little sister. Be calm and steady, like us. Seasons change and this captivity is not forever. Remember Rama.”
One day, Sita heard a name called softly from above: “Rama, Rama, Rama…” It was Hanuman, the Monkey God, sent by Rama in the form of a tiny monkey, to rescue Sita.
Vrksasana the Pose
Learning to balance often has more to do with your mental state than your physical abilities. If you’re stressed, or if your mind is scattered, your body is likely to be unsteady. The very practice of trying to balance is stressful. Most of us, as we try to balance, have thoughts like “I can’t do this” or “Everyone’s watching me struggle.”
Take a moment to enjoy the gift of two strong legs and remember like a real tree, your tree is unique and beautiful.
Stand in Tadasana (Mountain Pose), with your feet together or hip-width apart. Spread your toes. Lift your inner arches. Distribute your weight evenly between the right and left sides of your body. Settle your feet into the floor as if they were sending down roots.
Then, shift your weight into your left leg. Press down with the root of your big toe and your outer heel. Externally rotate your right leg and place the sole of your right foot on your inner left leg, above or below (but not on) your knee. Level your hips.
Accentuate the pressure of the outer left foot on the inner right thigh so that the left knee comes more into the same plane as the left hip. This alignment will improve as your hips and groin open. Bring your palms together in front of your heart and isometrically press them together. Mirror this action by pressing the thigh into the foot and the foot into the thigh. The inward movement of your greater trochanters will help you with this. Feel how the tone in your midsection supports your balance.
Take five deep breaths, release the pose and then switch sides.
If you wish to go further with the pose, raise your arms overhead, palms facing each other. Relax your shoulders and tailbone down as you lengthen your spine upward. Breathe smoothly. Keep your eyes soft and pick a spot in front of you to gaze at softly.
Basic Joint Positions
• The standing hip is neutral.
• The standing knee extends.
• The raised-leg hip flexes, abducts, and externally rotates.
• The raised-leg knee flexes.
• The back extends slightly.
• The shoulders abduct and flex overhead.
• The elbows extend.
• The palms flex slightly.
Sita, kidnapped and held captive, draws strength and comfort from nature. Contact with the earth helps her focus on Rama (her goal). Her body may be constrained, but her mind is free. The tree, patient, stable, and deeply rooted, offers shelter to the one who takes refuge beneath its branches.
It takes a lot to shake a tree.
Sherri (Minh) Lowe is a 200 Hour RYT and co-founder of Yogatique Bangkok. She is a fifty-one year old Canadian transplant living in Bangkok. When she is not on her yoga mat, she enjoys cycling, trying new vegan recipes, a cold beer, lingering in coffee shops and exploring Bangkok. When not pursing these activities, she is writing about them in various on line publications.