Running is a one-legged sport. That's why I especially love tree pose, or Vrksasana for runners.
Unless we run or do yoga, we’re not standing on one leg for any length of time as an adult. Which is a shame, because there is no better way to cultivate functional balance skills. Tree pose not only builds balance — it also sharpens our mind and its ability to focus.
Too many times, I've acquiesced to thoughts that prevent me from going on amazing runs — I'm too tired, too hungry, too sweaty, too whatever. But regular practice of tree pose provides me with a ringside seat to my mind and exactly what goes on in my mind when the pose doesn’t go my way.
Do I hit eject? Do I get frustrated? Do I push harder to “get” the pose? Or do I take a pause, recalibrate, and start over? Just like a chef regularly sharpens his most important tools, I must regularly sharpen my ability to mentally focus.
Tree Pose Basics
As with running technique, stay with form to cultivate a strong tree pose that can withstand the most challenging attacks on the mind (The ping of a new text message! A new Kardashians episode!)
1. Start in mountain pose, placing your heels under your sitting bones. Keep the outer edges of your feet as parallel as the yellow lines in the middle of a street.
2. Shift your weight to your right foot, then bend the left knee and raise it to the height of your hip. Turn your left knee out to the side while keeping your hip points even with each other. Place the bottom of your left foot either above or below your right knee (not on the inner knee). On your exhale, draw the back of the navel toward the spine and fix your gaze at one point in front of you.
3. Hold for five breaths, then release your left foot to the floor with control and repeat on the other side.
If you fall out of the pose, get right back into it. Otherwise, you’re sending a message to your brain that it is a-okay to quit when things are hard for you. Those little messages add up over time to create an ethos and a pathos — tree is a great place to challenge that on a daily basis.
Important Benefits Of Tree Pose
1. Strengthens the muscles of the standing leg’s foot, ankle, and hip.
2. Teaches us to resist gravity by drawing the chest skyward while pushing our standing leg’s foot downward.
3. Builds functional balance skills by challenging our center of balance.
4. Teaches us to stand on one leg with confidence.
5. Builds mental focus when we can’t control a situation. When we practice tree, we have no idea if we’re going to fall or not. It’s like running — we can train and train, but we can’t control the weather on race day. We just have to go with it.
Try adding tree pose to your cross training 3 times each week for a month and note how your balance (both in your mind and on your feet) shifts from a steady practice of being unsteady.