Costa Rica Yoga JournalMark Goldstein

The Tree Pose

tree poseBy Mark Goldstein

I’d like to present an important concept from yoga, one which I encourage in every pose that we practice. There is not really a name for this concept, rather a description.

It can be summed up as: “In a pose, what parts of my body do I need to use, and which ones can I let go of?”

When practicing yoga, many people seek, and achieve, improvements in their physical bodies: six pack abs, less fat, more muscle, increase in flexibility. All of these are great goals, and can look and feel great as you achieve them. Many of these results come when we use our muscles, and burn calories. That’s fine, however, that’s not really where the “yoga happens”.

When we are in a physically active pose, we should always try and remember to answer this very important question: “What muscles do I need to use, and which ones can I release?” Again, “which muscles do I need to engage, to feel strong, and which ones can I let go with, still feel stable, and let go further into my pose?”

The muscles that we release, that we disengage, these are the areas that receive the “yoga”. More precisely, these are the areas that are getting the full effects of detoxification as well as all the nutrients needed to build healthy structures in your body.

Often, you can be in a very demanding pose, you’re strong, you’re sweating, you might even look powerful and in perfect alignment in the mirror. And then your instructor comes by and gently encourages you to drop your shoulders, or relax your face, and then everything changes. You not only still feel strong, but now maybe you feel more elegant, like a strong dancer, rather than a bodybuilder. This is good. This is what we are after, whether we are powering into a handstand, or releasing into a forward bend.

What do I need to hold on to, and what can I let go of? A nice pose to illustrate this is our Pose of the Month, the Tree Pose.

Tree pose has many variations, and so can be practiced at any level, from the absolute beginner to the most advanced practitioner. The picture I used is showing an intermediate level of the pose, and in class your instructor can guide you towards what is best for you. In order for a tree to stay upright, it’s strength, weight and roots so that it doesn’t fall over. At the same time a tree must remain flexible and bend to the forces which surround it or it will break. A tree needs to be strong yet yielding, holding on while letting go. That’s what we’re looking for in our yoga practice. In tree pose, we can easily incorporate what we spoke about earlier: Where to work, and where to let go.

Here is how I lead this pose in class.

First, just stand on both feet, and close your eyes. Feel the earth beneath you. Take a few deep breaths and visualize yourself rooting into the ground below.

Open your eyes, and find an object to focus on. In yoga this is called your “dristi”, it will serve as your point of focus throughout the entire time you are in tree pose.

Next, shift your weight to your left foot, and slowly place the sole of your right foot on the inside of your standing leg, toes pointing down. Above the knee for more advanced, below for beginners, but never on the knee itself.

Now place your hands in prayer position in front of your heart, and relax.

Press your foot into your leg, drop your shoulders and relax. Breathe.

Stay in this position if you are happy, or, separate your hands and bring your arms out into branches, or above your head.

Just stay wherever you are, and breathe.

Ask yourself : “ What parts of my body do I need to use here? Which ones am I holding onto that I can try to let go of?”

Press with you foot, drop your shoulders, relax your face, stay with your point of focus, and breath.

There are ways to advance this pose as you feel ready to learn them.

When you feel finished, slowly come out of the pose by reversing the same way you came into it. Once you have replaced your foot to the floor, close your eyes and feel what is going on inside your body.

When you are ready, try the other side.

If you have a hard time at first, please give yourself time, and do not get discouraged. For those of you with almost no balancing ability, consider working in waist high water in a pool, it’s a good way to get familiar with this pose. Everyone can improve their ability to balance, and everyone benefits from practicing balance poses. Tree pose is a very safe and effective way to practice this.

A student said to me one day “No matter what mood I’m in, whether I’m angry or happy or sad, I always go to that same place when I practice tree, it leaves me so peaceful”. I will be incorporating this pose into every class this month, so please feel free to join us, or better yet, try it right now.

The space at Hotel Arboleda unexpectedly became unavailable just before press time, and classes are cancelled until a new space is found. Please check the web site at for updates on a new location.