Going with the theme of Isvara Pranidhana of the 8 limbs(as explained in the previous blog posts), I have decided to choose Vrkshasana as a reminder of our connection to the earth and surrendering ourselves to the universe.
HOW TO DO VRKSHASANA
STEP 1: Tadasana
Before we get into the asana, we have to ensure our base pose in standing is done correctly.
Image credits : https://www.fashionlady.in/tadasana-benefits/133166
However, quite often in our base pose can we already find certain parts that deviate from the ideal posture in standing.
Below are the list of some of the common causes and impairments contributing to a misaligned Tadasana in table format: (from base foot up to head )
|Toe in/toe out
||Tight hip external rotators
||Anatomically flat/arched foot/ stretched tendons
||Poor motor control of quads(tends to overactivate concentrically), laxed posterior ligaments of the knee, lengthened hamstrings
|pelvis is anteriorly tilted/ lumbar lordotic/arched
||Tightness/overactivation of hip flexors, weakness of hip extensors. Can also lead present with hyperextended knees
|Pelvis is posteriorly tilted/ Lumbar kyphotic/slouched (sway back posture)
||Can also present with hyperextended knees when pelvis shifted forwards. Poor activation of hip flexors, overactivated hamstrings
|Thoracic kyphotic, Rounded shoulders/protracted shoulder blades
||Tightness of pecs, weakness of rhomboids, mid traps
|Forward head and Poked chin
|Upper cross syndrome-weakness(lengthened) cervical deep neck flexors, rhomboids and lower traps
Overactivated and tight upp traps, Levator scap,suboccipitalis, pec
image credits: https://www.elliehermanpilates.com/ellies-blog/2017/11/20/how-to-help-hyperextension-its-all-in-your-mind
STEP 2: (As according to the picture)Getting to Vrkshasana
-R hip flexed, abduct then externally rotated(concentric contraction of the mm assisting in the movement).
-R knee flexed and ankle dorsiflexed(concentric contraction) One might use the upper limbs to assist the foot to be placed properly on the medial thigh.
-Flex/abduct shoulders over head(concentric contraction), while keeping elbow extended
Image credits : https://www.tummee.com/yoga-poses/vrksasana
List of some common misalignments
|L foot/ankle wobbling/rolling
||Reduce foot intrinsics gripping toes on ground, can also be reduce proprioception within the ankle joints
|L toe out
||Tight L hip external rotators/weak internal rotators
|Reduce R hip externally rotation, compensates with trunk rotation to R
||Tightness of R hip Internal rotators and adductors
|R and L hip not aligned, usually R hip dropping
||Reduce L gluteus medius activation
|elbows not extended and palms not pressed against each other
||Inactive upper limbs
|Raised scapula and shoulder and neck towards ear
||Overactive scapular elevators
STEP 3: Vrkshasana
Once in the asana and holding the post for 5-10 breaths.
All muscles are in isometric contraction as there should be stillness and no movement.
BABY STEPS TO IMPROVE OUR ASANAS:
By identifying our impairments (non-exhaustive list above), we can work towards it in isolation first, before finally incoroporating to the final pose.
Some examples of the impairments listed above to work on:
1) Postural correction in standing against a wall
-Heels, glutes, shoulder blades and occiput of the head should be aligned with the wall. Tuck in the chin and slightly retract the shoulder blade.
-Looking forwards to first align vertically using a mirror/ or comparing to an object that is vertical and straight(eg pillar/grills of a window)
-Check that the left and Right ears, clavicles, shoulders, pelvis, knee and foot are aligned horizontally and whether body is rotated L/R.
-Consciously soften the knee(slightly flex to avoid knee extension in standing. Add in functional movements (eg marching on the spot, toe raise in standing, walking).
2) Foot intrinsics strengthening and activation
image credits: https://d3i71xaburhd42.cloudfront.net/be55fd2668ba20b109c941be9de1500079d24ec8/3-Figure3-1.png
-flexing and extending the toes of the foot at the start to understand the movement
-using the mat/yoga towel to ‘grip’ the mat with the toes (can be first done in sitting to isolate movement to only the foot)
-Progress to standing at the back of the yoga mat in standing, extend toes, then flex and grip the mat to pull the foot forwards (+/-ankle DF and PF) , till the foot reaches the head of the yoga mat.
-Another variation is in bilateral foot standing with heel raise while being aware to activate gripping of the toes. Progress to single leg standing with heel raise, while maintaining balance(also helps to improve proprioception)
-repeat 10 reps X3 sets
3) Stretches for tight hip internal rotators and adductors:
-passive stretches(gravity-assisted). Lie down in supine in supta baddha konasana(single leg to double leg stretches) or in sitting baddha konasana- using the palms to assist knees in external rotation closer to the ground
-active stretches with lizards pose (utthan pristhasana). Lunge with the forwards knee in external rotation and weight shift to the lateral side of the foot, actively rotating the hip externally.
Image credit: https://www.popsugar.com/fitness/How-Do-Lizard-Pose-aka-Utthan-Pristhasana-3442560
-progress to standing with 1 leg hip external rotations and abduction +/- against a wall for balance and aligment, ensure nil rotation of the trunk towards the side lower limb that is moving. Repeat 10 reps with holding of minimum 30 secs.
4) Gluteus medius activation in single leg standing to maintain neutral pelvic alignment
-standing perpendicular with the wall, place the thumb on the ASIS. Lift up the leg that is against the wall in single leg standing. Ensure that both the left and right side is aligned by activating the gluteus medius. Repeat 10 times with both Left and Right sides.
image credit: https://www.precisionmovement.coach/gluteus-medius-exercises/
-Now, stand away from the wall, using the same technique as above, put both thumbs on each ASIS to ensure no hip hiking on single leg standing.
5) Finally, Vrkshasana
-incorporate the above steps 1-4 can help you to feel more stable and balanced, but this is just the start of getting into the Vrkshasana. Practising the pose in a longer duration will help to strengthen the muscles isometrically.
Eventually this asana together with the steady breath, will bring about a state of clarity, balanced energy and lightness of the body and the mind.
Understanding how to get into an asana pose and identifying our impairments can help us to be more align to the ideal posture. Using our breath with the movements can increase our awareness and concentration going to the pose. The list of impairments above are non-exhaustive and are mostly linked to muscle/joint impairments (does not cover the nervous system, ligaments, fascias,proprioceptors of the joints). One may also be anatomically disadvantaged (eg leg length discrepancy) or have predisposed medical conditions (eg spinal fusion) that may make it difficult to achieve the ideal posture. It is also possible that the cause of the misaligned foot can be a result of the upper chain of the body(eg hip) or vice versa, and not limited to one predisposition.
However, it is important to note that the goal of any asana is not in achieving the perfect posture. It is in developing your self awareness of the relationship between your physical body, mind and spirit.