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Vrkasana (Tree Pose) - Issues and solutions

List of some of the issues that can be relevant for practising this pose:

Vrkasana Potential Problem Areas Image



            · Balance

            · Shoulder Joints

            · Blood pressure and circulation

            · Hip joints

            Pregnancy






Balance

There are several possible reasons for having poor balance such as :- inner ear problems, tiredness, low blood pressure, weak muscles (in the supporting leg), low blood sugar levels, pregnancy…. Some students will find that on some days they have good balance and on others they have poor balance. Whatever the causes for poor balance, one clearly does not want to practise the pose in a way that means there is a high risk of falling over. There are several ways of reducing the demands of this pose from the point of view balance, including : resting the heel of the lifted foot on the ankle or toes of the other foot; placing a hand on a chair; practising with one’s back against a wall and standing back to back with a partner. In extreme cases of poor balance, some aspects of the pose can be experienced sitting or even lying down.


Shoulder Joints

Some find that lifting the arm into the overhead position is uncomfortable or indeed impossible – cf. “frozen” shoulder type issues. Having the arms lifted in the pose is not an essential aspect of the pose and there are many variants that do not require one to lift the arms above shoulder level.


Blood pressure and circulation

High blood pressure. Raising the arms overhead (especially if the hands are then used to do something, e.g. painting a ceiling) tends to raise blood pressure in the rest of the body while the arms are raised. This is not normally a problem, but is not advisable in those who already have an overly elevated blood pressure (due to increased risk of problems like strokes). The solution is to practise a version that does not involve raising the arms overhead or to only raise and lower the arms with the breath rather than holding them up statically.

Low blood pressure. When staying in a standing position for extended periods, there is a tendency for blood to pool in the legs leading to a lowering of blood pressure in the head. This, in turn, can lead to faintness (and a risk of falling over). Thus, those with a tendency to low blood pressure or sluggish circulation should avoid holding such static poses for extended periods (say more than a few breaths). Also, to avoid an increased likelihood of problems like varicose veins, it is best to follow with a practice (such as leg inversion or leg movement) that will tend to encourage surplus blood to return to the trunk.


Hip joints

Tightness (or weakness) in muscles that are involved in hip joint movement can limit how far up the foot can be lifted and/or how far the leg can be rotated to the side. This is not really a problem as one simply takes these aspects of the pose as far as feels comfortable.


Pregnancy

Practising yoga in the first trimester is considered by most yoga teachers to be contra-indicated. The only explanation I have heard for this is that in the first trimester there is a fairly high tendency for spontaneous miscarriage and this could in principle be exacerbated by yoga (although, as far as I know, there is no evidence for this). Possibly a mid-wife or an expert pregnancy yoga teacher might be able to give a better explanation.

In the later stages of pregnancy, one of the issues that needs to be borne in mind is that the womb starts to press against the inferior vena cava (main vein in the trunk) and the aorta (main artery). This has implications for blood circulation to and from the legs, which is prone to some sluggishness. Hence it is unwise to hold any standing static pose for extended periods - with risks of discomfort, tiredness (in legs) and an increased likelihood, over the long term, of getting varicose veins or tissue fluid issues (oedema) in the legs. With regard to tree pose, a solution is to hold for only a couple of breaths or to enter and leave the pose without any holding period. It is very important to follow up any pose involving static legs with leg movement and have some sort of leg inversion near the end of one’s asana practice.

Another issue relates to balance. As one’s body changes shape, the centre of balance changes (sometimes quite rapidly) – this can make balance postures feel strange, if not difficult. Obviously, it is particularly important not to risk falling over, so one should approach the pose in a way that leaves one feeling confident of having a stable balance in the pose.

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