What Muscles Do You Work in the Tree Pose?

Tree pose requires balancing on one leg.
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For many beginners, balancing poses such as tree are the most stressful part of yoga class. The room is quiet. Your neighbors on nearby mats are graceful and poised, looking like they could stand on one leg all day. Meanwhile, your ankles wobble like a baby giraffe taking its first step. But it will get easier. The key to a steady tree pose is correct muscle engagement.


The foundation of your tree starts with that one foot on the ground. Start by standing on the left leg. If possible, spread your toes, though it takes many yoga newcomers a while to learn toe control. Lift the arch of your left foot, and engage your quadriceps, the muscles in your thigh, so that your kneecap lifts. This is another of those tricks that new yogis find difficult. When you first try this, the tendency is for the knee to press back in a locked position. Instead, you want it to glide upward. The hamstrings, the muscles in the back of your leg, lengthen. Your leg should feel strong and solid. Place your right foot on the inside of your standing leg, either below or above the knee. Open your right knee out to the right so you feel your right hip flexors engage.


Engaging your core muscles helps you balance in tree pose. Pull your abdominal muscles -- rectus abdominus and transverse abdominus -- in and slightly up. Contract the muscles of your pelvic floor, as in a Kegel exercise. Barbara Kaplan Herring, a yoga teacher in the San Francisco Bay Area, suggests focusing on the midline of your body. If you neglect your midline, Herring says, your weight will fall too much onto the outer edge of your standing leg, making balance unstable.


Lifting the arms overhead and pressing the palms together requires adductors.

In tree pose, the spine is long. The metaphor of the tree is more apt than you’ll find in most yoga pose nomenclature. Like a tree, you root down through your leg while reaching up with your arms. This requires a long, strong spine. Your tailbone lengthens toward the floor. While the abdominal muscles isometrically engage, so do the erector spinae, the muscles of the back.


Tree is done with several different arm positions. The most basic is to bring the hands together in front of the chest in prayer position. This requires little from the arms. Yogis often do tree pose with arms lifted, shoulder width apart. In "Light on Yoga," B.K.S. Iyengar demonstrates tree with the arms lifted high, elbows straight, and palms pressing together. This position is more strenuous on the arms than the first two described, and requires adduction of the arms, that is, movement toward the midline of the body. The main arm adductors are the lattisimus dorsi, the pectoralis major and the teres major. However, you would have to stay in tree an awfully long time to develop your arm muscles this way.

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