Balancing Effort and Ease: Tree Pose
Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.
Improve your ability to relax and work with this yoga pose.
Written by: Sage Rountree
In yoga, we look to strike a balance between effort (sthira) and ease (sukha) in each pose—to find the line between the hard and the soft. The same holds in running. We need to work hard enough to hit our chosen pace, but easy enough to maintain our speed over our chosen distance. It’s a constant negotiation.
The classic yoga pose vrksasana, or tree pose, lets you strike the balance between work and rest, between steadiness and lightness. You can take this pose right now to see what I mean.
Stand tall, either barefoot or in comfortable, low-heeled shoes. Shift the weight to your left leg, bend your right knee, and rotate your right leg to the right, propping your right heel against your left inner ankle like a kickstand. Check that your hips are level; don’t let the right hip hike up.
If you don’t feel the effort yet, slide the sole of your right foot up the inner edge of your left leg. It can rest against the calf or the thigh; avoid the knee, which gets enough strain in your running and doesn’t need any external lateral pressure.
Use your core, your arms, your breath, and your gaze to hold yourself steady. (You can use a wall, too.) Notice how much work is needed here—your left lower leg is working, your core is working, your brain is working—and how much rest you can bring in, whether in the working areas or in other places in your body, such as your hands, your shoulders, your jaw, and your forehead. If you change the position of your arms, working harder by taking them in front of your chest, out to the sides, or overhead, where can you then relax more?
After a few breaths, lower your right foot and repeat the pose on the other side.
Notice the interplay here between work and rest, effort and ease. If you overwork, you’ll lose some balance and you won’t be able to maintain the pose. If you underwork, you’re missing the challenge of the pose, which develops your sense of where your body is in space.
Like the pose, the tree itself makes a lovely metaphor for combining effort and ease. During the warmer months, a tree is actively growing, coming into leaf, and dropping seeds; during the cooler months, the tree is passively resting in preparation for the next cycle. Seek your own alternating cycle in this pose, your running, and your life, and you’ll feel more balanced and grounded.
Sage Rountree, Runner’s World’s yoga expert, is author of The Athlete’s Guide to Yoga and The Athlete’s Pocket Guide to Yoga. In addition to teaching yoga workshops nationwide, she is an active coach with certifications from USA Triathlon and the RRCA.