Tree Pose (updated)
The Tree Pose as we know it was originally called Bhagīratha-asana by Krishnamacharya - the father of modern day yoga. Named after the Vedic royal prince, Bhagīratha. Legend says the ancestors of prince Bhagīratha where doomed by a curse from the sage Kapila.
"Your uncles O Bhagīrathaa, can only be purified by the holy waters of the River Ganga, which resides in the heavens", said Kapila.
When Bhagīratha heard of the great curse, he became determined to force the celestial Ganga to come to the earth and thus give salvation to his ancestors. Bhagīratha went to the Himalayas and performed rigorous penance to Śhiva, standing only on one leg.
Image above: The sage Bhagīratha praying to Śhiva.
Below: The celestial Ganga appears to wash the sins of Bhagīratha's ancestors.
Krishnamacharya called the Tree Pose Bhagīrathasana because of the values in this story. He said, “When doing Bhagīrathasana, keep the great Bhagīratha in mind. Bring tireless perseverance and steadfast concentration to your practice.”
“This posture represents the intense penance of Bhagīratha,” says Kausthub Desikachar, son and student of the yoga master T.K.V. Desikachar. “It’s supposed to motivate us to work towards our goal even if there are many obstacles in the way.” That doesn’t mean you have to stand on one leg for years. “The point is to make a dedicated effort to one’s practice,” he says. “It makes us strong, it enhances our willpower, and we achieve amazing benefits.”
Image left - the prince Bhagīratha. Image right - the demon king Ravana performing the same penance pose in the hindu epic The Ramayana
"This pose may help get some physical benefits. But the true idea behind the symbolism is mostly lost. When that happens, it becomes a caricature. But, if one practises this pose with the intensity of Bhagiratha in mind, then it will help develop the function" - Manathirku Varuvathellam.
Correct yourself: Don't allow the inside arch of left foot to collapse (looking at the image above). Spread your weight even across the foot. In many ways your standing foot (as the foundation) is the most important part of the pose. If the foot position is not correct, the pose itself will suffer.
Bring the heel of the right foot as high as you can towards the groin. Use the muscles of your foot to grip your foot to the inside of your leg, toes pointing downwards. Really stretch your toes and use them to claw and grip to your leg.
Simultaneously turn the left hip and the right knee away. Feel like you are opening your hips like a book.
Join the palms and raise the arms over the head. Reach high in the pose. "Bring tireless perseverance in your practice".
Further reading: The Significance of Shiva - A follow up to this blog.