Namaste everyone and happy Holidays!
So what is Downward Facing Tree Pose? Well, it is better known as Handstand or Full Arm Balance. I want to align and refine this pose practiced against a wall with you. It really is a fun pose to play with once you have overcome any fear of being upside down. It is an excellent arm and shoulder strengthener. If you are still working on that and even working on overcoming fear, I have some nice Handstand variations at the end of the article you can work with. Either way, this pose is wonderfully energizing. Give it a try!
Instructions for getting into the pose:
- Place your yoga mat perpendicular against the wall. Facing the wall, place your hands shoulder width apart about 5 to 7 inches away from the wall and come to Adho Mukha Svanasana / Downward Facing Dog Pose (See July’s Yoga Pose of the Month ). Shorten the stance slightly by walking your feet in towards your hands.
- Now lift your head to look up and shift your shoulders directly over your wrists. You will be transferring more and more of your body weight into your hands. Press the hands into the floor “as you grow tall” in the arms.
Maintain your elbows straight at all times and keep lifting your shoulders.
- Bend one knee and step that side foot a bit closer to your hands. This side leg will work as “the pusher” for getting into the pose.
Lift the other side leg up as high as you can without turning the hip points toward that side (both hip points should be facing to the wall). This leg will be “the swinger” for getting into the pose.
- Without rounding your back, now look where the floor meet the wall. With that one leg lifted high, press the other side foot into the floor and spring it up on an exhale. At the same time strongly swing the straight leg to the wall, bringing the back body to the wall and lifting the pelvis over your shoulders. Keep bringing “the pusher leg” up and straighten it to the wall. Both legs are now together with heels on the wall.
How to get out of the pose:
Keep lifting up through your arms, shoulders and hips as you lower one leg and then the other down to the floor. For a moment stay in a Uttanasana / Forward Bend Pose (see September’s Yoga Pose of the Month) and then come back up to standing.
Work in the pose:
- Keep pressing down the mounds of your fingers. Press the inner rim of your hand down actively. This will help with lifting through the inner elbows (keeps the arms straight) and inner shoulders.
- Squeeze the outer elbows in (also keeps the arms straight) / hug the outer arms in
- If you feel that the lower back collapses (aka banana shape), then the following actions can help:
- Move your shoulders away from the wall, the back of your arms toward the wall and lift the arm bones up
- For a moment look forward and up (helps with accessing the back body) then flex your feet and strongly reach your heels up the wall. Reach the top rim of your buttocks flesh up toward the Pull the front lower ribs into the body and lift the inner wall of your sternum up toward the ceiling (avoiding it to collapse to the floor)
- Roll the front of the thighs towards each other and press the legs together
- Relax your head, neck and gaze
Different ways of experimenting with the pose:
- Turning your hands outward up to 90° can make it easier for you to keep the elbows straight. Also it is easier on the wrist.
- Placing a looped yoga belt (looped to shoulder width) just below the elbows helps to keep the arms strong and straight.
- Practicing the pose in a wider door frame helps you with building arm and shoulder strength. Also it is a less scary way to go upside down because of the full support.
How to get into the pose:
- Place your hands left and right of the door frame (the side where the door is not connected).
- Press your hands down and work the arms and shoulders like explained above and bring your back body onto the frame.
- Then step one foot and then the other onto the other side of the doorframe and walk the legs up like in the photo
- This is the inverted L-pose variation. It is a nicely supported variation but can prove quite tough for shoulder flexibility.
How to get into the pose:
- Sit in Dandasana / Staff Pose (see October’s Yoga Pose of the Month) with your back touching the wall. Mark where your heels are. At this mark you will place your hands for a table top position where your head faces away from the wall and your toes towards the wall. Keep your shoulders over your wrists as you tuck your toes, lift the hips and walk your feet up the wall until you can bring your hips over the wrists. Your legs and trunk should be close to a right angle.
- The Woman’s Yoga Book by Bobby Clennell, published by Rodmell Press, CA, 2007
- Iyengar Yoga by T. Thomas and B.A. Thomas, published by Xlibris, USA, 2008
- The different variations and the prep work were also inspired by the Iyengar classes I attend regularly
Katja Huiras is a 500 hr certified Yoga teacher who teaches alignment based yoga classes in the Lehigh Valley. In 2009 she was introduced to Iyengar Yoga and was intensely inspired by its method. Since then she regularly studies and practices with certified Iyengar Yoga teachers. Furthermore, she just completed a Therapeutic Yoga Intensive Teacher Training and assists in a Iyengar Yoga Back Care class in NJ.