January signifies new beginnings, a fresh, new, canvas on which to paint our intentions. The new year often inspires a commitment to living a healthier lifestyle, including caring for our bodies, stimulating our minds and seeking new, revitalizing experiences, or experimenting with balancing what we already do with practices that complement our lives.
The key is patience. Changes, big or small, take time. It takes time to form new habits. While you may feel the urge to jump into your new regimen with both feet, sometimes it’s wise to start by dipping a few toes in first.
If you’re thinking about starting—or restarting—a yoga practice, and you can’t figure out how to shoehorn practice into a packed schedule, it can be a fun creative challenge to figure out how to sprinkle some yoga into your day. Because I have a part-time desk job, I like to take mini asana breaks. One of my favorite ways to break up the physical and mental sludge that accumulates while I sit at the computer is to practice Talasana (Palm Tree Pose).
Last month I wrote about Judith Lasater’s luxurious Restorative pose, Instant Maui. Talasana continues the tropical theme, which might be a conceptual antidote for January’s colder, darker days. While I won’t pretend that Palm Tree Pose will transport you to a beach resort, even for a few seconds, I’m willing to bet it will raise your energy and maybe even your spirits.
Palm Tree Pose is really a variant of Tadasana (Mountain Pose), the basic standing pose upon which all other poses are built, at least according to the Iyengar tradition. When I studied with Iyengar in 1989, I felt that if, after three weeks of intensive classes, I had an inkling of an understanding of Tadasana, I’d be more than happy. I feel it’s the key to understanding all the rest of the asanas.
Like a swaying palm tree, Talasana builds on Tadasana’s foundation. In Talasana, we set down strong roots, stabilize our trunk, and allow our coconuts (skulls) and arms (leaves) to bend with the wind. Okay. That’s a pretty corny image, but it actually might be a helpful way to approach the practice.
Practicing Palm Tree Pose
Stand with your feet about hips width apart. If you know where your ischial tuberosities (sit bones) are, you may want to experiment with setting your feet directly below them. Give your weight to your feet. Then extend your feet into the floor as if you are putting down roots. You may feel a gentle upward rebound in your body as you plant your feet. If so, you are experiencing what Donna Farhi calls “active yield,” creating a balanced relationship to the force of gravity. Take a few deep breaths in Tadasana, feeling how your relationship to gravity shifts on the inhalation and exhalation.
Raise your arms overhead. There are several ways to connect your hands. The traditional hand position is to interlace your fingers and turn your palms upward. Another variation that I like is to clasp one wrist with your other hand. In this case, clasp your right wrist with your left hand. You can also widen your arms to at least shoulder-width apart and hold a strap (as in the photo). Experiment with all these options to decide which works best for you on a given day.
Root deeply through your right foot, extending the pelvis down into your foot, and bend to the left. Stay for five to ten breaths, allowing your body to be moved by your breath. Explore twisting and bending from here. Take some time and play with it. See what areas of tension you can uncover by moving around. A palm tree bends in the direction of the wind. Use your internal wind (your breath) and your body awareness to guide you to where your torso, shoulders and arms need the most attention.
Stay easy with it. As with all yoga asana, Talasana practice is not a performance. It’s an opportunity to explore and awaken the unconscious corners of our bodies and minds. When you come back to the center, stand silently in Tadasana to allow Talasana to settle into your body, and to feel what has changed. Then move to the other side, remembering that your second side is a whole new exploration.
Make a commitment to getting up from your desk every 20-30 minutes and make like a palm tree. Note how your mind and body respond to even a short respite.
All the sites I read when looking for other viewpoints on Talasana spoke a bit apologetically about how easy it is, how it’s only a stepping stone to the more important, fancier poses. I disagree. While Palm Tree Pose can serve as a great warm-up for asana practice, it is a worthy pose on its own. You don’t need a yoga mat or to change into yoga-specific clothing to practice. It’s a pose you can weave into your life, in the little windows of time sprinkled throughout the day. If you want to grow a yoga practice, Talasana gives you a place to set down your roots.