Root to Rise Principle
You may have heard me and countless other yoga teachers give the cue "root to rise" or "press down to lift up" because this is the cue or action that stabilises our foundation within a yoga posture
Why is this principle so important?
Its our starting point from which we can grow in our yoga practice. The taller the tree the deeper the roots, the same applies to the body, applying force downwards will create an opposing force upwards, therefore creating a sense of lightness and ease within the body
The feet must be balanced and sturdy to support the legs, spine, arms and head. If our base is weak and collapsing it will reflect further up in the body as misalignment. The feet not only need to be stable, they also need to be flexible and adaptable, so rather than thinking of the feet as a foundation of a house that's immovable, its best to think of the feet constantly moving and stabilizing like the wheels on a car, that four wheel alignment is important to keep you on the straight and narrow while you continue to move. However the wheels don't act alone and nor do the feet. Activation in the feet first begins with awareness and then in the legs. Imagine drawing a line of energy from the top of the femur (thigh bone) down to the feet to create a rebounding effect back up the legs. In short, the act of rooting down to rise up, is the basis for a strong, flexible foundation and safer alignment.
What I like most about the root to rise principle is that it can ground our energy. It takes us out of the thinking mind (which doesn't always have our best interests at heart as this is where the ego lives and it's always trying to trick us!). Rooting down brings us more in contact with the Earth and closer inside ourselves so we can move and live from a deeper more grounded place. When we are grounded and steady we tend to make better decisions not just on the mat but off the mat. The next time you're not sure of what action to take, stand firmly on your two feet, close the eyes and take a deep breathe in so you can start to look inside yourself for the answers rather than externally.
How do you root to rise?
Bringing it back to the physical body and the yoga practice, the best way to root down is by using bandha's (body locks), particularly in the feet (pada bandha) and in the hands (hasta bandha) as these are the parts of the body that are in contact with the ground most in the yoga practice.
The quick and easy way to apply the root to rise principle is to press whatever is in contact with the floor down so you can lift everything else up with more ease. When we get into the nitty gritty details, it requires a lot more awareness of what the feet are doing, so you can eventually achieve a stronger foundation and safer alignment through a mindful practice. Lets look a little a bit more closely at the Pada and Hasta bandha's.
Rooting down into the base of the big toe, the base of the baby toe and the front of the heel creates an energetic triangle in the sole of the foot that facilitates the lift of the inner arch upwards. When we apply force down from the head of the femur into the front of the heel we help even more to receive a rebound of energy back up the body.
The importance of four corners of the feet really come into play to help the body move more fluidity and with less restriction. We aim to keep the four corners grounded most of the time, if you are looking to externally rotate the hips say for example in warrior II Pose (Virabhrasana II), it can be helpful to apply a little but more force into the outer heel, while keeping the inner edge of the foot connected to the ground. This action aids the hip to gently open and the front knee can more easily stay aligned over the heel so the pose becomes more organic as the ankle, knee and hip move as a whole rather than the joints moving independently of each other.
Applying more pressure to the inner heel however helps to internally rotate the inner thighs and encourages the pelvis to tilt forward aiding forward bends and back-bends
Similar to the feet building a base for the legs and hips, the hands help to support the wrists, arms and shoulders. We tend to put more weight into the outer hand therefore lifting the inner hand away from the floor, this can end up feeling painful in the wrists. To find balance in the hands press all the finger tips into the floor almost as if you wanted pick the mat up by the stickiness of the fingers. Root the base of the the fingers into the mat, emphasize rooting the base of the index finger and thumb.
To get a feel for it, bring your hands together into Namaste (prayer hands), press all the finger tips into each other, then press the base of the fingers against each other, particularly the base of the index fingers and the thumbs, the outer hands are still touching but feel the strength of the inner hands transferring up the arms into the shoulders. Can you feel the space right in the centre of the palms, this is the area that suctions upwards?
Next time that you are in Down Dog or Plank pose try applying Hasta Bandha with the addition of pressing the top of the humerus (upper arm bone) into the inner hand, allowing the shoulder blades to soften down the back towards the hips.
Root to Rise in Action:
Vrkasana - Tree Pose
Vrk - Tree Asana - Pose
By regularly practicing balance poses like Tree Pose you gain concentration, focus, co-ordination and a steady balanced mind. Tree pose connects you to the earth as you root down through the standing foot. Allow the movement or swaying to occur in your body just like a tree in a gentle breeze or maybe even a hurricane! You'll grow in confidence as you stand tall and balanced, allowing the thinking brain to move down into the feet trusting the body to find its own natural centre and strength.
Mental and Emotional Benefits
Calming and Meditative
Stretches the thighs, groin, torso and shoulders
Tones the abdominal muscles
Improves sense of balance and co-ordination
Cautions and Contraindications
Low blood pressure
Lighted headed or dizziness
High blood pressure (Don't put hands over head, keep them at heart or on the hips)
Hints and Tips
Come into the pose slowly and with awareness
Root down to rise up with 4 corners evenly weighted
Focus your eye gaze
Keep foot above or below the knee. (DO NOT PUT WEIGHT ON THE KNEE)