One of the first balancing poses a beginner in yoga is introduced to is vrshkasana (tree pose). Free-standing on one leg is certainly a challenge to a beginner’s sense of balance, and that’s a useful thing to work on.
Of course your teacher will say, ‘find a focal point on the floor in front of you, so that focus will help you stay steady in the pose.’ That is concentration and it will help your stability.
B.K.S. Iyengar describes how we use concentration to find equilibrium in a pose in his book Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. He suggests that we connect the limbs and the senses to the mind and the mind to the core (discriminative intelligence). We do this by concentrating on adjusting the parts of our body so our wandering mind is harnessed to our intelligence and to the soul.
Which body parts? The navel, the ‘lotus of the heart’, the centre of the head, the ‘shining light’, the tip of the nose, and the root of the tongue.
One example of extraordinary concentration is found in the Indian epic Mahabharata. When Arjuna, the warrior prince, was practising archery he was asked what he used as a focus for best results. Arjuna said that when a bird was his target, he only saw the eye and nothing else existed for him.
Next time you do vrshkasana, notice how steadily you can hold the pose. Does your heart speed up, your breath become irregular, or your ankle wobbly? It may be just a break in your concentration. Chill. Try again with diaphragm soft, heart full, forehead and tongue relaxed, mind empty except for your focus. Keep that focal point but with your eyes soft. With practice, you’ll be able to widen your gaze to include your peripheral vision, and, like a majestic fig tree even filling the space all around you.
Concentration locks consciousness on a single area.*
*The Yoga-Sutra of Patanjali, a new translation and commentary by Chip Hartranft