October 21, 2014

Practical Yogic Advice from a Tree.

Tree Poem

One of the most popular balancing poses in yoga is vrksasana, the tree pose.

You’ve probably been in class and heard some version of your teacher asking you to “raise your arms and grow your branches.”

There is an aspect to this advice that is often overlooked. Like a tree must be rooted into the earth before it can start to grow its branches, we must be properly grounded before we can fully express our yogic selves. When we are grounded and calm, peacefully observing like a tree, balancing in difficult postures and balancing the challenges in everyday life becomes much easier.

The tallest trees have the deepest of roots.

This thought was offered during one of my friend Siddhartha’s yoga classes and has stuck with me ever since. Most of the largest trees in the world have taproots that grow deep within the earth, anchoring down in the nutrient rich soil.

This anchor allows trees to weather storms and continue to grow upwards, seeking the nourishing rays of the sun. Even as they lengthen upwards, tress extend their roots deeper, stretching in both directions.

Let’s explore how to apply this concept to root ourselves deeper in our yoga practice.

Rooting through the feet.

Anytime that we enter a standing posture we can envision ourselves as sending our roots down past our yoga mats and into the earth itself.

Imagine standing in tadasana (mountain pose), getting ready to flow through the start of a sun salutation. Our feet planted firmly into our mats with our toes spread wide apart, the tips of our roots anchoring into the earth.

Our pinky and big toes and the two sides of our heels press into the earth, causing the arches of our feet to lift like a trunk emerging from the ground. This forms the root of the kinetic chain that allows us to stand up taller.

The kinetic chain works up our body as we engage our thighs and our knee caps rise. Imagine our tailbone extending down towards the ground at the same time as the crown of our head rises towards the sky. This will naturally lengthen our spine as we mimic growing in both directions.

Feel each inhalation draw the energy from the earth up through our roots, all the way up to the crown of our head. Feel each exhalation send any tension, any distractions, down our body and through our feet to be absorbed away by the earth.

Essentially, in all of our standing positions we root down to rise up.

EJ Tree Pic

Rooting through the hands.

But our roots can also be applied to our hands whenever they are in contact with the mat. Here we can take a lesson from many of the trees growing the Amazon rainforest. To take advantage of the nutrients provided by decaying leaves in the superficial layers of soil, many Amazonian trees spread their roots laterally to access more nutrients.

Whenever our hands come into contact with the ground we seek to emulate these trees, spreading our fingers as wide as possible. This increased surface area provides a stronger base for arm balances and poses like downward facing dog and plank.

Let’s explore this effect in bakasana, the crow pose. The next time we prepare to come into crow, remember to root down through your hands. Spreading our fingers wide like the roots of a mangrove tree, allowing the weight of our body to disperse across a greater area into the earth.

Apply equal weight between all four corners of our hand. Feel our fulcrum, the L shape between your index finger and thumb, press into the mat. Keep our fingertips pressing into the mat. This will prevent the common tendency to place too much weight in the heels and outside edges of our hands, which can compress our carpal nerves (such as the ulnar nerve and median nerve), and will provide us with greater control of our bodyweight.

We will find more grip and this will allow us to make micro-adjustments in our hands and fingers to find greater balance. When the challenging winds of arm balances gust, our strong connection with the earth will allow us to sway with the breeze instead of toppling over.

Again, rooting down through our hands sets the groundwork for rising higher and stronger in our arm balances, and all other postures.

Rooting in a yogic lifestyle.

The concept of emulating a tree transcends just physical practice and applies to a well-rounded approach to yoga. Ashtanga yoga is referred to as having eight limbs, or eight branches. At its base are the yamas and niyamas, restraints and observances that create ethical guidelines for peaceful living.

The yamas and niyamas come before the third limb of asana, the postures we often associate with mainstream yoga. No matter how we can contort our bodies, how long we can meditate, if we do not stay true to our peaceful yogic roots we are not living yoga.

But if we continue to send our roots deeper, there is no limit to how high we can rise.

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           Apprentice Editor: Brenna Fischer, Editor: Ashleigh Hitchcock

          Photo: Courtesy of AuthorIlan Shamir and Genevieve Munro


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