Tree pose is one of my favorite poses.
This morning I got to remember why I love it so much. It’s one I like to do as I pose for pictures in my travel adventures—on top of a mountain , in a waterfall. I get to be a lone tree in the desert or be surrounded by other trees in the forest. I typically only hold it for as long as the photo lasts.
It isn’t a pose I incorporate into my regular practice anymore, though I used to do it every day. This morning, however, it found its way back into my routine and I got to fully experience being a tree. Tree pose is, of course, ripe with analogies for lessons to take off the mat – here are a few of my favorites:
Balance Is Not Static
There is movement within every balance pose.
As I stand like a tree this morning, I remember the first time this revelation came to me. I had just moved to Oregon. I was staying in my relative’s renovated attic guest room. It was a house tucked in the foothills, surrounded by those magnificent Pacific Northwest pines — how could you not be inspired to start practicing tree pose?
I had just moved cross-country. I had no place to live and no job. I had turned my life upside-down and needed to get some balance back. So I began doing tree pose every day.
There was this little painting of a red squirrel on the wall facing me and I would stare into the eye of that squirrel as my point of focus. I was always trying to stay really still to keep my balance. That would only work for so long.
One day as I stood there, balanced on one foot, I felt myself sway. I saw the image in my mind of those tall strong trees and even they swayed in the wind. Of course! There is movement to balance! You can’t stand still and expect to hold everything up! You have to move, make slight adjustments with your surroundings, with whatever is going on around you in order to keep the balance and in order to not fall down.
It is a subtle dance, legs rooted firmly to the ground, yet the rest of the body needs to move and needs to dance. Bow a bit this way, bend a millimeter that way.
There is a dance too between what is going on within you. How are you relating and reacting? Are you being stubborn, stuck in a certain place and not willing to move? That is just setting yourself up for falling down. Or, are you wanting to follow every turn of the breeze, in any direction?
If you lean too far to one side, you fall. But compensate by leaning too far to the opposite side and again, you fall. This reminds me of when my life starts getting too busy and I’m too caught up in all the things I need to do. I stop exercising and stop eating right. I feel myself falling. But then I try to make a plan to get back on track — I’ll eat salad every night and run every day. I tell myself, “Woah, just fell again.”
There needs to be both a little give and a little strength. Your roots and trunk are strongly planted in the center of who you are, but your limbs need to give and take in your interactions in this world. That is balance.
Lose Focus, You Fall
Just when I think I’ve got this balance thing all figured out, I take my gaze off that little squirrel eye and fall. Sometimes this happens and I don’t even realize I’ve fallen until after the fact. I’m lying sick in bed, because I stopped focusing on balancing between stuff I need to do and taking care of myself.
That momentum of the fall is always there, but if I’m not focused, I don’t even notice, and I don’t even feel myself going down until I’ve hit the floor. We all know how fast it can happen. Balance is work. It doesn’t just magically happen. Balance occurs because you are making a conscious effort to create it in your life. Balance becomes a focal point.
Trees are Humble
Tree pose is a great way to learn humility. You fall and you just get back up. Learn this in tree pose and it’s a lot easier to get back up when that real wind knocks you down. You don’t just stop and move onto another pose the first time you fall, or even the second or third.
Some days I may fall several times trying to get balanced into my tree, and that is a good practice. I learn more on those days, more about my body, more about what’s going on in my mind, then on the days my legs seem to effortless get into and stay in tree.
Give Tree Pose a Try
Begin by standing with both feet on the ground, a few inches apart. Take a couple deep breaths, feel yourself rooted to the ground and sense your place in the world. Then bring strength to the left leg as it presses down.
Breathe in as you bring your right foot up to rest on the inside or front of your left leg. Make sure your foot is either above or below the knee, but not right beside it, as this can put stress on the knee joint. Breathe your palms together at heart center.
Find a point a few feet in front of you to focus on to help maintain balance. If you want, lift your hands up over head, either with the palms still together, or arms spread apart. Feel how your body gives and takes to maintain balance and what little adjustments it has to make.
Don’t forget to do the pose on the opposite leg as well.
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Assistant Editor: Brian Bruce Casteel Logan/Ed: Brianna Bemel