Trees have long been revered in cultural traditions around the world, such as in druidry (the oak), Native American spirituality, Hinduism (the tulsi and bilva), Buddhism (the banyan), African tribal life (the baobab), and Chinese culture (the gingko).
It is not an exaggeration to say that we owe our lives to trees. Trees take in carbon dioxide (as much as 48 lbs of CO2 per tree per year) and release oxygen. They remove greenhouse gases from the air and give us fresh air to breathe. In addition, they clean, filter, moisturize and cool the air; stabilize the soil, reduce storm runoff, protect against wind, and shelter many species.
In a busy, noisy world, trees remind us of a slower, more stately pace of patient endurance through changing times. We can learn from them how to be rooted, vital and expansive in the moment and live in awakened presence.
When you practice YEM (Yoga As Energy Medicine), you will find that Tree Pose, or Vrksasana in Sanskrit, calms and focuses your mind, strengthens your body’s stabilizing systems, creates engaged strength through your legs, relieves sciatica, reduces flat feet and stimulates your kidney, liver and spleen meridians. It also provides, as do all standing poses, a quick, visceral way to connect with your spine as a conduit for life-force energy and the flow of two-way moving energy through your body/being.
As you practice Vrksasana, remember that trees depend on roots. You may feel tempted in one-legged balance poses such as this to focus only on the leg being lifted off the ground, or only on the one standing. Feel the presence of your rootedness as a whole, and allow this energy to anchor you to the support of the Earth. Through this, life-force energy will naturally arise through you. The more you root through one leg, the more the other leg will effortlessly rise without willful effort.
1. Begin by standing with your feet together in Tadasana. This is your vertical zero point and will allow you to prepare for a strong Vrksasana.
2. Bring your awareness to two-way moving energy. Inhale, draw life-force energy through the whale spout at the crown of your head, as your tailbone rocks gently back. Sense or visualize life-force energy descending through your spine, through your body/being toward your center of gravity, just below your navel.
3. At the navel, pause. Then exhale and feel life-force energy split in two. It travels up your spine, out your crown toward the heavens, while simultaneously traveling down through your legs, out your feet and into the Earth.
4. Breathe in, feel life-force energy travel down your spine. Exhale, feel it move in two directions. Practice this two-way moving energy for a few breath cycles, feeling the natural backward rocking movement of your tailbone on your inhale and the gentle rock forward on your exhale.
5. When you feel ready, draw your complete awareness to your right leg. Notice how the energy moves through your right leg, through the sole of your foot, toward the floor. Feel receptive to that energy. Invite it in.
6. Broaden your awareness of your right foot, as though you were letting roots grow right through the floor and into the Earth.
7. Keep your knees relaxed, alert, and engaged, not locked. Your eyes are focused on a point in front of you that does not move. Your gaze is relaxed.
8. When you develop full awareness of the right side of your body, slowly and naturally your left foot will roll up off the floor.
9. Allow your left foot to rise onto your right ankle or your right shin, whatever feels comfortable, without shifting the weight in your hips.
10. Keep your shoulders relaxed, as they slide down the back of your body. Your chest and ribs are open and neutral.
11. As you allow yourself to ground, with energy moving down through your legs into the Earth, feel an extension arise through your body that begins from your feet. Energy effortlessly floats up through your spine and out the crown of your head. Feel your crown float up to the sky as your tailbone releases toward the Earth.
12. When you feel stable and steady, aware of this connection, bring your hands together in prayer in front of your chest, then up above the head.
13. Let your gaze be focused and relaxed. Your mind is steady and calm. Feel relaxed and alert, connected within and without from the crown of your head upward and from the tailbone, legs, and foot downward.
14. Your body is open and spacious, a tube of breath, a conduit for life-force energy.
15. When you feel you have had enough, gently release by bringing your arms back down alongside your body and slowly lowering your leg to the floor.
16. Repeat these steps on the other side and enjoy!
Parvati is an award-winning musician (I Am Light, Electro Yog, Yoga In The Nightclub), yogini (YEM: Yoga as Energy Medicine), author (Aonani of Avalon, Three Supreme Secrets for Lasting Happiness) and founder of the not-for-profit Parvati.org. All her work is dedicated to protecting all life on Earth by establishing the Marine Arctic Peace Sanctuary (MAPS). More info: parvati.tv; parvati.org.