What did the tree learn from the earth to be able to talk with the sky?
Before humans invented a written language, they used symbols to depict their relationships with themselves, each other, life and the universe. As civilization progressed and the written word over-took the need to communicate with symbols, we are still polarized and our imaginations unleashed when we see a pictorial representation of an idea, an emotion or the universal consciousness.
They each provoke a memory, a wish or a longing. They’re representations of the human need to articulate our purpose and our path. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “We are symbols, and inhabit symbols.” We draw them in notebooks, tattoo them on our bodies and carve them into rock. Symbols are our way of making a statement that words alone can’t convey.
One of the most engaging and elemental symbols is the Tree of Life. Since time immemorial, the Tree has been iconized culturally and religiously. It is the ultimate tool to discover your place in the universal equation. Like the Yin and Yang, which are two parts of one whole; the Tree of Life, with its deeply embedded roots and up-flung branches, laden with growth, are two distinct, yet connected, parts of one organism. You could probably meditate on a picture of the Tree of Life for the rest of your life and find some new meaning every single time. In one scenario, you imagine your subconscious as the roots of the Tree. Shrouded and surrounded on all sides by the weight of the earth; yet snaking tendrils of new growth….represented as new thoughts….through to your conscious mind. Or if you choose to ruminate on the sun-kissed branches which reach high above the ground, you can equate your journey through life to the transformation a tree takes through the seasons and through the ages.
In his beautiful book, “Yoga Wisdom and Practice”, Iyengar said this of Tree, “The Asvattha Tree is a giant banyan tree. Its roots extend deep and wide into the soil. Its trunk ascends, branching again and again carrying its leaves on the outer edge where they face the outer atmosphere, absorbing life, exchanging gases, and receiving the rain, directing its moistening fluid the bathe the entire organism. We are the Tree. Our brain is the root, the trunk is our torso, with its spinal cord and the branches are the limbs – arms and legs.”
We, as yogis, are given to creating our own symbols of meaning; with our bodies and our intentions. With Vrksasana, or Tree pose, we become the human embodiment of the Tree of Life. Whether you place your foot above your knee or below it (never ON the knee); whether you teeter uncontrollably or sway gently; you can explore through physical symbolism your connection to earth and the cosmos.
On this Earth Day, be a tree, plant a tree or study a beautiful representation of the Tree of Life.
All tree images by Diane Wright 2015
Nobody does it better than Spring. She rides in on the tail of the fierce March winds, shrugs off her winter coat and says, “Miss me?”
Spring is sassy and audacious, she’s creative and fresh, she’s a visionary.
We humans on the other hand can be recalcitrant, moody, uninspired and stuck. There’s no automatic programming like the seasons, that helps us to wake up, snap out of it, renew or refresh. We fight change and are sometimes just too darn tired to rustle up the enthusiasm to begin again.
That’s when you come to your mat and take the words of Lao Tzu to heart, “When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.”
You don’t have to commit to an hour-long practice of pose upon pose. Sometimes, when you’re ready to shed your skin and encourage growth, the tried-and-true can seem irritating and forced. What you can do however, is lose yourself in the rhythm and flow of Sun Salutations. There’s nothing to do but rise and fall, stretch and release, curve upward and downward and breathe.
Root yourself and start the Ujjayi breath. It’s the most useful tool in any yoga practice, but even more important during a flowing practice like Surya Namaskar. If during your normal yoga routine you cheat or forget or have simply never practiced Ujjayi take this small refresher.
Inhale through your slightly opened mouth and draw the air over the back of your throat. Make an audible noise that sounds like a long, hissing ahhh. Exhale, slowly through your open mouth, with a sibilant haaa sound. Practice through your open mouth for a few rounds, and then……inhale slowly through your nose, direct the air over the top of your palette and then along the back of your throat, making the same hissing sound as you did with your mouth open. Reverse the process as you exhale slowly through your nostrils.
Now that your breathing is on track, place your hands in Anjali or Atmanjali mudra in front of your chest. This ancient hand placement has long been used as both a plea and an acknowledgment. Mudra expert Gertrude Hirschi says, “Placing your hands together in front of your chest supports inner collection and creates harmony, balance, repose, silence and peace….It can support a supplicatory meditation…when you have a heart’s desire that you would like to have fulfilled.”
With breath calmed and intention declared you can begin. Start with a number of Half Sun Salutations. Inhale, then swoop both your arms down and then up to the sky and touch your palms together. Exhale and bend forward from your waist and touch your fingertips to the ground. Inhale and rise up halfway with a flat back. Exhale and fold forward again. Inhale and rise all the way up to standing with a flat back and swinging your arms overhead. With palms touching, lower your hands until they rest in front of your heart.
You can lose yourself in this simple routine. And that’s the point isn’t it? To lose what no longer serves and to welcome the new and fresh.
(sun salute from Jason Crandell)
We all experience stress daily.
As a yoga instructor and meditation cushion manufacturer, I want to have many tools to deal with #stress.
What is stress? Strain, pressure, tension, worry, anxiety, trouble, difficulty, hassle. Some stressors can be large or small but we all need to find ways to cope. I have a bias toward yoga and meditation. Because life can be so overwhelming, you can simply – Pause. (I know what do that mean?)
Some practical ways are, when you are out doing errands or on a call with a difficult person, is coming up with ways to calm you mind. There are a lot of meditation apps out there, as well as articles etc. but one of this simplest things to do is – Pause to watch your breath, say to yourself, inhale in, exhale out, inhale in, exhale out continue until you head stops racing. , using your breath to fill your lungs, inhale and exhale.
If you are in a place to that you can practice some yoga you can start with focusing on your breath, come to a simple standing forward fold (Uttanasana or Tadasana), and continue to bring your attention to your breath. A forward fold can help de – #stress and calm the mind.
If you are in a place that you can come into down dog and rock in to plank and back to down dog and while you do this simple movement focus on your breath.
Pause and repeat.
Usually we don’t think of humor when we take a yoga class or come to our meditation cushion to quiet the mind. A pose that comes to mind that makes us all feel a bit silly is Happy Baby – Ananda Balasana
From laughter is the best medicine Laughter decreases stress hormones and increases immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies, thus improving your resistance to disease. Laughter triggers the release of endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals. Endorphins promote an overall sense of well-being and can even temporarily relieve pain.
Why does laughter work by the folks at BrainStuff – HowStuffWorks
Spring is not just a season, it is a longing. Mark Twain put it beautifully when he said, “It’s spring fever. That is what the name of it is. And when you’ve got it, you want — oh, you don’t quite know what it is you do want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so!”
The heart’s yearning for Spring crests on March 20; the Spring Equinox, when day and night are nearly the same length.
Episcopalian, turned pagan, turned Christian again, musician and writer Matt Morris (also known as Teo Bishop)described the equinox like this: “Here, in this moment of balance, I honor and recognize the sacred mystery of existence. I am a part of a cosmic dance. A holy and blessed music fills the world. The light and the darkness shift from this moment onward. As it is on the land, so it is in my being. I follow the movement of the Mother, and She works a transformation in me. Be it new beginnings or resolution, the Equinox is a point of transition; of change. I embrace the change.”
For yogis, the arrival of Spring perhaps best describes what we want to achieve when we come to our mats. Renewal. Balance. Hope. Growth. Expansion. Strength.
The practice of yoga is particularly suited to the change of seasons, for almost every pose represents an aspect of the natural world. The first pose a student is taught is Tadasana, or Mountain pose. Standing with your feet together, you breathe deeply from your belly. Long, deep, steady inhales and exhales. Your feet rooted in the earth. Rising up from the earth through the crown of your head, reaching for the sky; you stand solidly and strong. You are pure power and peace. You just….ARE.
Spring Equinox is your opportunity to create a practice that celebrates what traits you value most or aspire to. It’s time to express yourself and what you stand for. It’s a time for discovery and uncovering the longings of your soul. As the ground softens and prepares for new life, so should you. As the March winds bluster and sweep away the remnants of winter, let the same winds of change urge you toward fresh thoughts and new perspectives.
Come onto to your mat on March 20 and start by grounding yourself in Tadasana. Go through the routine mindfully. Spread your toes and lift your thighs. Tuck your tailbone under and expand upwards. Stand in perfect peace and contemplate how you want this day’s practice to go. If you long to grow, practice forward bends. If you feel the need to become stronger and more grounded, articulate this desire with standing poses like the Warrior series and weight-bearing poses like Plank. If Winter has left you sluggish, break into a vinyasa flow. And if the return of Spring has you longing for inspiration and a new way of being, try Kundalini yoga.
Although every day is a chance to begin again, the ceremonial feel of an occasion like Spring Equinox begs to be celebrated. What can you do today to honor the occasion?
above image Sri Yantra 2015 by Diane Wright acrylic on wood