the tree: vriksasana

(going underground in vriksasana)

photo by kollo

Three storeys below the surface of the Earth, fluorescent lights are dimmed and a big artificial wind gusts noisily through the ventilation system. A hundred yoga mats are lined up neatly across two convention centre rooms at the Yoga in Toronto Show.

Standing in front of the hundred students I say, “Just to let you know, my usual class size in our Vancouver studio is around ten.” I laugh and am startled as my breath hisses a bit through the wireless headset, which is wrapped around my ears in an awkward, unfamiliar way. The sea of yogis laughs with me as I look out from my perch on a tiny stage, front and centre.

I turn down the recording, and together we chant a massive, billowing OM. With that sound I recognize the potential of this large group to generate something positive. Slowly we stretch our arms up, and together we become like a many-armed goddess. A hundred bodies move into Tree pose as vast, sacred and silent as a forest. I am touched by the beauty of what is coming to life.

My teaching, I realize, is simply to provide a flexible structure rooted in the lineage of Light that I come from. Today we will work more intensively with the Tree, a life-filled symbol rich in universal associations and resonant with personal meaning. Since everyone is able to do the pose, the need is rather to deepen their experience by encouraging awareness. The method is to imagine a tree, observe its qualities, then move into the pose, concentrating on one of the qualities significant for each individual. What arises in the mind? What happens in the body? Memories? Connections? They write their observations.

When they finish, they sit with several others to share their experience. Suddenly the room is bubbling with life – as if clusters of picnickers had gathered in a vast meadow of grey carpet – bringing vibrancy to their surroundings. Within each group there is convivial discussion. Is it random, I wonder, or are they really focused on what they’ve learned from the Tree?

I jump down from the stage and weave in and out among them, listening to their discoveries and observing the spark of enthusiasm and interconnection as they bring forward their experience. Each person is her own teacher, drawing on whatever she needs from below the surface, like roots finding nourishment. At the same time they learn from others, receptive to what is in the air as they listen.

Gradually the diverse streams of voices merge back into one as we chant OM. Gathering into a big circle, the group seems smaller and warmer, looking at each other with interest and curiosity. Now each person speaks one word to summarize his learning. Around the circle the words build, shimmer and reverberate with fullness like ripe fruit.

Standing, we reach up, imagining Light filling our entire being and affirming our own power to grow into Light. Learning from the Tree, we give back to life generously and silently, opening our hearts and extending the overflow of Light to others – to those we know and to those we don’t know. From a room full of strangers we become a focused interactive positive force. I feel hopeful that, as yoga practitioners, we can continually deepen our understanding and offer the natural outflow as selfless service.

And I am grateful for the practice of learning through teaching, stretching my mind and relaxing into the stretch.

how to do vriksasana: the tree pose

1    Stand in the Mountain pose (Tadasana), finding your centre. Let your body be the teacher. Listen and adjust yourself as it asks.

2    Keep the feeling of centre as you shift your weight to one side. Place the sole of your foot against the inside of the standing leg, keeping the hips even and the spine aligned.

   Bring your hands together in namaste at the heart centre. Feel into this prayer position. How does it create balance? Keep the feeling of devotion as you reach up first with the hands in namaste and then opening the arms like branches.

   Be aware of the mudra (sacred seal) of your body in this pose and the feeling of life force that flows up from the Earth and down from the Light.

5    To come out of the pose, lower the arms back to the namaste position at the heart, release the leg and return to the Mountain. Pause to feel the effect of the Tree before moving to the other side.

1    Visualize a tree that is special to you. Observe its qualities. What is important to you about the tree? What can you learn from it? Go into the pose with this significant quality in mind. Ask yourself: How does this quality of the tree reflect back to me personally?

2    The mythologies of diverse cultures refer to the tree as a sacred bridge or temple between Heaven and Earth. As you do the Tree pose, become your own teacher, exploring your position between Heaven and Earth. How do you unite the higher and lower parts of yourself? How do you find balance?

   “A tree makes no distinction in the shade it affords; so the aspirant should make no distinction, treating all with kindness,” says the Buddhist sage Nagasena. As you do the pose, ask: Can I be generous and give with equanimity to all?

Swami Lalitananda's latest book,The Inner Life of Asanas,is a collection of her hidden language hatha yoga columns, from timeless books . She is a resident teacher and part of the collective at radha yoga & eatery - a yoga centre, cafe, arts and events venue at 728 Main Street in Vancouver, BC. Contact her at .

   read more of swami lalitananda's past columns

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