Thursday, 4 August 2011

Musings on the Tree

As I was practising vrkasana (tree pose) today, an image from the Gaian Tarot floated into my mind.  This beautiful deck by Joanna Powell-Colbert has now been released in a mass market edition by Llewellyn, though it hasn't yet made its way across the pond - soon, I hope!

Anyhow, as I was standing in tree pose and this image entered my mind, I began to ponder both.  Firstly, I normally associate the Hanged Man more with headstand - really turning things on their head, or rather turning myself upside down so that I see things from a completely different perspective.  Why did Joanna choose tree pose for this card?  Well, there are the traditional associations of Odin hanging from the World Tree (Yggdrasil), and also the fact that the Hanged Man is generally shown with one leg crossed over the other, similar to tree pose.

Winter: focus is down towards roots
And that got me wondering, why should this pose be called tree pose at all.  After all, trees are pretty much straight of trunk, roots buried in the earth.  What's this whole business of having one leg up and stuck out to the side got to do with a tree?  My mind continued in its wanderings.  Well, if I stand with both feet planted on the floor, that's called mountain pose.  So perhaps this pose is about perspectives on balance.  If my feet are planted on the floor, I could feel as grounded and immovable as a mountain.  With one foot up, I only feel as grounded as a tree.  Now, to be honest, I think of trees as being a lot more grounded than that!  And maybe this is where the question of changing perspective enters into the equation.

Spring: energy drawn up in readiness
I'm a Gemini, an air sign, and not naturally all that grounded.  However, perhaps after many more years of practising I will reach a place where standing on one leg feels as grounded as being a tree.  Already, it is a pose I am quite happy to adopt for minutes at a time, whereas my stepdad said a few years back that he couldn't stand on one leg for more than a few seconds (he has since worked on his balance and can manage at least half a minute).

Summer: branches reach for the sun
On a somewhat different tack, I remember the first yoga video (yes, video, back in the mid-nineties!) I practised with: Erich Schiffman's Yoga Mind and Body, starring Ali MacGraw.  In it, during tree pose, Schiffman says something about not worrying if you wobble: "trees sway, allow yourself to get more grounded".  A reminder that trees are not quite as stable as I normally perceive them to be, perhaps?  Trees can still be uprooted by a strong wind, something that won't happen to a mountain!

Autumn: buffeted by wind
Then I thought about trees and their changes through the seasons, which led me into a moving meditation on tree pose.  What would it feel like to be a tree, passing through the seasons?

All this to say that perhaps any pose is a portal to a Hanged Man- type change in perspective.  For me, musing on tree pose got me thinking about the nature of balance, about what being grounded means at different levels and on different scales, and about how it would feel to be a tree.

Thanks to my Dear One for his photographic and PhotoShop skills!


  1. I never thought about that before. How a mountain is immoveable (2 feet) and a tree depends upon its flexibility and ability to move with the wind (1 foot).

    I've got dreadful balance now - I should really practise this pose!

    Ali x

    PS - If I don't get my paws on a Gaian Tarot VERY soon, I shall just DIE *pauses for dramatic effect before flouncing off*

  2. Hi Ali,

    Yeah, I always thought more "no way I could stand like this for a hundred years or more", but it is all a matter of perspective ;)

    Amazon are still talking about October for the Gaian, but I know it came out about 6 weeks earlier than expected in the US, so maybe mid-September *crosses fingers*


  3. I thought people were already getting theirs at AT? Or...are those the pesky US folk whose location I never notice when they're talking about what decks are available?

    Inner Whispers, you have inspired me to ditch today's weight lifting workout for a yoga. Shall I kill myself with Rodney Yee Total Body?

  4. It's so gorgeous to see you doing yoga, in your element! It makes me want to do it more. Great post! Thanks so much for sharing. Stay strong and flexible!

  5. Hi Carla,

    Yep, I suspect it's those pesky Americans who are still in the States ;D Arwen said she's got hers already, while my pre-order is still just sitting there laughing at me.

    Not sure I've seen Rodney Yee's Total Body - I've never found his practises challenging enough, but I guess times change. Have you tried any Shiva Rea, Mark Blanchard, or Eoin Finn?


  6. Hi MM,

    I've pretty much decided to come out of the tarot closet - before if I had any pics doing yoga they avoided my face. Now I wonder whether there's a PhotoShop button for "Reduce Waistline" ;D Or how about "Improve Hair Do" (mine was still wet from showering). Ah well, not too bad for 40, I guess...

    Glad if I inspire more people to get their yoga mats out. It's such a great thing on so many levels: strength, flexibility, mindfulness. Can you tell I still love it? :)


  7. You look gorgeous. :) You should be proud. I know what you mean. I definitely have erased a pimple or two or creatively cropped a photo to avoid certain things. Hehee.

  8. Hi MM,

    I've been very impressed with your photo editing skills - it's something I know very little about. I'm not even very good at getting rid of red-eye with Photoshop :duh: I love all the different effects you achieve and how you add in words and drawings to pics. As you'll have noticed, I only ever scan images. My pics come out too big and too boring/shiny.

  9. Lovely musing! One of my friends got the special order deck (I have yet to see it!)
    When I lived in a Mountain Community, I taught Tai Chi/Qigong a couple of times weekly, & included 'Tree Stands' & calls the rain as part of a sequence ... there's a pic of my daughter & me doing our Tree stands that always gets labeled as 'yoga' in the bulletin when it's repub. ...
    One year I took a qigong workshop from a Chinese teacher with a translator, & went out on one of the trails after we finished - took a couple of hours to cover the ground I'd usually do in 20 minutes, as I kept stopping 'in the moment' to look at this or that. At one point I sat at the base of a big Old Growth tree, & thought 'this is the tree's view from this side' - then would move a foot or so & gaze at the next view ...
    Another favorite Qigong sequence, from Soaring Crane, is the liver cleanse, where you send 'spent liver chi' into the tree (which benefits the tree, as their breath benefits us!) ...

  10. Hi Dia,

    I've never really clicked with Tai Chi, though my mum is a big fan. Interesting that the tree stands you do are similar to the yoga ones - that sense of a tree being grounded and yet still having the ability to move, to sway, must have some important resonances.

    I love the description of your walking meditation up in the mountains, communing with the trees - sounds like a really special experience :)