My favorite yoga position is the tree pose.
For the non-yogis out there, this is what’s called a “balancing pose.” It’s a one-legged posture achieved by bending one knee outward to place the bottom of that foot on the inner thigh of the opposite leg. In my favorite variation of the pose, I stand with my arms and fingers spread wide above my head, imagining myself rooting into the ground and branching out into the sky.
My first yoga instructor used to tell us as we practiced balance poses like tree, “Weebles wobble but don’t fall down.” In fact, sometimes we did fall out of our poses, but his words affirmed us in our strongest stances and reassured us when we sustained inevitable fumbles and falls. From him, I learned to be confident in my poses, trusting that sometimes I’d feel sturdy, and other times I’d sway and even stumble, and all would be well with my practice either way.
I recently started doing energy work with a Reiki master and am amazed by the changes I’ve felt in my body and emotions as a result. I started my first session in tears and ended with a sense of peace. For me, the shift was nothing short of extraordinary, and the master herself said she’s rarely seen such a striking transformation. It certainly gave me a sense of the power of energy forces.
From Reiki work and study, I’ve learned about the body’s seven chakras or energy fields. I’m especially tuned into the root chakra, and this makes sense because it’s our “base” chakra, our first and primary chakra. It’s located at the base of the spine and its development begins with our earliest primary caretakers. Throughout our lives, it represents our foundation and our connection to Mother Earth and the natural world. Its energy extends into and helps shape our connections and relationships within the social world. If it’s out of balance, so is everything else.
One way to strengthen the root chakra is to stand barefoot in nature and envision sending the center of yourself down into the ground as a root, then drawing up from that root the strength and support of the earth. Last weekend I visited the Neskowin ghost forest and stood on the trunks of trees which survived 2000-some years of being thrown into the Pacific Ocean by an earthquake, buried under water and sand for centuries, then later uncovered by storms. Their root systems remained intact, and they stand firmly as tides ebb and flow day after day after day.
How incredible it was to imagine myself tapping into root systems so strong and deep and secure as this! If the trees had souls, these stumps must have laughed at the littleness of me, at how relatively insignificant my time on earth will be compared to theirs, at how trivial my trials and tribulations are compared to the perils they’ve endured. And survived. As I stood on those trunks, the waves coming and going and sand rippling and shifting all around me, they held me steady as they held tight to their foundation deep below the sands. Their steadfastness inspired me. And gave me pause. If only I might draw up a fraction of their enduring strength!
In October of 2013, when I decided to take a solo vacation to Portland, Oregon, some of my people in the Midwest were shocked and concerned. Why would you go alone? You’re staying with strangers (i.e. Airbnb)!? Someone even suggested I was putting myself at risk of getting chopped up into pieces and scattered in the forest. (What!?!) Still, one wise friend offered a single word of advice. On a winged notecard, she simply wrote “Fly.” When that trip inspired me to uproot my life and move across the country, this became my life theme, if you will: flight.
“Take these wings and fly,” my friends encouraged.
The last six months have been difficult ones for me. To say that I’ve felt uncertain, unsteady, incapable is an understatement. When it was suggested to me that I regain my footing by planting imaginary roots in the ground, I was intrigued. I love the outdoors; it’s much of why I moved to Portland. Its greenness beckoned me. Living and driving and working amid the nation’s largest urban forest preserve and being a short drive from mountains, the ocean, and a variety of terrains and climates feels like home to me. Nature is where I go to rest, refresh, and rejuvenate. Why wouldn’t I take a chance on going there to steady myself in the midst of an emotional storm?
My life theme shifted, and for now I’ve traded in my wings for roots.
In Oracle, Arizona in the early 1990s, a self-contained ecosystem was created for the purpose of studying the interrelations of lifeforms and the potential for creating mini replicas of Earth in outer space. For two years, eight humans lived in this Biosphere 2, which contained mini rainforest, savannah, desert, marsh, and ocean habitats. The experiment wasn’t especially successful overall for a variety of reasons, but at least one major new discovery came from it.
During the first year of research, trees within the Biosphere grew bigger and faster than trees in nature outside of the dome. During the second year, the trees showed signs of weakness, and some even fell over. As it turns out, a lack of exposure to wind (which wasn’t replicated inside the dome) prevented the trees from developing something necessary to their growth and survival: stress wood. In the real world (Biosphere 1), when trees are exposed to wind and storms and earthquakes and snow, they grow “reaction” or “tension” wood of a different structure than their “original” wood, and it’s this wood that gives them strength to withstand the tumults of nature, even allowing them to contort themselves to grow in the direction of optimum light and resources. Trees within the closed system failed to thrive precisely because they weren’t challenged.
In tree pose, I experience a sense of grounding and the confidence to reach skyward. My root chakra represents my foundation; realigning it through intentioned energy work and nourishing it outdoors revitalizes my spirit. It’s only as a result of difficult circumstances that trees grow in the direction of achieving their full potential…and maybe some of that potential is realized under the feet of one young woman’s standing on petrified trunks and looking out into the ocean, thinking about all that’s come before her and all that will come after and what she’s to do in her fleeting meantime.
Thank goodness for the maybe-souls of trees and everything I have to learn from them.