A long time ago when I first began practicing yoga, I took a class billed as “advanced yoga”. I remember feeling nervous when I signed up that we’d spend the whole time in headstand or doing drop backs.
Instead we worked on tree pose for 90 minutes.
It was incredibly illuminating. I heard familiar cues as if they were brand new. I found a deeply introspective aspect to tree pose that I had never accessed before.
In this class, I came to revere tree pose.
Tree pose is not just a simple beginner’s standing pose.
There is so much fantastic stuff happening in this pose physically. But there’s also a deep connection to the wisdom of yoga.
Kaṭhopaniṣad also known as the Katha Upanishad, one of the three primary Upanishads, is a conversation with Death. Loaded with metaphors, the text describes goodness, the Self, the senses, oneness, life and death. It’s magnificent.
One such metaphor refers to a tree with it’s roots in the heavens and it’s branches extending to the earth.
(As an aside, have you ever wondered why handstand is called adho mukha vrksasana or downward-facing tree pose? Handstand is a tree pose with our feet longing to be rooted in the heavens.)
When I think about roots in the sky, I immediate think The Bodhi Tree, the one under which the Buddha sat when he attained enlightenment.
The Bodhi Tree
These trees, ficus religiosa in Latin, begin as a single trunk growing from the earth, as most trees do.
But then an amazing thing happens. More roots begin to drop down from the branches.
Eventually the tree is big, seemingly made up of multiple trunks, that it is impossible to tell which is the original tree.
As we have just crossed over into autumn here in the Northern Hemisphere, it’s a perfect time to pause to honor the trees.
From the fabulously unique and religiously significant bodhi tree,
to our run-of-the-mill ubiquitous deciduous trees that are about to turn their beautiful colors and shed their leaves,
all the way to the stalwart evergreens determinedly holding on to their piney needles and deep green.
Trees are the perfect reminder that all things share the same source. While it often appears that things are separate and distinct, interdependence and connection is the truth of the Universe.
As the Katha Upanishad reminds us:
Oneness into many.
Eternal joy is theirs who see the Self
In their own hearts.
Changeless amidst the things that pass away,
Pure consciousness in all who are conscious.
Eternal peace is theirs who see the Self
In their own hearts.
~Katha Upanishad 2.2.12-13