I keep thinking about Tree Pose, one of my favorite things in yoga. Vriksasana in the Sanskrit. Here is how it goes. Standing in Tadasana, Mountain Pose, plant the foot of one leg on the ground, your weight evenly distributed between big and small toes, the arch of your foot held strong. If it is available to you, as my yoga instructor likes to say, cock your other leg so the knee is akimbo and the foot is placed somewhere between the thigh and heel of the grounded leg, hips open. Then raise your hands, either in namaste, clasped in front of your chest, or what I like – hold them high above your head.
What I also like: in my large class everyone holds the boughs of their tree exactly the way they want, so the mirror shows a forest, all straight trunks and long arms with fingers spread as people wish at that moment, pure individual preference.
I wanted to know more about how Tree Pose originated. Turns out that in the mythology behind the pose, a queen named Sita was abducted by a handsome devil of a king, Ravana (he happened to have 100 faces) and was forced to live in his compound, where she would enjoy all the luxuries of life.
Not only did she refuse to marry him, she refused to spend a single night in his palace. After all, she was already married to her dashing love Rama. Ravana vowed that if she did not accept him after one year he would cook and eat her. So Sita moved outside and lived among the ashoka trees (ashoka means “without sorrow”), trees known to be healers. Her attendents, Ravana’s minions, were women with terrifying faces of dogs, goats and fish, and they tried to get her to submit to the king. But Sita sat with her back against an ashoka tree and knew she would survive this. She focused on her love for Rama. Her desire climbed the branches and flew out into the world. The trees spoke to Sita, telling her to stay focused, be steady as a tree. When
Rama’s monkey came to spring her from her subjugation, she was ready.
My Downward Dog tends to collapse, my Warrior 2 is arthritic. I’ve never seen the point of Pigeon. But this yoga position and the story behind it I get. Hold yourself together, stay calm, and you will get through the worst of things. Even little trees can stand tall, like this Callery Pear in Ozone Park, Queens, just around the corner from the casino.
When was the last time you leaned your back against a tree and derived its strength? When was the last time you laid your hands on a tree trunk, on living bark? I don’t want to be ridiculous, but you can feel the thing breathe. Years ago we visited Black Hills National Forest outside Custer, South Dakota, where we were surrounded by Ponderosa and Jeffrey Pines. We pushed our noses up against the bark; warmed by the sun, it smells like butterscotch.
I like to think that when I assume Tree Pose, I may have butterscotch running through my veins. If it is available to me.