summer practices

By Annalisa Bragg

 

Let’s dig into a little deeper into the idea of a tree as a model for balance.  Balance is fluid, flexible, and subject to our surroundings. It is also an area that requires our awareness and attention. Revisiting the concept of the tree as a model for balance, I want to share a few observations about the structure of the tree.

 

Structure

First, there are the roots, vast and expansive and hidden.  Then the trunk, the interface with the world, and the structural support for the tree organism.  Next are branches, followed by smaller limbs, all ending with leaves, flowers, and fruit (seeds). Occasionally, a branch dies off and is either trimmed away or breaks off with the wind.  Assuming there are no fungal or insect invasions, no major physical stress to the tree, the tree grows strong and healthy, reaching for the light, it’s arm upraised, almost in praise.

In the illustration below, notice how the roots are as vast and large as the tree itself.  The trunk is strong and true, and the branches reach out in a balanced way, supporting the leafy crown.  As above, so below comes to mind.

summer practices

Photo by Jeremy Bishop

Now, consider how the roots are below ground – seeking nourishment, growing deep, providing structural support, mirroring the grandiosity of the tree itself.  They lie both shallow and deep underground, hidden, in the dark (with the exception of mangroves and occasional roots that emerge and run along the ground) and quietly do what they do unappreciated and often unnoticed.

 

Similarities and Differences

Like a tree, we have a body (trunk), arms and legs (limbs), and a head (crown).  We have fluids moving around within us to carry nourishment and wastes to the appropriate places.  We respirate, exchanging gases with the environment around us. And, we are capable of selflessly sharing our gifts with the world – consider Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree -bringing our highest good to fruition for the betterment of the world.

Unlike a tree, we don’t have physical roots, only emotional, mental, and energetic ones.  But those emotional, mental and energetic roots can run just as deep as a tree’s to support us in budding, blooming and producing juicy fruit.  The questions then become, how do I nourish my own roots to feed my growth? How can I support the balance of growth in all areas of my life? Are my roots subconsciously dictating how I am growing?

And like a tree’s roots, it requires us to dive deeply into our underground soil, those dark and shadowy places, to ask ourselves some deep questions to consider.  Yes, this process can get dirty, messy, even painful, and feel laborious. But it is our one wild and precious life, and we are the only ones who can do this work.

What do you plan to do with this one wild and precious life?

-Mary Oliver

 

Nourishing our Roots

Roots draw up nourishment from the soil.  From minerals in the soil to water below ground, the tree employs this embedded system to partially feed itself.  Partially, because the leaves are also providing nourishment for the tree through the process of photosynthesis and respiration.  There is balance in the way in which the tree is fed, from top and bottom.

As humans, we, too, are fed from top and bottom.  Using the example of the practice of Japanese bonsai, consider how careful pruning and tending can create a work of beauty and integrity.

Looking at our own roots, we can figure out what is nourishing and ‘trim away’ any unhealthy roots that are not supporting our growth.  We can work with deep inquiry into patterns, habits and beliefs that may or may not be helping us grow. What are we tapping into that is no longer useful?  How can we change the direction of our taproot to be a tool for our own growth and fruition?

There are many ways to do this.

 

Listen – are you breathing just a little

And calling it a life?

~Mary Oliver

 

Supporting Balance

The first step is becoming aware, growing still and quiet, and being willing to dig deep into the earthiness of our existence.  Be curious about what and where your roots are drawing nourishment.

That can be as simple as lying down in a place where you won’t be disturbed for 10-20 minutes, or however long you wish to pursue the inquiry.  You can use your favorite visualization for drawing you into a meditative state or work with this simple one:

Visualization:

Allow yourself to become grounded.  Feel your body settling into your space and connect with your breath. Breath flowing in, and breath flowing out… Feel gratitude for the gift of life you are experiencing right now…  Connect with your heart, and feel a steady thrum in your chest. Feel that same thrum pulsing in your arms and hands, your legs and feet… Tap into your higher power… Settle into this space of connection, and breathe into it.  Then, as you feel ready, begin asking these questions:

 

  • How is my spiritual life supporting me?  Is there enough of a practice to sustain/nourish me?
  • Is my health in a state of equilibrium? If not, what are the exact steps for me to come into equilibrium?
  • What foods and beverages are providing optimum nutrients for me?  Is anything amiss?
  • Is work/life balance present for me?
  • Am I fulfilled in my relationships? How can I bring greater balance here?
  • Am I learning all that I want to learn?  Do I feel stimulated mentally? What one or two things can I commit to learning in the immediate future to feed my heart and soul?
  • What is the physical environment I thrive in?  Is it present for me? If so, how can I nourish it further?  If not, what are the steps I can take to create my optimum environment?

 

Practices

 

Tools

Visit our Discover What You Need page to help guide you in creating balance in all the areas of your life that ask for attention.

Live It  

Go outside and find a tree that speaks to you.  Step into the tree’s presence and feel it with closed eyes, breathing with the tree.  You are truly communing with the tree now, as you are literally sharing breath with each other.  Wait for an invitation to draw closer. When you feel it, move to the trunk of the tree.

Putting your hands on the trunk, gaze up.  Breathe deeply as you allow your eyes to trace the trunk, the branches, the limbs, moving outward.  Are there lichens growing on the bark? What is the branching pattern of the tree? Observe the leaves – what do you notice?  Drink in all the colors represented.

Lean into the tree, touching the bark, feeling the roughness or smoothness of the tree’s skin.

Breathe deeply of the tree’s scent – is it green?  Earthy? Pungent? Nutty? Neutral?

Have a seat at the base of the tree, leaning against the trunk.

Gently lean your forehead against the tree.  Pause here, breathing, tuning into the tree – what thoughts, feelings, or images pop to mind?

In this quiet space, ask if the tree has a message for you.  Quietly ‘listen.’

Before departing the tree’s presence, if inspired, practice tree pose.

 

In Conclusion

In looking at our lives, we strive for balance.  Balance requires our awareness and our attention.  And like in any beautiful piece of music, certain instruments have their moments to shine, just like certain areas of our lives, to make a whole complete, synchronous symphony.  The point is, are we cultivating our best selves by bringing our awareness and attention to all the important areas of our lives?

Consider this quote by Jana Kingsford:

Balance is not something you find.

It is what you create.

So, what are you creating?

Namaste.

Life balance, gifts of march

By Annalisa Bragg

 

Timely elements

March is moving in like a lion here in Minnesota.  It is icy, snowy-blowy, and the wind roars around our home. Tree branches are tossed in the tempest, flinging icy snow from their surfaces.  The giant Norway spruces are dancing in the wind, sometimes gentle and slow, other times writhing with intensity, depending on the frequency of the “music.”  Grandmother Willow, as we call her, has her long “hair” in tangles as the wind and snow swirl about her.

Watching this, I am grateful to be warm, dry and protected.  I take a deep smooth breath in and feel grateful my breath isn’t taken from me by this raging, roaring lion.  In this state of awareness, I consider those who are exposed to these elements and wonder how they are coping.  With compassion, I hold them in my heart, and send out a prayer for protection for all these brothers and sisters, human and animal alike…

Seeking balance, spring, gifts of trees

I am reminded of Muir’s quote:

 

A few minutes ago every tree was excited, bowing to the roaring storm,

waving, swirling, tossing their branches in glorious enthusiasm like worship.

But though to the outer ear these trees are now silent, their songs never cease.

~ John Muir

 

What are the internal songs you are hearing in this springtime?

Defining Balance

The balance to March moving in like a lion is that, as the saying goes, it goes out like a lamb – softer, warmer, gentler (at least in theory).  March is a month holding balance in other ways, too, in that it contains the Equinox. According to Merriam-Webster, “equinox descends from aequus, the Latin word for ‘equal,’ and nox, the Latin word for ‘night’—a fitting history for a word that describes days of the year when the daytime and nighttime are equal in length. In the northern hemisphere, the vernal equinox marks the first day of spring and occurs when the sun moves north across the equator. (Vernal comes from the Latin word ver, meaning ‘spring.’) “

Other examples of balance and stirrings in the natural world in March are what we see happening with the animals and the trees.  With the lengthening of light and warmer temperatures, animals begin stirring out of their hibernations. As human animals, we feel these stirrings, too.

Looking at the tree’s response to this season, we see and benefit from the balancing act of the trees stirring to life again.  We’ve seen the starkness of the trees, seemingly lifeless in their ‘hibernation’ or winter dormancy. As the sun warms the trees and the earth in spring, the trees begin a process of awakening.  This awakening involves the lifeblood of the tree-what we know as sap. This awakening stimulates the sap to flow up from the roots (where it has remained cool and grown sweet) into the branches of the tree. The flowing sap delivers necessary nutrition for the branches, for the growth of the leaves, and to foster the process of photosynthesis.  This flow of sap is vital for the tree to survive. It is sweet, juicy, and fluid. This process is a balancing act that is dependent on the seasons: spring/sap flows, blooming, greening; summer/growth and food production; autumn/harvesting, releasing and preparing for dormancy; winter/dormancy. Consider how your life mirrors these seasonal changes.

Life balance, gifts of march

Photo by Fabrice Villard

Nature works efficiently because it maintains a sense of balance, of harmony, of homeostasis.  Revisiting Merriam-Webster, homeostasis is defined as:

“a relatively stable state of equilibrium or a tendency toward such a state between the different but interdependent elements or groups of elements of an organism, population, or group.”

 

In essence, balance.  But balance doesn’t imply rigidity or no change. On the contrary, balance is fluid, flowing and vibrant, like the sap of a tree, and is guided by the seasons of life.  It flows one way and then the other. We can work in this space by consciously accepting the sometimes messy nature of coming into balance, even by realizing that sometimes feeling off or irritated is part of the process of finding equilibrium. We tend to aspire towards peace and equanimity at all costs, but all the little movements and adjustments are part of that homeostasis, even if they feel uncomfortable or undesirable.  By embracing these ‘ruffled’ states, we can see that these, too, are tools to bring us back into balance. As such, balance is the state of equilibrium we find as we flow with these seasons of life.

 

A tangible way to play with balance and to observe some of these fluid concepts in practice is to work with the balancing yoga asana, Tree pose ( Vrkasana).

 

Balance in Action

For Tree pose (Vrkasana):

 

Stand — Be barefoot and stand. Whether you are on a mat or a firm surface really depends on your preference for stability.  For further stability, you may wish to have a stable chair back, a counter surface or a wall at the ready. Stand in Mountain pose (Tadasana) and root deeply into your mat/floor.  Just like a tree establishing a strong foundation, consciously extend your “roots,” anchor yourself to the floor/earth, and feel into the full length and width of your feet. Observe the balance between the right and left sides of your body.  Feel the crown of the head extend toward the heavens. Breathe.

 

Gaze —  As you feel grounded through the feet and your posture, bring your gaze forward, landing on a point at eye-height, something that will be stationary.  This is your drishti point or focal point. Keep the gaze steady and focused, yet soft. Breathe.

 

Center —  Next bring the hands together at your heart, gently pressing the palms together to bring your energy to this centered place.  Feel the pressure of the palms against each other. Notice the heat transfer between them. Imagine, like the spring-awakening tree, you are drawing energy up from your roots, and that energy is moving into and between your hands.  Breathe.

 

Draw –Now you are preparing to draw that energy/sap up further.  As you feel ready to shift your weight to one foot, draw up the other foot and gently place its sole on the ankle, calf, or inner thigh (depending on your flexibility and balance strength) of the standing leg. Start low and go slow.  Be sure to not place the foot on the knee. Open the elevated legs’ knee out to the side. Observe your balance and the rooting action of the grounded foot. Consider that balance is fluid, not rigid. You may observe all the micro-adjustments involved in maintaining balance – a perfect example of this fluidity.  Balance is achieved through movement. Breathe, and notice how breath is fluid, too.

 

Firm — Begin to more fully engage both legs by pressing the elevated leg into the standing leg, and the standing leg into the elevated leg.  Feel the strength of your ‘trunk,’ and the stability that is created by firming each leg into the other. Remember that a tree’s strength lies in its ability to be flexible and bend.  We, too, find strength when we remember to be flexible and bend in the winds of life. Breathe, and feel your breath join with the imaginary winds of change and occasional storms of life.

 

Extend — If your balance is challenged, continue to work here (with support, if needed), breathing and observing.  Extend compassion to yourself if you find your balance is not present for you. This is a practice, a constantly changing, ebbing and flowing (just like sap) practice.  What is present for you today will be different again tomorrow.

 

Reach — To complete the pose, bring your awareness back to your hands pressing together, and elevate the hands through your midline to ‘settle’ suspended over your head.  Your arms create a diamond shape around your head. If there is any discomfort in the shoulders, open the hands to shoulder distance. Hold here and breathe.

 

Bask — To release the pose, open your “branches” (arms) outward, palms up, opening into the fullness of a mature tree and hold for a few breaths.  For an additional challenge, bring your gaze upward, and possibly even lift your sternum toward the sky and hold. Bask in the “glow” of the warm sun shining upon your heart and breathe it in.  As you feel ready, release the leg and arms. Feel free to move or shake any body part that needs release. Breathe deeply.

 

Practice on the other side.

 

Further support

Additional questions to guide your process:

  • Are there areas of my life that need balancing?
  • As I identify those areas, what actionable steps can I take to bring greater balance?
  • What are the juicy areas of my life?  How can I infuse more sweetness into those areas?
  • What areas of my life are springing forth with energy and vitality?
    • What do I want to nurture further?
    • what do I need to thin or prune away?

 

To hear an audio guide through this practice, listen to this Spring Tree Pose

Allow the example of the tree to remind you of your fluid, ever-changing nature.  In seeking a sweet and juicy life, embrace the notion of fluid balance.