By Annalisa Bragg
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…
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?
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.
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.
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.