Knowing Boundaries: Tree Pose (Vrksasana)
The tree grows and grows, and then it stops. How does it know when the time is right? I am not a botanist, and I am sure there is a scientific explanation, but I prefer to imagine that it is an instinct at work, some cosmic awareness that tells the tree when to call a halt to its growth.
When I look at a forest from afar, its beauty thrills and awes me, especially when the forest stands on a grassy plain or a mountainside. Especially an oak forest. There is a volume and a presence in an oak forest that makes it seem so potent, so alive, as if it might start moving across the landscape. And yet the forest never moves (except in Macbeth). It holds its place. It instinctively knows the limit of its expansion.
My question is this: what does the tree know that we do not? What inherent awareness does it have about its boundaries and limits that is denied us at birth and that we can only learn from hard-won experience? A child maps her boundaries and limits by blundering up against them: accidents with objects, confrontations with parents. When the child reaches adulthood a whole new set of rules must be learned, and before they are, there are many slips and mishaps on the way. We learn our limits from clashes with others. We must undergo awkwardness, confrontation, and humiliation before we finally admit to ourselves where our limits lie.
Yoga, with its emphasis on holding the pose, with its tendency to self-restraint, contemplation, and inwardness, can help us to affirm our boundaries for ourselves, and not have them imposed on us by others. What the tree knows instinctively, Tree Pose can help us learn by cultivating our spatial awareness and honing our aptitude for mental and physical balance.
In the pose, one foot is solidly placed on the ground; the other is drawn up the inside of the standing leg, toes facing down. The standing foot, pelvis, shoulders, and head are vertically aligned. Hands can be extended above the head, separated or with palms touching. The position is held for as long as is comfortable. While gazing at a point helps with balance, you can practice your inward gaze by keeping the eyes closed.
Tree pose teaches us to be aware of the space we inhabit, and how we stand in relation to those around us and our environment. If we can learn this lesson for ourselves, we may not have to learn it in a starker way from others.
If you would like to reacquaint yourself with the steps to a perfect Vrksasana, visit http://www.yogajournal.com/poses/496