The Wisdom of Yoga and Trees
Like the old growth forests of the world, yoga stands the test of time. And like old growth trees, no one knows exactly how old yoga is but its origins are known to date as far back as 5000 years. Hatha Yoga, one of the eight limbs of yoga, is the branch that addresses the physical aspect of yoga. Yet Hatha Yoga is intrinsically connected to how the mind and emotions operate within this vessel called a body. Like an old growth forest where seedlings and offshoots take root, in modern times offshoots of the ancient practice of yoga have arisen. Some of these offshoots tend to focus almost exclusively on the physical aspects of the discipline with little emphasis on the wholistic benefits of this ancient practice.
You may begin to take yoga classes for any number of reasons. Most often the reasons are primarily physical. You are starting to feel stiff and sore a lot of the time. Your body seems to be at war with you. Maybe you’ve heard that you can become not just more flexible but stronger if you do yoga—or that yoga can relieve stress. People start yoga for all kinds of reasons and with all kinds of expectations. Often expectations aren’t met because the kind of yoga class they choose isn’t the right one for their needs. “Well, how do I know which class or which style of yoga to choose?” you might ask. Honestly, it’s difficult.
All those offshoots make it hard to figure out. They often don’t have very deep roots and don’t necessarily have a very deep connection to the Mother Tree, that ancient practice that started it all. Honestly, one of the best ways to tell if a class is truly of benefit to you is by how you feel after you leave the class. If you leave the class thinking, “ Wow, that was a good workout” and nothing else, you might as well just take a Zumba or Jazzercise class. But if you leave feeling as if your mind is clearer, the knots of tension you normally carry in your shoulders have dissipated, or with an inexplicable feeling of contentment or joy—you’re probably on the right track.
Like the innumerable benefits of trees to the planet, yoga’s innumerable benefits are often overlooked, ignored or just not well understood. We go through life looking at trees, often thinking how beautiful they are. We may plant trees in our yards. We may be grateful for the shade they provide or even the fruit they produce, without ever thinking about or even knowing the myriad other benefits they provide. Like yoga, there are many unseen benefits that support our lives. Trees store carbon dioxide in their wood and reduce the concentration of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere. They clean the air we breathe. When doing hatha yoga we concentrate and slow down our normally rapid breathing which slows down our nervous systems and relieves stress.
Many of the first yogis spent long periods of time in forests. The Buddha was said to have sat under a bodhi tree for 46 days after which he attained enlightenment. Well I have no intention of sitting under a tree for 46 days and neither should you. But that shouldn’t stop you from finding deeper meaning in your own practice of yoga. There is so much you can learn by just slowing down, breathing and listening as you practice.