Written on July 26, 2013 while on retreat in Italy.
As our yoga retreat continued, we were introduced to Dante's next progression. He first experienced transformation in the Inferno. The next took him to Purgatory. As our yoga guru described, this can be thought of as our place on the earth. It is our actions, thoughts, and movement through this existence. How we interact with others and our relationship to nature. It is our connection to all things.
In our yoga practice, we experienced grounding and balancing. I think these types of poses help us to establish a strong connection and a sense of being rooted to the earth. Balancing, particularly balancing on one foot, tests that connection. Does this added challenge bring wariness, distraction, or even discouragement? Standing on one foot may bring us to greater awareness of how we remain balanced: the resources we must tap into in order to stay still, solid, and connected. This simple standing yoga practice can bring light to how we are connected to the earth.
Stand near the top of your mat with your feet about hip distance apart. Look down at your feet to be sure your toes are pointing directly forward. Stand tall. Feel length through your legs, torso, and arms. Even feel a length through your neck to the very top of your head. Be aware of your breath. Take slow easy breaths so that you can actually feel breath move through your entire body. Feel your breath and hear your breath.
Bring more energy into your body by feeling your feet root more deeply into the earth. Actually become the mountain. Know that it's bedrock is deep in the earth: tall and strong with a solid base. Grip your mat with your toes to bring this idea of the solid bedrock beneath you. Further, breathe into your feet. As you send this energy downward, feel the reciprocating energy arise from the earth through your feet, through your legs, and experience it coursing upward through your body. As this energy rises, feel yourself grow taller. Create space between each vertebrae as your spine extends upward right up to the crown of your head. Further, feel this energetic connection move through your shoulders, arms, and hands. Open your palms wide to continue this flow of energy through your fingers. Continue to stand as a mountain for 5-10 breaths. Embody the strength and stability of the mountain. Know that you are one with the earth.
Now, shift your weight gradually to your right foot. Still imagine this energetic force coursing through your body, perhaps from your core down your right leg and into the earth. Exhale to draw your belly in toward your spine to help initiate this balancing pose. Lift your left foot by bending your knee. Place your left foot on the inside of your standing leg with your knee pointing outward. (You have some choices as to where to place your foot. For a bit more stability, place your left heel against your right ankle bone with your left set of toes, or the balls of the foot, still on the floor. Or you may slide your foot higher up on your calf muscle to create a sense of balance. Or slide the foot even higher to your inner thigh to challenge your Tree Pose. I suggest that you do not place your foot on your knee joint. That particular joint already receives enough pressure, so let's free the knee from any added pressure.)
With an inhale, extend your arms straight to the sky while keeping your gaze forward. Exhale to continue the connection to your center and core body. You will find that the exhale will help to stabilize your balancing posture. Stay here and focus on your breath and your simple gaze forward. Don't worry if you waver and fall out of the posture. Simply take a breath and return to the pose. Even feel free to modify the pose if needed. Notice what allows you to stay grounded and connected in this pose. You are only on one foot which is naturally more challenging than standing on two feet. Test yourself by distracting yourself and see what happens to your pose. What occurs when you begin thinking of something other than your breath and the posture. Notice what happens when you turn your head in either direction. Again, if you find that you waver, you have the choice and ability to return to your balanced connection. After 5-10 breaths, change sides.
This balancing posture can be a reflection of how we move through our daily lives. We may think we are rooted and connected, but can be easily distracted by the details of our actions. See if you can embody the essence of the tree: connected to the earth through its roots, strong thick trunk, and extended branches, and leaves that rustle in the wind. Even in strong storms and high winds, the tree can remain strong and still. So, if you're able to become the Tree, even in the midst of a stormy day, you may sense a stronger connection to the Earth and Self.
When you have completed your Tree Pose, return to Mountain Pose for a few more breaths to regain that full connection to the earth. Allow this yoga practice remind you of your full connection to the earth and all things.