A favorite childhood tree
It was a weeping willow tree at my grandparent’s farm in Louisiana and I was about 4 years old. There was a swing that seemed to hang from the sky underneath its enormous canopy of drooping branches. When I was within that space, and my sister and I played atop the fallen branches that covered the ground, I imagined we were little birds in a beautiful covered nest.
This was my first tree encounter and even at that young age I felt some kinship, some attraction and joy being in the presence of that tree and it became a treasured friend. Trees are like that if you choose to let them be. More recently I discovered a tree in a beautiful garden near my home. The tree was exposed and had prominent above-ground roots and immediately I could sense this tree has been there a very long time and I wished it could tell me its stories. I decided to visit this tree for 30 days and see what happened.
Making a new friend
Perhaps you too have a favorite tree memory. It seems even though we feel this connection to trees it’s hard to say exactly what happens when we come and sit with them. It took me a few days to identify the kind of tree that I had befriended. It was a katsura and that lead me to learn more about its botanic origins, history and folklore. Over the days that I visited, I made a new friend who would walk by with her dog often as I sat among the roots, enjoyed an after-dark picnic and deep conversation with a friend and was chatted up by a very energetic chipmunk. One day a mysterious man with a wooden flute arrived played a few notes that resonated as if we were in the most amazing theater and then just as quickly disappeared.
Each day was an exercise in presence, paying attention and discovering the unchanging nature of some aspects balanced with other elements of the tree and environment that were in constant flux. I noticed no matter the day, or the weather, the quiet or the noise my tree was steady and strong and perhaps even possessed a “hint of gladness” as Mary Oliver notices in her poem, When I am Among the Trees.
Trees for Happiness and Health
I realize that not everyone shares my affinity for tree-hugging, though making even one step closer to being among the trees may be worth further consideration. Why? Because when we are among them we feel better.
The science to verify and validate this is slowing catching up, though some things are immeasurable. The studies dissect to learn which components have the most impact. Is it the density of the trees, the proximity of trees to where you live or the time spent among them? From this research recommended practices are being assembled for you and I. So far the benefits of forests and green space in urban areas are found to improve our physical health and our mental and social well-being. In an article in Greater Good Magazine, Why Trees Can Make You Happier, numerous studies were cited about the impact on cardiovascular health, nervous system regulation and reduced crime rates and higher levels of generosity and trust because of trees.
I like the scientific validation, it makes me feel a little less kooky about my deep love of trees but more than that, I follow what feels good. When I am out with the trees I am in my full flow of Alice in Wonderland curiosity. I become that enchanted 4-year old under my grandparent’s weeping willow tree. For those moments my body calms, my breath slows and I find stillness and peace.
The practice of yoga is tied to nature in so many ways. The original yogis did not practice in beautiful studios with indoor waterfalls and fireplaces like some of the studios we have in Philadelphia. The practice was about reconnecting with self and nature, to come back to the simple ideas of stability and ease.
Tree pose is like that. You get to go beyond a relationship with a tree and dive into being a tree. This week, get curious about tree pose and all its variations. Give it ALL of your attention. Try it inside, and outside, or on an uneven rock or lying down. Be a big sturdy oak and a little wobbly sapling. Find steadiness in being rooted to the earth and ease with bending in the breeze and be open as Oliver says so beautifully to the hints of gladness.
Join Adriene for some tree pose exploration.