September Pose of the Month
When you think of a tree what qualities or words come to mind? Other than the more obvious physical aspects of a tree like green, leaves, roots, wood… perhaps you might consider characteristics like sturdy, strong, graceful, adaptable, flexible, grounded.
These qualities, which appear natural to a tree, are ones we humans work hard to achieve in our lives. What we probably don’t realize is how hard that tree has to work to be strong, yet graceful. A tree has to be grounded with a strong trunk and roots, to withstand the elements of nature such as wind, frost, storms, etc. Take for example the strongest tree in the world, which is said to be the Giant Sequoia/Giant Redwood. According to National Geographic…
Full-grown sequoias are adapted to survive even the hottest wildfires. They have fibrous, fire-resistant bark that can grow up to two feet thick. Although fires can damage the biggest trees, they usually don’t kill them.
The oldest known giant sequoia is estimated to be 3,500 years old!!
In 3,500 years of life, that tree has developed the ability to endure a lot. Ability. Not just strength alone is how a tree survives in nature for 3,500 years. The ability to accept and surrender, with grace, to what is happening, in nature, around them. A tree surrenders its fruits, nuts, leaves to feed animals, birds, insects, and humans. A tree may surrender its branches and other parts of itself to shelter animals and humans alike. A tree surrenders to the seasons, shedding their leaves to prepare for new life come Spring. They don’t cling on to them. They release their leaves in graceful dance to the earth so that they can make way for the new. A tree surrenders. And for that, a tree is strong.
We tend to think of the negative connotation with the word ‘surrender’ - ‘to give in’, ‘to give up’, ‘to succumb’. And these words also evoke scary or discomforting feelings. But what if we changed our point of view? What if we didn’t fear the ‘surrender’? What if we trusted our abilities, our roots, our inner strength to allow us to go there… to ‘surrender’ to what is happening around us in these ever changing seasons.
In Yoga, we practice Ishvara Pranidhana, which is also one of the Niyamas. Ishvara in Sanskrit means ‘supreme’, or ‘personal’, God. Pranidhana means to ‘dedicate’, ‘devote’ or ‘surrender’. The practice of Ishvara Pranidhana shifts our perspective from focusing on the “I”, the ego- a narrow individualistic perspective to surrendering our limited idea of who we are, our individual ego identities that make us feel disconnected from Oneness. We willingly take the path that is probably less traveled- the path through the obstacles of our ego toward our divine nature, our true self. So you see our Ego Self tells us that surrendering is weak, negative, something to fear. However, our True Self… the invisible great force that is behind everything… is always surrendering. It is always present, always accepting what is, always letting go- judgements, critiscisms, clinging to material possessions/thoughts/emotions/ideas. As Patanjali says, it is our inner compass that helps us “to stay connected to that essence not just occasionally but throughout the day.”
Surrender is powerful. Yoga and the practice of Ishvara Pranidhana help us to navigate the way to finding the strength that is already within us. When we invite the practice of Ishvara Pranidhana into our life we have surrendered and we are ‘free’. We free ourselves from clinging, just like the trees don’t cling to their leaves. Think of the graceful dance you could dance if you are free. We live in peace and harmony with others, just like the trees that nurture nature with their food and shelter. We are grounded, strong, and connected to our roots just like a tree. Just like a tree surrenders to nature’s elements, we surrender with the ability to connect every action to its sacred source.
So as you practice Vrksasana/Tree Pose with us this month, look for ways in your asana practice that you can surrender. Surrender your fears and discomforts and trust the strength in your roots. Surrender your ego and to the time that you are devoting to your practice, by drawing your awareness inward to be more present and to connect to your true self, your inner compass. And try to stay connected to that inner compass in all that you do by surrendering to all that is happening around you. Just like the falling leaves gracefully dance this season, you might as well join the dance.