Saturday, March 20, 2010

Taking root

Among the many definitions of the noun root at dictionary.com:
  • The usually underground portion of a plant that lacks buds, leaves, or nodes and serves as support, draws minerals and water from the surrounding soil, and sometimes stores food
  • A base or support
  • The condition of being settled and of belonging to a particular place or society (often used in the plural)
  • An essential part or element; the basic core
  • A primary source; an origin
In discussions of physical asana practice, you will often hear the phrase "root to rise." The basic idea is to create a firm foundation for the pose (usually by grounding your feet) and send energy down into the earth through that foundation. By aligning your body correctly above this foundation, you allow a counter-flow of energy to move upwards and lift your body lightly, without effort. This allows you to practice asana with what Patanjali described in the yoga sutras as "steadiness and ease."

This sense of rooting to rise is important in balancing postures. In vrksasana, or tree pose, it is easy to visualize this principle of rooting down and growing upwards through the image of the tree. One way to challenge the balance in this pose is to close the eyes, relying on instinct and the internal senses rather than the visual representation of the external environment in order to achieve balance. This requires a little bit of trust also. Of course, poses of all kinds can allow you to practice achieving a sense of lightness through the use of this principle.

Because of the multiple definitions of root(s), the idea of rooting to rise lends itself as a metaphor for off-the-mat practices. For example, root can refer to one's source or origin, so grounding yourself firmly in the past can allow you to move easily into the future. Learning to trust the instincts rather than visual feedback in poses such as vrksasana can also have lessons for how we achieve balance in our lives off the mat.

We use the phrase "returning to one's roots" to describe the process of going back to where you came from, both physically and ideologically. In many ways, I feel like I've gone back to my roots in the last year and a half. Returning to your roots does not necessarily mean regressing. Rather it is a process of integrating elements of your history and experience into who you are now. It can mean simply honoring parts of yourself that you've cast aside and re-evaluating what role they can play in the present moment. Maybe they no longer serve you, in which case they need only an acknowledgment, some gratitude for the role they played in your journey. Or maybe, looking back you will find that your past still holds you up. If we deny our pasts, we will always lack a solid foundation and when we are required to operate on intuition, we will lack the stability needed to stand firm. Only by building on the past can we truly find balance. It is your history that gives you the energy and anchor you need to grow above the canopy and wave your leaves in the sunlight.

1 comment:

LuLu said...

Beautiful post. We so often focus on being "in the now" that we forget about the importance of the past that brought us to now. And sometimes being in the now can serve as an escape from the past or the future. It is a convenient way to ignore sometimes painful things. We don't have to regret our choices and our life but more use our experiences simply as teachers. Thanks for your recent posts, your yogic perspective has really resonated with me.