By Catherine Ghosh (Krishna Kanta Dasi)

In this column, Catherine Ghosh delves deeply inside an asana to explore the inner symbolism and rich depth of vrikshasana, the tree pose

For many sacred traditions, enlightenment occurs under the shelter of a grand tree. Entire revealed scriptures poured effortlessly from the lips of saints who made their homes beneath trees. Single banyans that stretch for miles and live for centuries have provoked awe and inspiration, generation after generation. The mystical elements of life in trees have lured civilizations across cultures for centuries. From the Druids’ fascination with the mysterious powers of trees to the Greeks admiration of their noble status, from Abraham’s angelic Oak of Mamre to the biblical Tree of Life, trees have served as quiet mentors guiding our spirits towards the inner truth we ignite through asanas.

The tree pose, or vrikshasana (“vriksha” plus “asana”), is a wonderful meditation that begins with an integration of our body, mind and breath that invokes the inspiring qualities of trees: mercy, generosity, flexibility, tolerance, strength, endurance, balance and grace. In the Brahma Samhita, an ancient Sanskrit text in which the first created being, Lord Brahma, spontaneously composes poetic praises for the supreme divinity, he describes the kalpa-vriksha, or divine trees, that fulfill all desires, the archetypal spiritual trees on which all trees in this world are modeled (BS. 5.21). Known also as the parijata trees, they generously grant all wishes, producing any kind of fruit or flower. This type of tree is a meditation on the flowering tree of love’s abundance and its natural fruit: loving generously.

It is beautifully narrated in the Bhagavat Purana how Lord Krishna brought down from Lord Indra’s kingdom the heavenly parijata tree, as a love offering for his bride, Satyabhama. Although the tree was brought from the heavenly planets into the earthy gardens of his queen’s palace in Dvarka, it was successfully transplanted, thus expressing how spiritual love can be successfully harnessed even within our physical world. This rootedness in both worlds is symbolically represented in vrikshasana in which one foot is firmly planted into earthly soils while preserving a graceful balance between the joined palms that reach cathedral-like into the spiritual skies, channeling the descending blessings. The tree posture thus reflects a harmony between heaven and earth.

As the interdependence between these two dimensions is honored in the tree posture, the interdependence between trees and other living organisms on earth is equally honored. Within this ancient view of our planet as a living being supporting other livings beings, trees play a major role in how our planet (or Bhumi Devi, “The Earth Goddess,” as she is called in Sanskrit texts) breathes! Through trees, Mother Earth inhales our own toxic out-breaths of carbon dioxide and exhales pure oxygen back into the atmosphere in which we live. A single, mature tree produces an average of 260 pounds of oxygen each year. This is enough oxygen to sustain a human being for an entire year.

The earth we inhabit presently suffers from a shortage of trees. While yogis may take the time to reciprocate with Mother Earth by protecting her trees, they especially dedicate themselves to planting the internal trees of a life or prana-nourishing consciousness. This intra-nourishing relationship that exists between our breath and that of trees, powerfully enters into play as attention is gently given to the breath in vrikshasana. The resulting calm is the antithesis of the state that drives humans to strip Mother Earth of her trees. Deforestation is thus a symptom of one of the many ways in which humans separate their awareness from and cultivation of their own life breath. In practicing Yoga and asanas such as this one, we experience the connection between our inner and outer ecologie….

Read the rest of this article in the Fall 2010 issue of Integral Yoga Magazine.